Pets as Family

I am really irritated at my neighbor’s dog, a miniature schnauzer. And not for what you might think. I have had neighbors whose dogs barked incessantly and pooped indiscriminately. That’s a whole other set of problems. Of course if I am really honest, it’s my neighbor and not her dog that I am really irked by. Cesar Millan, the dog whisperer, always claims that he doesn’t train dogs, he trains owners. Since I have shared my living space with a lot of dogs and cats over the years, I have to agree with him. Problems with pets usually start with the owners.

The first time I went into my wife’s house, she warned me about her dog, Zorba. He was totally untrained and didn’t like strangers, especially male ones. We entered through the garage door and I sat down at the kitchen table. Zorba came bounding up from downstairs, he entered the kitchen and barked once.
“Hush, “I said to him, “nobody is going to hurt you.” I put my hand out. He sniffed it and then put his shaggy black head on my knee so I could start petting him. He was my friend ever after. He was a goofy dog, with a severe under bite and a zest for life. He especially liked to escape over the fence or through the front door so he could zoom up and down the block until he got tired out. Unfortunately, he never did get trained and got hit by a car during one of his escapades.

My future wife was impressed at how easily I made friends with Zorba. But it’s always been a point of pride with me that I make friends with most animals easily. First of all, I really like animals. Secondly, I understand how important they are to people. Although I don’t subscribe to the “pets are people too” mentality, I know that many folks view pets as actual family members. Even if I don’t agree, I try to treat them as such. One of my favorite stories as a child was, “Love Me, Love my Dog.” Mostly, though, I understand the psychology of the animals themselves. Especially dogs and cats. I am not as familiar with miniature horses, pot bellied pigs, or any of the other species that people label as therapy animals these days. But I do have some experience with farm animals so I am sure I’d be okay if I were in the same room with one.

I admit to a fondness for cats even though my first experience with one didn’t turn out well. My mother had adopted an eight-week-old kitten who hid behind the couch trying to escape a persistent four-year-old who didn’t understand cat language like hissing yet. The result was a scratched cornea and a new home for the kitty. Over time though, I grew to appreciate that most cats have an obvious body language that always let’s you know what’s going on with them. Cats who are well trained, yes you can train them, and socialized will come up to strangers and sniff and rub against them. Then depending on their mood you can pet them. Otherwise they walk away and let you conduct your people business. Cats that aren’t socialized will hide and never bother you. I like that independence.

Dogs are another story. The first problem is how well trained the dog is. And that is dependent on the owner. I had a friend in college who inherited an eight-month-old dog when his wife left him. He was complaining to me about how she had ruined the dog and that he was struggling with training. His most vexing problem was getting the dog to come when called. His ex wife used to tell the dog to come to her and then beat it with a rolled up newspaper for its “accidents.” The result was that whenever Mickey called the dog, it ran and hid. I reminded Mickey that he was a Pysch major. Dogs respond to tone of voice and food. Armed with that reminder, he quickly trained the dog by holding out treats calling it to come in Apache, his tribal language.

It is always interesting to go into another person’s house who owns a dog. Well trained dogs will express interest in you but wait to be introduced. Poorly trained animals either rush at you, tail wagging furiously as they knock you over trying to get attention. Or they bark and growl at you while the owner helplessly explains that the dog is high strung, scared of strangers, etc. Which is nothing but excuses for laziness. Dogs are pack animals. They respond to the pack leader which should be the human. When humans don’t take the leadership role, the dog steps in and problems ensue. Small yipey type dogs are the worst. They are both afraid and territorial by nature. I refuse to revisit people whose animals make me feel unwelcome. I’m the same way about poorly trained children.

Which brings me back to the neighbor lady. She walks her dog, Dixie, by my house several times a day. She is often accompanied her neighbors and their dog, Bobby. Since it is a small cul-de-sac neighborhood, and because we are friends with Bobby’s owners, occasional conversations in our driveway result. But they are always awkward because while Bobby is enthusiastically trying to be petted, Dixie is barking, growling, and straining at the leash. My neighbor just stands there as though helpless.
“She doesn’t like men,” is one excuse. But I don’t believe it since Dixie acts the same way around my wife, other dogs, and the rest of the people in the neighborhood.

I tried for two years to make friends with Dixie before giving up. I tried bringing her bones when I took some down to Bobby. I even asked my neighbor what Dixie’s favorite treat was so I could buy some. She told me that Dixie only ate a special dry dog food and never got any treats or bones. I should note that my neighbor is old, never been married, and female. Personally, I think she has trained Dixie to be hostile to most people and wants the dog to be almost totally dependent on her. I think my neighbor is selfish about her dog. Exhibit A is that during her garage sale last summer, I got a look at Dixie’s pantry shelf. Besides her “special dry food” were cans of premium dog food and two boxes of doggie treats. It’s all right lady. I can take a hint.