How to Train Your Demon

First of all, for the sake of not having to always write “my dog” over and over, I’m finally giving the weirdo a name: Moxie. Why? Because my mother refused to let me actually name her this when I got her.

There. That was easy.


“I don’t believe your dog is aggressive. I believe she is fearful and bossy.”

My first – and so far only – visit to the local dog behaviorist was spent trying and failing not to cry with relief, which turned positively ugly when he stated the above. While my dog shifted between a slavering monster and a happy-go-lucky doofus, the mellow old man who looked too thin to handle psychotic canines sat quietly evaluating her. Oh, and as quietly lecturing me on my poor choice of dog food*.

This was back in July, after an eventful visit to the vet and failed attempts to get other behaviorists to call me back. In the end Mom sent me this gentleman’s number and we started corresponding by email. I gave him a very detailed history of Moxie and her behaviors and he set up a time to meet. The highlight of this arrangement? He operates strictly by donations because his goal is to keep difficult-to-manage dogs out of the pound simply for lack of reasonable alternatives.

Sign me up. Nervous as I was, I enlisted Dad to help me escort Moxie to a psych eval.

This behaviorist was completely unperturbed by Moxie’s unstable mood. I tried to listen as he talked about possible treatment options, nodding and stroking Moxie’s legs and trying to look intelligent and not pass blame on evil neighbor children.

He noted, in the quieter moments when she was too distracted by food to care about his presence, that she seemed like a good dog and I looked like I was good with her. I like to think he wasn’t saying this just to make me feel better, but who knows? I certainly have my doubts; if you ask me, there’s some Stockholm syndrome going on with one of us.

Remember when I said dogs are like their owners? Yeah. The “fearful and bossy” bit made me cringe, because I understood it, and suddenly I and my dog were connected on a spiritual level. I, too, look at every stranger with distrust and react to stress and uncertainty by freaking out and getting loud enough to make sure no one messes with me. And I am, admittedly, rather bossy. Sigh.

It all make sense.

In the end, the behaviorist had three recommendations: 1) get Moxie medicated to help take the edge off of her anxiety so she could focus on training, 2) switch up her food (and Lord, was that a nightmare), and 3) start working on her social skills by hanging out outside local stores to expose her to ordinary strangers.

Guess what I’ve put off doing for the last two months?

To be fair, I wasn’t home for much of August, and I told the behaviorist this when we met. I also avoided checking my email for about a month in case he sent me a follow-up message, which it turns out he did not do.

Meanwhile, I dragged myself to the pet store and compared dog food brands. I hated every second of it. In the end, I found one brand with pretty decent reviews and a moderate-to-high recommendation level and brought it home to slowly transition Moxie’s diet. Jo refuses to switch up her dog’s diet** (“He’s too old and it’s too late to avoid the risk of cancer,” is her reasoning) so now I have to make sure Moxie eats her food before the old man gets up or he steals it and pukes. (‘Nother thing I do wrong: leave the dog bowl out all day until it’s empty.)

As far as the training goes, I puttered about and made excuses until we got a notice from the vet saying Moxie was due for vaccinations by the end of September.

Joy.

Mom, ever the excellent sidekick in my adventures in life, had been calling the vet periodically since the evaluation in July, trying to get them to prescribe doggy Prozak. And I thought I was bad about getting back to people. These people refused to follow up, until Mom finally reached the one sane person in the office.

Now on a time crunch (the best way to motivate me), I’ve undertaken the challenge of turning my dog from a loud, mistrustful demon whose fight-or-flight mechanism broke on “fight” into a creature with enough reasoning power to at worst ignore other living creatures and at best realize most of them want to be friends. We finally have medication (I cannot believe I am medicating my dog) and my schedule is full of reminders to take her to training sessions and on long walks.

I don’t believe in miracles like getting my dog sorted out before her vet visit in a week and a half. My only hope is that it doesn’t ruin her for good. I did like what I saw of these vets (though not how they treated Mom when she tried to get the prescription). However, Mom figured we might as well get Moxie spayed this time around so we can take ” deal with a dog in heat” off of our list of things to worry about. This means Moxie will get to spend the night in a strange place surrounded by strange people. And other dogs. Which she hates.

Why do I have a dog? I’m the worst dog owner I know.

We had a slight chance of getting a vet’s note saying something the effect of “this dog is too messed up to handle a vet visit and needs to get help before she can be touched without threatening someone’s hand”, but for whatever reason didn’t pursue that. No time like the present, I guess.

On the plus side, Moxie took to the new food with only one instance of an upset stomach. She figures it’s food, so why worry?

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*I’ll try to keep this from turning into a rant by simply saying this: I love my dog, but I got her for companionship, not to spoil her into senility by buying 25-pound bags of gold foil-packaged dog kibble at $100.00 a bag. And forget the raw meat selections at equally absurd price tags. She’s been bred for domestication; the tiny irrational part of me that believes raw meat messes with a dog’s head would like to avoid my dog getting in touch with her wild side.

** We’ll call him “Hershel”. Ha. Ha.

Fun fact for you: while demon (daimon) means “spirit” and eventually “evil spirit”, Damian means “tame” and Damon means “loyal; constant”. How does this work?

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