The walk was going great until we rounded the corner. My afternoon reverie vanished in an uproar of barking, yelping, and lunging at a small poodle who unfortunately happened to be rounding the corner toward us at the same time. "No!" I said urgently to Lady as the startled woman pulled her now yapping dog off the sidewalk and hurried past. "Leave it alone!" But in that brief instant, Lady, who mere moments ago had been serenely enjoying the walk, was transformed into an insane, agitated 90 pound bundle of anxiety. I could read the woman's thoughts as she glanced back at us - "Geesh, have you ever heard of dog training?"
Embarrassing/frustrating dog walking moment #938.
Lady joined the family just before Easter in 2007. And since that time we've tried just about everything in the book to change this behavior, fondly referred to among family and friends as Lady's "crazy dog" routine, since that's exactly what it looks like when it happens. A dog behaviorist consulted this past year validated intervention techniques tried thus far, provided a few new suggestions (which have been helpful), but best of all, shared her experiences with her own "Lady," a German Shepherd she rescued 6 years ago. That was so reassuring. Because at some point you do start to wonder - what am I doing wrong??
I was drawn to Lady because of my experience with Jessie, my first German Shepherd. But the two dogs could not possibly be more different. None of Lady's "issues" were present in Jessie. But according to the dog behaviorist, it isn't uncommon for German Shepherd dogs to exhibit these behaviors, that to an extent have been intentionally cultivated in this breed.
So Miss Lady continues to be a work in progress. One of the goals is to teach her which elements in the environment merit a reaction, and which don't. I can still remember the day I was driving down I-40, and Lady, who was riding in the enclosed back end of the truck, suddenly exploded into a pandemonium of barking. Startled, I quickly looked around, trying to find the source of the uproar. There was nothing. There weren't even any cars around us. And yet Lady continued to bark, that loud frantic dangerous barking that says "I am going to tear you apart if you get any closer!!" About the time I was thinking to myself "I really DO have a crazy dog," suddenly I heard a familiar sound. A helicopter. I glanced out the side window and up, and sure enough, there was a helicopter up there, apparently too close to the truck for Lady's comfort. Then I just had to chuckle. I have a dog that protects me from helicopters.
When I was considering titles for this post, the word "enigma" popped to mind. I looked it up, thinking perhaps another word would be a better fit. But the first definition for enigma read - "mystery: something that baffles understanding and cannot be explained." That's pretty much it. Despite all I've learned, Lady still baffles me. Why will she ignore 3 dogs out of 5, but go bonkers over two of them? Why does she persist in doing things that make us all feel bad - even though she knows better? And how can such a frustrating dog also be so wonderful and lovable?
The instructor of Lady's first obedience course wrote a personal note at the bottom of her end of course report card. It read "beautiful spirit!!" I was touched by that, because although Lady had only been with us for about 3 months at that point, I felt it too. There was something about her, a brightness and love that shone out from those soulful eyes.
Lady has a sweetness of spirit that exists in such sharp contrast to the chaotic energy that erupts in the face of a perceived threat. She is kind to the cat, and by way of greeting will lick the top of her head in a maternal way (much to Lucy's chagrin, I imagine). Her concern for members of the family, instinctive though it may be, is nonetheless touching. If I decide to get up from bed at night to make sure I locked the door, she goes with me, even though she was comfortable and half asleep. She'll patiently wait for me, and watch, while I check all the doors, then we both head back to bed. Lucky could care less. "You heard a crash in the basement? Go check it out and let me know if its anything to worry about." That's Lucky.
I've never had a dog that would wake me up if I'm having a bad dream, but Lady does that. She'll put her paws on the bed and gently nuzzle me until I wake up. As soon as I awaken, she quietly returns to her fleece bed, settling back down with her characteristic heavy sigh. The first time she did this, I couldn't believe it.
She also takes care of Lucky, watching over him outside and demonstrating concern if he wanders too far. When Lucky wants something, Lady is the one to come ask, on his behalf. It's surprising, and cute. This behavior is never reciprocated, but she doesn't seem to care. And as I've blogged about previously, Lady will serve as bodyguard for the cat if asked. It's clear she understands that job and takes it seriously.
What an enigma you are, my beautiful Lady! Dainty and feminine, fierce and protective. You can be impossibly stubborn and strong-willed, and yet you sit obediently waiting for the command that it's okay to eat, while the cat - who doesn't know any of the commands - proceeds to help herself to your food. Unlike Lucky, you will drop everything and come rocketing across the dog park when called, but completely ignore me when distracted by something.
Oh, and although we haven't figured out how a 90 pound dog can tiptoe up and down a flight of wooden stairs without being heard - we know you do it. Lucy never eats her bowl completely clean. Your attempt to be sneaky would work better if you left a little of the food in the bowl.
We love you Ladybelle, you beautiful enigma. Keep looking after your family - it's appreciated. But trust the humans. Most of the time, we really do know best. We'll keep working on it together.