Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I Have a Dilemma

Tucker, a little butterscotch-colored terrier mix, has been in foster care since May 3rd, but he has some major issues.  On the plus side, he's a little guy, under 20 pounds.  He is loving, playful and lives to chase squirrels (he has a huge beagle-like bark for such a small dog). We treated Tucker for heartworms with the 2-shot protocol, and he's well-recovered from that experience, but he has proven to be unreliable as far as housebreaking.

He stayed at my house from May through the middle of June.  I had a lot of trouble with him at my house, in spite of crating, in spite of walking him on leash, in spite of taking him out on a sensible schedule and watching to make sure he did his business.  I'm not a beginner in the housebreaking department, but this was a dog who was a poop-making machine and a two-to-three time pee-er with each outside visit.  And he would still mark or poop inside.  And sometimes, he would poop in his crate.  While there could be some underlying health issue, we're stuck--the Shelter doesn't run labs for routine things and there hasn't been money for comprehensive workups on an otherwise apparently healthy dog.  But Tucker's potty habits aren't the only problem.

Tucker is also a chewer.  He loves rawhides, and Nylabones, although I eliminated those right off while trying to solve the poop problems.  But in the two months he was at my house, he could slip away, just for a few minutes, and find stuff to chew up--earbuds, earphones, underpants--the usual stuff dogs love.  However, he also chewed up a vintage stuffed toy animal that was from my childhood.  He did this while I let him nap with me on top of my bed one rainy afternoon.  He somehow did this while snuggled in my arms without me realizing it--and I'm not that hard of a sleeper!  Okay, so that was my bad, and I learned that he can't sleep on or in the bed.

In addition to these tough but normally manageable bad habits, Tucker has some odd anxieties.

He seemed to "forget" every single day that my husband lived in the house.  He would charge, barking and lunging (all 15-pounds of him) at my husband each evening when he came home. Or each time he came in door on the weekend.

The normal approaches to this fearfulness didn't work.  Leashing and correcting didn't seem to make a difference.  We'd do the calm correction routine (like the successful parts on "The Dog Whisperer") at the door, and during the repetitions, and gradual movement to my husband walking in the door, Tucker would do fine.  Then he'd lapse again the next day.  Like a memory slip.

He was fine in the crate and okay on the leash with my husband--although my husband noted several times that Tucker seemed like an unusually clumsy and uncoordinated dog.  I, too,  noticed that Tucker could not keep to a heel without getting tangled in the leash, no matter how I held it.

When my son arrived home from college, Tucker treated him like he was the biggest, baddest, scariest guy on the planet.  And my son, who loves dogs and is a big soft-hearted lug of a kid, was crushed.  He took it personally, and got upset.  In fact, he practically cried over it one point, wailing, "Why doesn't this dog like me, Mom?"
 My son likes to hold a dog and surf the web or play video games.

Tucker's inability to adjust to my husband and son made it impossible to keep him in my house as a foster, especially when combined with the housebreaking and chewing.  I figured that I was the one at fault and hoped that Ms. N., Tucker's "sub-foster" since June 17th, could help Tucker with his issues.  She has a very anxious Aussie mix girl and  a deaf Aussie boy, and has brought both of these dogs around.  She is an experienced dog person.

I gave Ms. N. pretty much full disclosure (I left out the vintage toy animal bit) and she was confident she could work with him.  She got his stools firmed up (not only was the quantity amazing, his stools remained soft even after the heartworm treatment was finished) with cottage cheese and pumpkin.  She got him to keep his crate clean.  He was having fewer accidents.  He loved playing with Ms. N.'s dogs

However, Ms. N., brought home another foster.  This guy was newly fixed and marked a few times, so Tucker began marking again.  Or so Ms. N. thought.  Now Tucker has completely backslid.  He's peeing and pooping in the house again.  He's torn up blinds and cushions, and is falling apart if he is crated.  We have to decide what we are going to do next.

The problem is that he is still a Shelter dog.  The Shelter doesn't do exploratory lab work, or behavior-rehab or place dogs in sanctuaries.  The Shelter dogs get basic vetting and a rough behavioral review (not a real evaluation by an expert). As it stands, Tucker is not readily adoptable at this point unless he is consigned to living outside (which is probably all he had done before in his short life--he's less than two years old).

We have to select an option that doesn't involve a lot of money.  I'm going to to go over Tucker's case in full detail with Ms. N. One nagging fear that I've had ever since I brought Tucker home is that he is a distemper survivor.  He has always seemed just a little off in a neurological sense.  I don't know what it takes (besides more money than I have to spend on him) to determine what is behind his behavior, but we have to do something.

If you have had experience with a dog like Tucker and can offer any suggestions, please leave me a comment.


  1. I can't think of a single thng you haven't already done. But I hope you can find a positive solution. Let us know, for sure!

  2. I've worked with a dog that was similar ... conveniently "forgot" things.

    My husband would put her in the crate or even the kennel, walk out of the room to fill her water dish, come back with it full and it was like she didn't recognize him. She would go ballistic - throwing herself against the walls to attack him. Total opposite from the dog she was 10 minutes before. She barked for me but I could verbally calm her down by telling her it was me and "knock it off".

    (Did I mention yet that she was a 100lbs Rottweiler/Ridgeback mix?)

    She was difficult to housetrain. She was aggressive with dogs. She was fearful of people; especially men. She would snarl at people.

    Yet, she loved people, wanted to play and enjoyed the company of other animals (including dogs).

    We thought she would NEVER become adoptable and would live with us forever.

    I worked with her for a few months at the pound, then took her home. She was with us for 4 months (plus the 3 I worked with her at the pound). I spent every spare moment I had working with her.

    She seemed to be normal in every other way - except her crazy outbreaks. We couldn't figure out how she would forget things.

    It was because of her that I met a dog trainer who I worked with for months. Together, we figured out that her fears were so extreme that she would go into a "Survival Mode" where she would stop recognizing people and would "forget" things that she had already learned (like housetraining and basic obedience).

    We narrowed the issues down to extreme, irrational, rediculous, crazy fearfulness (even though she didn't show "classical" signs of fear).

    I spent hours teaching her things to build up her confidence. At the same time, I had to be careful not to build it up too quickly or she would become aggressive (so my trainer said - I believe he was right)

    The best advice I could give is ...

    - Don't let him get away with anything; the people are top dog in the house
    - Don't let him on the furniture; act as though it is not his place since he hasn't earned it
    - Don't baby him or he will learn to manipulate you
    - Build up his confidence but make sure you do this slowly; couple confidence building with obedience training. If you build it too fast, he will get a big head
    - If he's reacting to new dogs in the house by marking then he probably doesn't "get it" when it comes to the house's pecking order.
    - I know some dogs who are simply "leash dumb" and just don't get it without being taught. Or, him getting tangled up in the leash is a manipulative way to get you to pay attention to him (I've seen this before too)

    This is, of course, all assuming he is not a distemper survivor with wires crossed ...

    Good luck, no matter what you decide to do!


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