The Vine: April 20, 2011
I know most of the Tomato Nation readers seem to be cat people, but this question concerns dogs. I'm reaching out because I know how you feel about pets, and I agree. They are members of the family and a life-long responsibility, damn it! Right now I'm facing a situation where if I don't step up, two dogs may be taken to a shelter, and I really don't want that to happen.
The story behind all this: I feel responsibility for this situation based on the fact that I moved back in with my mom prior to her purchasing these puppies, and I've grown to love them.
Long story short, my mom decided to buy a Rottweiler puppy early in 2010 "for protection," despite the current home situation being completely unsuited for caring for and training a large-breed dog. I tried to talk her out of it, but came home to the puppy after a weekend out of town. Added bonus? The puppy in particular was chosen because my mom thought she was "spunky." My sister was there for the purchase, and the more accurate description for the later-nicknamed "Cujo"? Extremely hyperactive, aggressive with her litter-mates, and not inclined to follow commands from her breeder.
She proved incredibly difficult to train, even with the help of two paid professional dog trainers. By this I mean we FINALLY got her biting under control, but commands continue to be hit-and-miss, she is destroying the carpet and furniture, and God forbid she is biting/eating something dangerous or expensive. There is no way she's letting go if she doesn't want to, even when bribed with steak or chicken.
Then, a few months ago, my mother brings home another puppy she saw at a pet store, because she thought the Rottweiler just needed company to calm her down. This was not a good fix, since now there are two poorly trained dogs destroying the house and yard, and being undependable when it comes to obeying commands.
I believe they can be good dogs in the hands of an experienced dog-owner. I take them to dog parks and they both respond very well to anyone with experience, which I don't have. Understand that I have been the primary caretaker of both dogs since day one, since my mom has basically ignored them since buying them. I walk them, feed them, and am their most consistent trainer, even though I know next to nothing about training or dogs. Yes, trainers were hired, but I couldn't be there for the appointments, and so far my mom hasn't followed up on anything. She spends most of her time home upstairs away from the dogs, and works a demanding job that keeps her away for most of the day. Even on weekends, she stays in her room most of the time and the dogs aren't allowed upstairs because they are so destructive. She has little contact with them, which is why I'm trying to do my piss-poor best with them since I am currently living here.
Long story short, both dogs are purebred breeds known to be "work dogs," very intelligent, and need to be exercised daily and kept occupied to keep them out of trouble. So far what I've been doing hasn't been working, and my mother has reached the point where she wants to take them to a shelter. I've never been a dog person (I've always said that dogs were as high-maintenance as children, and at least children make Mother's Day cards), but I've fallen in love with them. Also, knowing her record of not researching the best options, I'm afraid of coming home only to find out she's taken them to a kill shelter. For the record, when she has brought this up, I have mentioned no-kill shelters/rescue organizations, but trust me, based on her past actions I have every reason to fear the dogs being taken to a shelter that kills without my knowledge.
I will be moving out in two months, and want one last chance to learn how to control them so I can take them with me. I'm currently working from home, so I have the time to spend a lot of time on them, if I know what to do. Can the Tomato Nation readers point me towards books, classes, or techniques that will help me rehabilitate these dogs? I've asked other owners at dog parks, looked on Google, bought books, watched Cesar Milan, and tried to be consistent. Clearly I am worse at dog training than I originally thought.
As far as I can tell, my options are to boot-camp my training techniques to keep them myself, or personally take them to a rescue organization that will adopt them to better families. I welcome advice on either option, since my only concern is their well-being, and I am VERY out of my element right now.
Just Want What's Best
First of all, give yourself a break. You describe your efforts as "piss-poor," but it sounds to me like you're trying all the right things — and more importantly, you're trying. Training pets takes time and patience, especially when the animal is, uh, "spunky," so don't get too discouraged.
Second of all, good news: you have myriad online resources at your disposal. Whether it's training, rescue, or just blogs or message boards where owners congregate, finding information about purebred dogs is super-easy.
We'll see what the readers have to say — and I hope you'll come back and let us know what breed the second dog is, so that they can get into specifics there — but in the meantime, I'd suggest 1) kill-shelter-proofing the situation as best you can, and 2) looking in your area for dog trainers or obedience schools.
For 1), if the dogs have papers, try to get those papers off your mom. Tell her that you will take responsibility for the dogs from now on, and that you will need her to turn over their files and information. Don't ask. Inform her that this is happening, without any value statements about her "treatment" of them. Get the dogs chipped if you haven't already, with your contact information, not your mother's; if they already have the microchips, get the information switched. Then, if the dogs show up at a kill shelter, you can hope that somebody down there will scan them and call you — you, not her. But if you really think you'll come home one day and find them gone, call or drop by the local kill shelters with a color picture of the dogs; explain the situation, and ask if you can leave or post the flyer at the desk. Take formal custody of the dogs, basically.
While you wait for the readers to help you with 2), look on Yelp or Angie's List for reputable dog trainers in your area. Talk to current clients, particularly ones who faced the same challenges you do or who have the same breed of dog. Interview a few likely candidates; ask them about their training philosophies and how they would implement them if hired. See what vibe you get.
Don't give up; worst case, you get in touch with a good rescue organization and they can help you find a positive placement for one or both dogs. But dogs crave training. They want pack leaders. That's you; you just need a hand with the details. Thanks for stepping up. Now let's see what the readers think.