Some years back I accepted an English pointer with emotional problems. She was a gorgeous dog, lean like a greyhound, white with black markings. I ended up with her because I told a friend who raises dogs about a dog we rescued as a puppy.
It had been decades since I had a dog. When we picked up Jasmine, I was amazed at how beautiful she was and how shy. She had been traumatized behind the scenes at a dog show and was a nervous wreck. She wouldn’t eat or interact. Basically, she was petrified of the world
I got her in the back door into the laundry room and she stopped. I mean stopped as in would go no further. She wouldn’t make eye contact. I was eating a banana sandwich and I sat down on the floor near her. I ate my sandwich and read my book. However, I noticed her nostrils were twitching. I put some bread with mayonnaise beside her and she ate it. It was a beginning.
I started calling her Jazz, because I liked it and because jazz is a music not played by rules. Jasmine was definitely a dog who played by no rules at all. Each day was an adventure. A method of getting her to eat that worked one day wouldn’t the next.
If I let her out the back door, she would be scared to come back in and I had to go out the front to get her. Her nervousness included chewing anything in sight. After the loveseat had holes in it and the carpet and foam in one room was shredded, I decided to build a kennel.
I had never built a kennel before, but how hard could it be? I bought posts, fencing, 2 × 4s and tin. Other than my husband helping me to stretch the wire, I succeeded in building it by myself. My husband, though tolerant, considered Jazz to be my problem. Actually, he considered Jazz to be my mistake.
Jazz was a Houdini. That skinny little body followed that long nose through holes that seemed impossible. I was learning a lot about making a kennel escape proof. Jazz eagerly watched each improvement as if I was setting up a test for her benefit. She passed the tests with flying colors. If it was an intelligence test, she was winning.
Around this time, my friend who was responsible for my receiving Jazz contacted me again. The breeders had another English pointer who needed a home. He was five years old, had won shows and was perfect in every way. Darren, his kennel name, was supposed to be a comfort and inspiration to Jazz.
Darren was all he was said to be. His markings were similar to Jazz in black and white. However, he was sixty pounds of strong, male dog. He was gorgeous and had presence. He was also the sweetest male dog I had ever seen. He was my reward for helping Jazz. If I had not accepted her the breeders would have had her put down. I didn’t know that when I accepted her.
Also, since Jazz had been a kennel dog, Darren’s company was supposed to settle her down. Theoretically, this meant that she would have less desire to escape from the kennel all the time. My husband was happy about Darren in a way. Jazz was terribly frightened of men and Darren was a warm, friendly dog.
I had purchased leads that were retractable for both dogs. We lived in the country and our area has three kinds of poisonous snakes. Allowing the dogs to run free wasn’t an option. Plus, they were city dogs and clueless about the country.
I tried walking both dogs on leads. This led to my saying things I was embarrassed for the neighbors to hear. One dog would go around one tree and one the other. Had I not been the victim, it would have been funny. Darren was smart enough to untangle his lead. His cooperative attitude helped a lot.
My friend had assured me that Darren would be a good influence on Jazz. He was so well-behaved that she was sure to emulate him. Horse hockey! Darren saw Jazz getting away with things. Jazz was a bad influence on Darren and taught him bad habits.
The problem in dealing with Jazz was that the trauma affected the part of her life that included her training. It was as if the traumatic event was associated with all of her training. If I let her just be a dog and required nothing of her, she was happy. But, if I tried commands, the trauma reaction would cut in and she would be a trembling heap.
However, this trauma syndrome of Jazz’s caused problems when I dealt with Darren. Animals seem to have a sense of what is fair. My allowing Jazz to get away with murder made it difficult to convince Darren that he should have to behave. If they had been children, I’m sure he would have said, “Why do I have to be good, if she never is?”
Jazz was a barometer of my temper. Lack of patience, losing my temper, and yelling produced a shivering heap of dog. Not to mention this made me feel like a total heel. The only thing that worked with Jazz was patience. So, in a question of who was being trained, I would have to say that I was.
One day, I had both dogs off lead and I was letting them both romp. I would squat down and call them to me, gesturing with my arms. They knew it was play and they loved it. Darren came charging toward me and didn’t stop. He bowled me right over and I was suddenly at the bottom of a heap of 100 pounds of licking dogs. I was laughing so hard it took me a while to escape.
I loved to watch Jazz run. This is when the trauma was totally in abeyance and she was as beautiful as a Thoroughbred. To watch her leaping through the woods and following scents with her nose was amazing. Unfortunately, if I let both dogs off lead they would just keep going.
I used behaviorism a lot. This is a method where good behavior is rewarded. With Jazz, finding good behavior could be difficult. Sometimes good behavior was simply a momentary lapse in any behavior at all. The hard thing, and I’m sure people discover this with children, is not to reward bad behavior with attention.
In other words, you have to interact a lot and find good behavior to reward. Otherwise, you’re only giving the dog attention when it is misbehaving. This teaches the dog that misbehaving gets attention although nothing else does. Even getting yelled at is attention when the dog gets no or little attention otherwise.
Basically, I became a dog trainer when before I had liked to garden. If I was outside, the dogs wanted my attention. Keeping the dogs cooperative and everything on an even keel meant giving the dogs lots of attention.
I walked them on lead twice a day. We went to the end of the dirt road and back. That trip provided the dogs with lots of interesting smells and sights. It also provided exercise for all concerned. The days the weather was too bad to walk were very disappointing for the dogs.
Having Darren did help Jazz. Seeing Darren, who was friendly, get all the attention made Jazz jealous. Suddenly Jazz became friendlier just to get some of what Darren was getting. I believe she was more secure with his presence as well.
As for me, I learned that being patient and using my brain, instead of my feelings, was much better. Managing the dogs was a constant challenge. However, they could also be a joy. Watching Jazz become a dog again instead of a nervous wreck was wonderful. And Darren, he was a sweetheart. He was certainly a champion in my book. When I saw the two of them running together, life was good.