Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The History of Scout, "Scout Is Not A Bad Dog"

Maybe people are getting tired of this: if so, let me know!

So, when we last left Scout and her owners, she had gotten a devastating diagnosis: she was "aggressive." When she wasn't being miss totally sunny personality, sucking up to everyone (which was most of the time), she would suddenly turn on us over something like a measuring cup or a bar of soap. The people at the Humane Society told us that if we didn't want to get rid of our dog, we did have to do something, because, they said ominously, "It will get worse." (They also said, "Aggression can't be cured, because agression is natural in dogs. It can only be managed.") The something they recommended was the State University's Veterinary Clinic, a doctor of behavioral medicine (sort of a psychiatrist for animals).

If you are referred to the University for treatment, you know that it must be Serious. So we felt some urgency about getting Scout to an appointment as soon as possible. We also felt some urgency because we are getting ready to take a short vacation. Without Scout. We were leaving her in the able hands of J's dog-loving son and his girlfriend. But we wanted to leave them with good instructions. Also, truth be told, I felt sort of nervous about leaving The Puppy.

While we waited for The Big Day, I engaged in some not very helpful behaviors, such as reading up on "Aggression" online. This made me more anxious than ever. There are many people, I discovered, who have opinions about what to do about aggressive behavior in dogs. They have different opinions. And they disagree with each other: violently.

We needed to fill out an extensive questionnaire about Scout's behavior, and submit it online. It wasn't easy to find an open time at the University (there must be other dogs with behavior problems), but we got her in on a Monday about 2 weeks after our fateful appointment at the Humane Society.

At the beginning of the appointment, the veterinary students came in. They did the initial interview and observation of Scout. One of the things they observed was Scout finding the Kleenex box and, one by one, taking each Kleenex out. That was fun. They also observed us saying "No" a lot, after which Scout would stop a behavior for a milli-second, and then go right back and do it again, somewhere else. They watched her playing with toys and jumping all over us and them.

Finally, the Doctor came in, a German woman with a good sense of humor, it turned out. She said she had observed us coming in, at the time we were weighing Scout, and had an idea about at least part of the problem. She observed us both, at the same time, telling Scout to "Sit." She said we were making a lot of noise, and perhaps confusing her, and frustrating her. Then she said one of the things that has stuck with me to this day: "What you have is a very smart dog. What you want is a very dumb dog."

She also said, "Your dog is too skinny," which made me feel like a bad dog-mom. But Scout was still getting sick, and the adult dog food she was getting wasn't enough nutrition for her. So she had her nutrtionist order the puppy version of the food for our local vet. She demonstrated for us something called "Target hand training", which worked more with visual than verbal cues, and also operated mostly on the theory of "positive reinforcement." She said that instead of just taking things away from Scout, we should always "Trade up" for something she wants more. She recommended we use something called a "Gentle Leader" for Scout's jumping. She recommended a book to read that has become one of my favorites: Culture Clash, by Jean Donaldson. She promised to send us detailed instructions via e-mail for "Target hand training" as well as the full transcript of the interview and diagnosis. She told us that Scout needs more exercise than we had been able to give her. She had a lot of excess energy (and still, remember, the cast).

She also told us that, at least for a while, we were not allowed to give any verbal commands to Scout. Everything had to be done via hand training. We could say her name, and praise her, but we couldn't command her verbally.

Then she said another thing that I will always remember, something that kept me going when things looked grim: "Scout is not a bad dog."

The cost: $500.00

To be continued (if anyone is interested)... "Bad mom"


A Year Acceptable said...

This meme is from John Smulo's blog and it goes like this:

1. Those tagged will share 5 Things They Dig About Jesus.
2. Those tagged will tag 5 people.
3. Those tagged will leave a link to their meme in the comments section of this post so everyone can keep track of what's being posted..


Gannet Girl said...

Yes, of course: please continue!

zorra said...

Been there too, all the way to the university vet school behaviorist. Please go on.

Serena said...

You are a very good dog mom ...it is obvious how much you love Scout, he is very lucky to have you for parents ... and I am very interested in hearing more about how you all are doing.

DogBlogger said...

Wow! I'm glad she's so smart, and that y'all were so dedicated to being good puppy parents.

At one point we thought we might get to the behaviorist, but things smoothed out after the vet conference call and implementing some recommended adjustments.

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

Smart dogs. Stupid people. It's like Romeo & Juliet... same plot in so many stories but the names change... yep. Been there too...but the story always gets one in the end! keep going!

Mocha Java thinks he & Scout can someday stage a revolt if there's enough biscuits involved...

Songbird said...

I want to hear more, too, and Molly would love to tag Scout belatedly!