Berkley is our dog. He was a rescue from the local shelter last summer. He is a golden labrador/pit bull mix. In the official circles, this is known as a Pitador… or a Labrabull.
This particular dog is demonstrating the intelligence and family-ness of the labrador… and the loyalty-to-a-fault of the pit bull.
As mentioned, Berkley is a rescue. His story is one of abandonment. The shelter told us that a man sitting on his front porch witnessed a pickup truck with an attached camper pulled off to the side of the road and dropped two dogs off on the side of the road. This was Berkley and his mother. Apparently, mom was in pretty bad shape… and equally apparent was that Berkley was the ‘last one picked’ in the litter.
We don’t know much about dog-psychology, but who knows what it was like for this young six month old pup to watch that pickup drive away.
That was enough of a story to pull on our heart strings of empathy… and also give us the knowledge that Berkley wasn’t a wanderer who had a reputation of leaving home. Home left him.
We see the effects of separation anxiety in him daily.
As a blended family, every other week Berkley has to watch his kids drive away. Anxiety is something he wears.
Every time that we leave for work, we hear the anxiety from the driveway as he cries for his people to come home.
We feel him when these moments come. But, truth be told… we can’t be with him all the time. There are bills that need to be paid… jobs that need to be done… orchestra concerts, plays, and volleyball games that need to be attended.
Berkley can’t always be with us.
We had a good rhythm going with him as a kennel trained dog… until this last Christmas break when he had two weeks of his pack with him all the time… and then had to deal with the silence of an empty home of humans needing to go back to tending to their human duties.
Berkley was six months with us at that time. The rhythm of come and go seemed to be forgotten after the warmth of having family home for Christmas. The anxiety began to get to much for him to handle.
Shoes began to be destroyed. A video camera… a couch. Anything he could get his teeth into. While it was apparent that he missed his pack while left at home… this type of behavior could not become the norm.
A trip to the vet here in White Cloud to discuss options for meds and their treatment of anxiety led to a conversation with a veterinarian that got us thinking about how we could best continue to get Berkley acclimated to the particulars of our home.
We walked away with a med that would help to tone him down a bit… and four rules that we needed to adopt as a family to assist Berkley in finding his place within our pack… whether we were home or not.
The med slowed him down. No personality loss. But, we put it to the kids this way: Berkley is in slow motion now… and so it is time to train us as a family on how to help Berkley know his place in our pack.
So… the Four Rules:
- Focused Exercise
Focused Exercise: We are blessed to have some acreage. Plenty of room and terrains to run and get lost. One would think that an unleashed walk out to the back of the property would tire Berkley out in a way that he needs… but, it only does half of what has to happen. Keeping the dog on the leash for the walks out back on the other hand provides Berkley with the opportunity to get exercise, and focus on staying under control We explained to the kids that it is the difference between hitting the volleyball around in the backyard, and actually working on the disciplines of the game with a team. One will work you physically… the other works you physically and mentally. Dogs need both.
Discipline: When it comes to discipline of the dog, we have discovered that our kids probably watched to many Disney movies growing up. You know… those movies where all of the animals think and feel like human beings. There is a lot of discussion at times around Berkley that his ‘feelings might get hurt.’ What people don’t realize is that this canine desperately needs to know where his place in the pack (i.e. our family) is. Often times, what that means… especially for a puppy… is that he is put in that place. Berkley is not smart enough to find the appropriate ‘dog place’ in the pack. This dog is instinctual enough to know who is dominant over him… and who he can dominate. Discipline helps Berkley know who’s who… and what’s what. He needs that more than he needs us to feel sorry for him.
Food: What does any dog… and most any man have in common? Both are motivated by their stomach (among a few other things). With a few treats in hand, anyone in the house can get Berkley to do what they want to for at least a minute or two. This makes it very tempting to grab a morsel in a moment of naughtiness and get him to sit and shake. Can you say… reinforcing bad behavior?! Treats should only be given after Berkley has demonstrated an appropriate place in the pack.
Affection: It’s a feel good moment for any family to be able to hug and squish and get all ooga-booga with a dog. These are the times that we have in mind when the kids are begging for a dog, and parents are envisioning the positives that they will bring to the home. Oh… if they only came as fully trained ‘good dogs’ from the beginning. Who wouldn’t want to just spend their life patting bellies and rubbing behind ears. Truth is… puppies can be naughty. They eat your shoes… and in Berkley’s case… the love seat. Sometimes, we desperately look for those quiet moments when we can just pet and love and snuggle. What we don’t realize is that a dog with dominance issues can be very assertive in getting what they want. It’s best not to just ‘take what you can get’ from the dog, and coddle them in the moments of sanity. Save the affection for last. I know it sounds cruel… but in the long run, a dog who has been shown their appropriate place in the pack with a bunch of coddling along the way, is going to be a dog who is secure, and not as dependent upon the feel good moments that we think we need to create for them in our desperate moments of needing a ‘good boy/girl’.
Actually… after looking over this list of four rules, I have to wonder… is it the dog that needs to be trained, or us humans?