Friday, March 4, 2016

Anything But Bacon

We have a Schnauzer, Jersey,...a 12 lb., two-year-old Schnauzer who, despite several sessions with a trainer, still struggles with behavior problems.
She stands on her back legs and paws my legs with her front feet, whining frantically for me to pick her up.
"Don't make eye contact with her when she does that," the trainer advises. "Eye contact from you is like a big hug to her. She thinks you are encouraging that behavior."
"Um...okay," I say, trying to go about emptying the dishwasher with the dog pawing at me and the trainer watching. I can't help thinking that Jersey looks like a little toddler reaching up for me. Maybe I have been encouraging that behavior. Usually I lift her right up to my face and give her a little snuggle. Definitely, I have been encouraging that behavior. I decide not to admit that to the trainer.
The trainer has agreed to work with us, at our house; and he wants us to go about our daily business so he can see how Jersey interacts.
"Your house always smells great," the trainer says, sitting down at the kitchen table. It's his third visit. "It always smells like bacon. I can see how a dog would be really happy here."
"Thanks," I say. Does my house always smell like bacon? I have teenaged sons; so I guess we do eat a lot of bacon. Do I smell like bacon? Now, I am not only worried about the dog's behavior, I'm also wondering if I smell like breakfast meat.
After I load the dishwasher, the trainer suggests we take Jersey for a walk.
"Brace yourself," I say. "She goes crazy when we pass another person...or dog...or squirrel." I think to myself that it's a wonder the other dogs don't bark at us...especially if we smell so strongly of bacon.
Jersey has a very high-pitched, anxious bark; and though she is not an aggressive dog, her barking makes her seem out of control. By the time I finally gave in and called the trainer, it had gotten so bad that I found myself walking Jersey at an uncharacteristically early hour each morning to avoid other dogs and owners. Even so, we almost always managed to run into someone...usually the neighbor with the perfect Golden Retriever. Jersey would bark as if her life depended on it. Her shrill voice echoing down the near-empty sidewalk.
I actually started cursing under my breath whenever I saw anyone walking in our direction. I wanted to shout.
"Please stay INSIDE until I have walked my dog! Do you really need to BE OUT HERE at 6:00 AM? You should know by now that my dog is not as PERFECT as yours. All I want is a PEACEFUL walk with my CRAZY dog before I have to go to work. Is that too much to ask?"
Instead, I appealed to my dog. "Please, please, please do not go into a barking frenzy," I would whisper to Jersey the minute I spotted the Golden Retriever prancing along peacefully in the distance. "Just ignore them. Please Jersey, ignore them. You're going to wake up the whole neighborhood. You're going to look mean; and I'm going to look stupid."
It never worked. The minute she caught a glimpse of the oncoming dog, she started her embarrassing, nonstop, ear-splitting yelp.
"She's just a little excited..." I called, waving half-heartedly, as the Golden Retriever and her superior-looking owner walked by.
* * *
Now, with the trainer's support, we head out so he can see Jersey in action.
Of course, right away, she begins her crazy barking.
"Yeah...I see what you mean," the trainer says.
He takes the leash and walks Jersey a few feet away from me. It tugs at my heart when I see her nervously glancing back in my direction.
"Do you mind looking the other way?" the trainer asks.
"Oh...of problem," I say. I look in the other direction. Miraculously, Jersey and the trainer head off down the street silently. Apparently, I can't even watch her walk without causing a problem. I'm the trigger.
Although I feel hopeful for Jersey by the end of the training session, I also feel pretty bad about myself. I love that crazy dog, and I hate the fact that I seem to be the root of her misbehavior.
The trainer explains to me that I have to set some boundaries. I'm so glad my husband and sons are not home to hear this. I'd never hear the end of it. The trainer points out some specific things I need to work on.
I am no longer supposed to pick up the bone for Jersey when she drops it off the couch and barks until I reach down and hand it back to her. I am not supposed to give in when she uses her nose to push my computer off my lap or forcibly squeezes herself between me and my husband when we are sitting side by side, watching TV. I am not supposed to allow my anxiety to travel from my head, to my heart, into my hand, and down the leash to the dog. (Now how in the world am I supposed to prevent that?)
Before the trainer leaves, we set a time for the next session the following week. We also discuss possible new groomers...since Jersey has recently been banned from her previous grooming salon because of her barking.
I walk the trainer to the door, making a mental note of all the things I have to work on before the next session...walk the dog with treats in hand, require her to wait for an invitation onto the couch instead of allowing her to jump up at will, reward the positive, ignore the some scented candles that smell like anything but bacon.


  1. Although this post is a serious issue that you are dealing with, I have to admit it laughed my way through to the very last word. At least you are allowed to keep your sense of humor (maybe with a side of bacon?). I hope you can retrain Jersey to be the model dog, like the golden boy model. Dogs are a lot of work, a lot like kids.

  2. I enjoy your writing so much Lori. It is so real and honest. I laughed and smiled throughout the entire essay, nodding my head in immediate recognition.

  3. Yeah. Kind to f like when I asked my son who watches our dog on one day a week - How did she do on the leash today?
    "She wasn't on the leash."
    Did you have to go get her in the woods?
    "No. She didn't go in the woods. She listens to me."
    Wonderful post. I wish I couldn't relate.

  4. I am worn out just reading this. I can only imagine how you must feel. I never knew there was so much to do or not do when training a dog!

  5. Like Elsie, I have to confess to laughing all the way through this slice. I think you have your work cut out for you with this doggie...

  6. I had Schnauzers growing up. As soon as my parents and I realized they weren't really dogs - everyone was happy.