Afraid Of Life: Duo’s Tale

Duo’s Petfinder Photo – Formally “Snoopy”

Every day is a challenge with a difficult dog. This seems to be especially true when that dog comes to you as an adult with a freight liner loaded to the brim with baggage. Living life with a dog like this is difficult at best and pure hell at the worst. I have had the joy (-insert mass quantities of sarcasm here-) of learning this first hand after we were charged with the lifetime of canine care after Duo became our foster failure.

Duo came to us at three and a half years old in May 2009 as a temporary resident while a friend got things in order to have him. Our first few days were uneventful (and looking back I wish they had stayed that way!). He was rather shell-shocked from being moved around so much in such a short time. (Duo came from a boarding kennel to the friend’s house and then to ours. If I had been uprooted that much, I would have been the same way!). We knew it would take some decompression time to see what kind of dog we had.

When reality finally came into focus, we realized we had a very, very sweet dog who was very scared of the world. Whatever had happened in his life before he came to us had left him with a heaping load of emotional baggage. Men, particularly those with dark complexions, were beyond scary. My poor husband, Bruce, couldn’t even reach into his crate and guide him out when he had jammed himself in there without causing Duo to urinate everywhere. (Bruce, the saint that he is, was incredibly frustrated and upset by it since he normally can get through to any dog.)

We spent the first month working on his confidence (and our patience!) toward the things he was terrified of – men, loud noises, the car, etc. – through counter conditioning and basic marker training when he approached and item he was scared of. He gradually began to accept them (but it took a lot of time once he realized we weren’t leaving him and we wouldn’t let these things eat him finally allowed his confidence to start blossoming.

Unfortunately, this growth in confidence was like a double-edged sword. While he got confident in the world, other hidden issues began to bubble to the surface and the biggest one was being incredibly leash reactive to other dogs. Duo wasn’t one of the “invade my little bubble and suffer my wrath” types (oh, no…that would have made it much easier!) He was (and is!) explosive. His bubble? Yeah, that is 20+ feet in circumference. Minimum.

I can’t begin to tell you how embarrassing it is to have to apologize for him being such a vocal asshat. I wanted to pull all of my hair out when I was trying to redirect his focus onto something other than the “offending” dog. The frustration from both of us was just about tangible. (To give you an idea – RYKER is an easy dog compared to Duo and he is a snot too!).

My GOOD dogs just didn’t do this. Duo wasn’t supposed to be this hard. Boy, was I ever wrong on those thoughts! I had to remind myself that I promised I wouldn’t ever give up on my walking, snarking jerk of a dog when we signed his official adoption paperwork because we were his last hope.

It was now been three very long years since the spotted hell hound came to us. He has gotten better and continues to improve every single day. He has frustrated and amazed me every step of the way. He has made me look at myself and forced myself to consider the consequences of every action before I do anything with him. I don’t want to take two steps forward and fall backward and down three flights for a simple mistake. I have learned some very hard lessons and felt some real and very personal failures when something has gone awry.

Do I think I’ll ever have a normal dog with Duo? Not by a long shot. I wouldn’t change him for the world – even when I get horrid looks because I failed him and didn’t stay on my A-game by allowing him to have a meltdown on another dog because I wasn’t watching and being vigilant.

I hope that one day Duo will realize that he can trust the other end of the leash to be his voice and anchor his confidence down to be able to go out in public and not think every dog is going to get him when the leash is on – but it might take until he turns fourteen! Oh, well, another seven years of adventures!

Here’s to many more adventures, buddy.

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