I have titled this as Zephyrs progress because I am trying my hardest to be optimistic. This is a long one, so you might want a cuppa.We were doing quite well for some time and making progress with his reactivity and at a point where, although he was still clearly upset at other dogs, he would go past at a distance and not make too much fuss (by too much fuss I mean, at most he would whimper a little and nothing else).
For some unknown reason, despite the fact we’ve actually been stricter on them, Zeph has gone backwards. In fact, we seem to be back at square one with other dogs and now even some people. I cannot pin point when/why this happened. A few weeks ago, over Christmas, Zephyr has decided he’s not keen on B’s younger brother (in his 20’s), and has barked at him from his cage and had a growl/lunge at him under the dinner table. Needless to say he got in trouble for that one and we had to have a serious chat about our options (not something I like having to do). We decided that, when Zeph is staying away from his usual home, (i.e. with us but at B’s rents house), that he is restricted to the kitchen and garden, and when we are having dinner or brother is about, we need to be around/Zeph is put to his bed.
We have been very strict on the waiting for food (something they’ve always both done), and they now wait for the door to open before being allowed into the garden (massive improvement, not being barged out the way). I am going by the rule of Rottie, you ask once, and then you tell them. It sounds harsh but basically it means: if I say “sit”, he has to do it first time, if I have to say it again, he gets some encouragement either from a hand on his behind (not pushing him down, don’t want to hurt his legs) or a hand gesture if he is watching. If I have to tell him, he gets no treats. If he does as he is asked, he is rewarded. The aim being, he should do it first time.
Anyway, my parents came to visit. Unfortunately, as well as I get on with them, they don’t like my dogs. Echo is too energetic (they don’t know what to do with him), and they don’t like Zeph (obviously a man eating dog). Sadly, Zephyr has done nothing to encourage any good opinions of him on my parents. It all comes down to, my parents being nervous of the dog, me being nervous of the dogs reaction and my parents reaction to him and then Zephyr reacts making us all the more anxious. All in all, it sets the dog up to fail. It’s little wonder he behaves the way he does really. It is a horrible feeling not wanting my parents to visit!
So yes, parents visited. The dogs were both in their cages as my parents were literally stopping for a quick cuppa and away, and knowing how they feel about the dogs, I put them to their beds. Despite that,they insist on saying hello to the dogs (so confusing signals, I wonder if they do it because they think it would make me happy?), First up, my mum came over to say hello to the boys and although Zeph was nervous, he accepted some cheese from mum and calmed a little. Followed by my Dad (who’s 6ft 3″ and massive), he came to say hello and Echo was happy enough but Zephyr went ballistic! Probably because he was in his cage, but it freaked my Dad out and my Mum, despite her not being the problem. So I tried to get my Dad to come over once I had gotten Zeph to calm. Dad came over on his knees and sat back from the cage (my Dad is used to really friendly labs, i.e. you can do anything you like with them so an anxious Zeph is out of his comfort zone despite being a sweetheart), and fed Zeph some treats. It seemed to do the trick but I thought I’ll keep it short and sweet. A few treats and some words of encouragement but as Dad moved away from the cage, Zeph lost it again. I had to put a towel over his cage. It was very upsetting for me to see my boy getting so worked up. He growled a few times when we sat down for a cuppa whenever my Dad spoke as well. From this, I have learned that, Not all dogs will like everyone. And on that note, if my parents come to visit, the boys will get to sleep in our bedroom in their own space. If Zeph is that stressed out about my Dad, it’s not worth putting him through it. Unfortunately my parents don’t visit very often (so technically strangers to my dogs), and won’t have the time to put into training for the big guy so safer to avoid this one I think. Only wish my Dad could get to see what a soft hearted, coward my snuggle dog Zeph is:
So those are the two big dramas that have occurred. On top of that, he’s started to get very reactive to dogs again. I’ve met a few nice dog walkers while out with Echo and they’ve taken in the story of Zeph and have been very understanding which is helpful. So, I’m putting all this down to the ridiculous amount of disruption they’ve both had. With us moving about so much, staying at B’s rents house, and then me being away from home. I think it has all been a bit too much.
I was really upset the other day while walking Zeph. I thought about how difficult it is to walk him at the moment. There is always something that sets him off. It’s not been enjoyable at all. It is a vicious circle really. I get anxious about taking him out, he acts up (possibly because of that), I get more anxious and so it goes on. However, even on days when I feel great and confident, he does something at the moment to ruin a nice walk. What makes it worse is that I’ve been enjoying my walks with Echo so much I even had the thought of “it would be nice to go back to having one dog”! Now please don’t judge me on that. I would honestly never rehome my dogs. They are my world. But I’ve been doing this for 2 years now with Zeph. I just wish he could understand English even for 2 minutes, so I could tell him that it’s ok, nothing is going to hurt him and that he doesn’t have to scare off anything. It is exhausting for him and me doing this everyday. I really do feel like I’ve failed him. I saw a woman out today walking with her black lab. I say walking, she was glued to her phone and didn’t once look up to see where she was going. I was annoyed, jealous and also relieved to see her. I was annoyed because her dog was happy to amble around her, no one was bothered by that or nervous of him, I was jealous for the same reasons. But I was also a little relieved, despite my anxiety and depression already having kicked in, I told myself “I am putting in more effort than that”. That statement has made me think though; what if all my ‘interfering’ has made Zeph into the cowardly lion he is today. If I had just left him to it, would he have been more confident? Would he have been that Rottie that everyone loves? I don’t know. I was feeling pretty low about it all, but I can’t do that. If I let myself sink, he will be miserable. A good walk is good for us both even if we do have moments that dishearten me. We are back to square one, we will just need to work at it again. I have sausages. Nothing can make him avoid the lure of tasty sausages! Persevere, that’s all I can do!