Sometimes affection is not just licks to the face.
Sometimes it’s offering moral support while doing the dishes.
Reading is a favorite activity here at Play Hard, Bark Often. In fact, for Rosee it ranks right after napping and going on walks. Whenever I have my e-reader or a paperback book out she tries to steal it from me to read it for herself.
I sort of happened upon Don’t Dump the Dog when I was surfing the internet and came across an article on something dog related and a commenter on the article recommended this book. Initially, the title was enough to peak my interest which led me to Amazon and after perusing the sample and finding the first chapter named “ADD Dog”, I knew I had to read it. In case you didn’t know, my mother has always called Simon an ADD dog. Mostly, he earned this nickname from her because he can never seem to focus on one thing. He is always getting distracted, running off to do something else, and can never seem to just sit down and relax. One of the hardest things to teach him has been to relax, and while most days it’s still difficult, if we all remain calm and stay consistent in how we act and what we expect of him, he eventually does settle down. Of course, it also helps if he gets his daily walk and play session. So, when I read “ADD Dog” as the first chapter title I knew that this was a book I needed to read, like yesterday.
What I enjoyed about reading this book was that it was not necessarily a book about training your dog, although Grim did impart pieces of dog training wisdom at the end of each chapter. Rather, it was more focused on why your dog may engage in a certain unwanted behavior. It was a book to help pet parents understand their dogs better. Each chapter focuses on a particular issue, and he opens the chapters with a letter he has received from a dog owner who complain about said issue with their dog. Most of the issues are common ones including, but not limited to, energetic and/or excitable dogs, separation anxiety, dogs that don’t get along with other dogs, excessive barking, dogs that go in the house (you get my drift here), and fearful dogs. Grim does his best to explain the reasons behind why a dog may exhibit various behaviors, and offers advice on how to deal with them. It’s pretty straight forward, and Grim is extremely blunt in his own remarks in answer to the letters he presents. Although, I have to say, it wasn’t easy reading about people wanting to give up their dogs so easily. I know rescue dogs often have some issues, some great and some small, but the idea that dogs could be so easily disposed of was sort of disheartening. I know some dogs’ have issues that require a lot of attention and patience, but that wasn’t necessarily the case in this book. Grim focused on the more everyday problems dogs and their owners may experience. In the end, reading this book was interesting because it really made me look at my dogs and try and understand the reasoning behind some of their actions.
My favorite chapters were “Chapter Two: Escape Artists,” “Chapter Six: Cujo in the Dog Park,” and “Chapter Nine: Bullies with an Attitude.” Chapter Two was a much loved chapter because it taught me to reject the “rejection of the herd” if it means giving up such a significant friend (aka: the dog). Chapter Six was a favorite chapter of mine because it reminded me to acknowledge the small victories I have with my dogs. Instead of only seeing what my dogs are not really good at yet, I need to start seeing what they are accomplishing and realize that we’re getting there. Lastly, Chapter Nine was an interesting chapter because Grim explained this whole “dominance theory” and basically how the pervading popular theory is really not correct. Showing dominance over your dog is not about overpowering them and proving who’s tougher and stronger, but it relies more on one’s ability to command respect from them.
The main reason I really loved this book was that it got me. It really, really got me, and more importantly, it got my dogs. All the feelings I’ve had while dealing with Simon’s endless bounds of energy or with Rosee’s anxiety and fear issues, which pretty much left me feeling like a complete failure as a dog owner, were understood. The fear I’ve had of my dogs never being considered “normal”, the utter despair I’ve felt over Rosee being thought of as aggressive (and all the negative stereotypes that follow) due to her anxiety and fear of other dogs, and my own anxiety over not doing enough to let my dogs know that they could trust me to protect and take care of them (this is mostly coming from learning to deal with Rosee’s issues) were understood. I felt validated, and more importantly I realized that my dogs are pretty awesome. Instead of fretting over my dogs not being considered what others may deem as “normal” (rejecting the herd here) I should strive for them to be good dogs. Maybe Simon has a jumping problem that we’re still working on, but when I can tell him from across a room to lie down and he obeys I feel pretty darn proud of him. The point I’m trying to make is just because your dog may not be great at one thing doesn’t mean he/she won’t be amazing at others. Training is a continuous process that takes time and effort. Reading this book simply reminded me not to give up on my dogs because as long as I don’t they’ll learn what they need to.
And what is “normal” anyway? (Not exactly a new question I know, but humor me.) It’s a notion we strive for, and yet it’s hardly definable. However, after reading Grim’s book I decided that I would never want my dogs defined as normal because then they would lose the things that make them distinctly Simon and distinctly Rosee. Simon’s 23-hour energy and all around exuberance for life encourages me to stay active, to live in the moment, and to find joy in the little things (i.e. a squeaky toy being thrown around in the backyard over and over). This doesn’t mean that Simon can’t be a well-trained and behaved dog; it just means that he needs a few extra play sessions a day to deplete his over-abundance of energy. Whereas Rosee’s journey to overcome her anxiety and fear encourages me to overcome my own fears in life, be more patient with others, and understand that anything is possible as long as I have the support of the people who love me. So, I’ll take Grim’s advice and mark it as a victory when I walk with Rosee through a park where other dogs are running around and she doesn’t freak out, but walks beside me.
In conclusion, if you’re a pet parent and need some encouragement when it comes to dealing with your unruly dog or if you just want an interesting read about dogs I would absolutely recommend this book, and so would Rosee. Even if your dog is well-behaved 99.9% of the time I would say read this book because it helps us all appreciate the small things that dogs do for us. It’s not just the licks or other obvious gestures of affection that we should appreciate from our dogs, but it’s the little, unnoticeable things, like how they follow you from room to room just so they can stay close, that we should appreciate as well.
I sense the Dark Side in this one.
AKA: Simon had an attitude today.
“I confess that I have been blind as a mole, but it is better to learn wisdom late than never to learn it at all.”
Simon has since learned that if he doesn’t want his ball picked up while he’s thirsty he should just take it to the water bowl with him.
Wisdom better late than never I suppose.
A Breed By Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet
Pit Bull: n., a thing that is aggressive, strong, powerful**
Every time my family drives down to visit family that lives in the Sacramento, CA area our car passes a fold-out sign left on a street corner to advertise for some local gym. What initially drew me to this sign, as oppose to all the others you can find around an urban town, is the design that encompasses the entire front side. In place of a spokesperson for the gym is the dark and angry face of a Pit Bull. Seriously, his eyes are black and downcast, with an ugly frown on his face, and his entire face is placed in shadow.
Now, I get the meaning. Gyms are indicative of strength, aggression, and power. A Pit Bull is often portrayed in popular media with the same connotations, represented as a thing that is inherently aggressive, strong, and powerful, and is such for all the wrong reasons.
Buy why couldn’t this gym use a German Shepherd to portray strength and power? Many dogs of this breed are trained to attack as police dogs, trained to be dominant and commanding. Or how about a gorilla? A mythological-looking dragon (because they’re pretty popular right now)? A Megalodon shark (because they totally exist, just like mermaids do!)?
Nope. They had to use a Pit Bull, because this breed is so intrinsically entrenched in society that their mere mug stands for aggression and power, though always with a negative tinge. The fact is in our society the face of a Pit Bull is undeniably linked to all things bad, like dog attacks, biting, dog fighting rings, and just plain terribleness. There has been pushback, obviously, as people who love and understand the breed work to correct society’s mistake, but we haven’t quite overcome the negativity yet in order to use the term in such an unbiased and non-indicative way, so that this gym’s representation only furthers the negative stereotypes that the Pit Bull carries, whether it meant to or not.
Pit Bull: adj., a person or thing that is demonstrating signs of aggression, strength, power**
Recently reading this open letter a mother had written in answer to yet another great debate online, I was captivated by a particular line in which this woman labeled herself as a “Pit Bull mother.” Apparently, this woman’s children refer to her as such when she becomes increasingly overprotective and aggressive. While I find nothing wrong with defending one’s family and way of life, this use of Pit Bull as some sort of describing word left me with feelings of negativity and regret. Why couldn’t she write that she is a Lioness? A Tigress? A Bear mother? A Velociraptor? (Jurassic Park anyone?) No, she had to write Pit Bull, because of course these are the only animals that are naturally aggressive and mean.
Certainly, nobody uses Pit Bull to describe a person being cuddly or cute do they? (And I am referring to someone who does not love and understand the breed, because of course those who do would.) No. Pit Bull is clearly reserved for describing those meant to be naturally aggressive, strong, and powerful. The writer of this open letter used Pit Bull to get her point across that she will “attack” when necessary, and though she meant in defense of her family, her usage instead brings up stereotypical images of Pit Bulls attacking and fighting, because obviously that is what this woman believes Pit Bulls are only capable of. Her wording, unfortunately, relies on these hurtful negative stereotypes in order to let her audience know just how vehement she is in taking care of her family. So, while I understand her meaning, I still consider her usage to be a bit irresponsible.
Now, I don’t mean to judge anyone too harshly. I don’t know the reasons behind deciding to use Pit Bull as anything other than to describe a dog’s breed. I don’t know if these gym owners or letter writers own a Pit Bull and are fantastic dog owners. I don’t know if they consider themselves Pit Bull advocates and truly believe that their representations as described are used in good faith. I don’t know.
What I do know is what I see and what I feel when I look at signs or read letters that use the Pit Bull to make a statement. I know that reading someone call herself a “Pit Bull mother” is saddening to me because my little girl Rosee is not inherently aggressive. Rosee does not rise to the defense of others because it is in her nature to be mean and powerful. She becomes loud because she’s scared. She’s so anxious and nervous about the world around her that she decides to act mean (by barking loudly mostly) before anyone else (dog or human alike) can be mean to her. She’s dutifully working on accepting the world, on trusting those who inhabit it, but it is a process. She’s no angel, but she’s certainly working her way up to it.
I know that Simon can look aggressive and intimidating (all 75 lbs. of him), and can sound larger than life (his bark is pretty deep), but he’s one of the happiest dogs you’ll ever meet. He has no mind space for negativity and meanness, only room for playing tactics and walking routes. His handsome mug on a gym’s sign would probably draw customers that were excited and playful, simply looking to have fun and I guess that would be bad for business.
I know my two are not the only dogs in the world that defy the negative Pit Bull stereotypes. All I have to do to remind myself is walk around my neighborhood, read stories online, or watch television shows. I am reminded that my two pups are not the exception, rather they are the rule. They represent the larger group of Pit Bulls that exist in the world that are happy, healthy dogs. They represent every dog in general who is happy and healthy, and those that are still working their way there as well.
So, I guess my point is until Pit Bull stands equally for strength and cuddliness let’s pledge to use the term responsibly, or at least in its natural form, i.e. to describe the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the American Pit Bull Terrier. Let’s pledge that Pit Bull is no different from Golden Retriever, Labrador, or even Chihuahua. It is just a name given to three similar breeds of dogs. It is a nickname, a moniker, a category. When we hear or read stories about dog attacks or dog fights let’s focus less on the breed of a dog, whether it is a Pit Bull, and more on why such things even happened. Let’s not give into popular media’s negativity towards Pit Bulls or any other breed for that matter, because the media is just looking for a story to glom onto, nothing more. And while a certain breed might lean towards some characteristics or personality traits more than others, nothing is set in stone. I’ve met Golden Retrievers who want nothing to do with humans even though this breed is known for being people-pleasers. I’ve known German Shepherds that only want to lie around on the couch, instead of being active and dominant dogs. I’ve met Labs, who are always believed to be super friendly and gentle, that are mean and pushy instead. The fact is breed means less. I believe that with dogs it is very much a nurture over nature situation. Pit Bull is just a name, it is the way one is raised that makes all the difference.
**Created from popular perceptions portrayed in the media and experienced by this author in real life.