responsibility

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Min, Elmindreda, Minny Cocoapuffs, Cocoapuff, Princess, Crazy Damn Dog, is a nearly 100-pound Neopolitan mastiff, and she is a big, unwieldy mess. She is all clumsy, flailing legs and big dopey face, and she just wants to be loved, more than anything in the world. She is nuts and confused, impossible to train, to discipline, to herd. She is stubborn, easily distracted, a little afraid of everything though she barks a big game, and she has the sweetest face. But when she loves you, you are loved forever and ever and she only ever wants to be with you. If she loves you and you say her name, her little nub of a tail whips into a frenzy, because you have noticed her and that is really all she wanted. For you to notice her, and to give her some of your hamburger, please.

She is a mess, and she reminds me a little bit of me, and she adores me the way no dog has ever adored me before, and all these things together make me love her back. She belongs to E’s brother, A, who is never home–he has got school, and work, and a very serious girlfriend. So this dog, who is crazy, and crazy about me, this crazy dog who I am crazy about, is mine. She belongs to me because I love her and she loves me and she needs me. I am suddenly responsible for a hundred pounds of adorable nutcake. I am suddenly aware of how big, how solemn and how real responsibility can be.


I’ve got the basics covered: I make sure she is fed, that she has got
her treats, that she is loved on and snuggled and petted. I say her
name and her little tail goes whiz. I rub her silky ears and kiss the
wrinkled spot between her eyes and she squinches up her face. I am
looking for a leash that will let me walk her without being dragged
along the ground in her wild pursuit of cats and shrieky children,
because I think she needs the exercise and it will be so good for her.
She sleeps with us at night, standing over me until I lift the blanket
and let her crawl under. She settles onto my legs and sighs. I make
sure she is tucked in. She’s crowded E out of the bed more than once,
which is frustrating, and we’re trying to figure out how to keep
everyone happy.

But the larger question–what do we do with her? She’s untrainable,
doesn’t get along well with the other dogs in the house, is aggressive,
destructive, lonely, needy. She could fit my entire cat in her mouth.
She would fit my entire cat in her mouth within minutes of meeting him.
No one has all the time she needs, no one can give her all the
attention she needs, no one knows, exactly, what to do with her. A is
talking about finding a new home for her, and the idea is making me a
little sick–we can’t give her away. She’ll be so unhappy. She is so
unhappy now, home alone all day, and I feel helpless.

Responsibility sucks. It’s something I generally try to pretend does
not exist. I do the things I have to, and try not to consider the idea
that they are responsibilities, because the idea is worrisome.
Responsibility connotes ownership, accountability,
and liability. If something belongs to you, if something rests entirely on
your shoulders, if it is your job and your requirement, and then the
possibility of failure arises, doesn’t it? You did not complete your
job adequately, and therefore, you have screwed up.

Sometimes, in pretending that I do not have responsibilities, that I am
totally free and easy and clear, I forget that I am responsible for so
much. The smaller, everyday tasks are easy, and easy to forget to think
about seriously, because they become second nature, are just daily
life–the bills, the house. But there are bigger responsibilities–my
sweetheart, my friends, my cat. Those are the ones that are tougher,
but they’re far easier than the responsibility that I so often
overlook: me. I am responsible for me. My life, overall. Its direction.
My happiness. My health. I am responsible for myself. I am responsible
for making sure that I achieve the things I want and the things I need
to do. I am totally, one hundred percent responsible for me, and
everything I do. The thought is deeply terrifying, humbling, worrisome.
The thought makes me think, I can do better. I can do this. I can
figure out how to take care of a nutcase of a dog, and I can do right
by me, too.

  11 comments for “responsibility

  1. Anna
    October 7, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    I recommend the Gentle Leader. My dog is around 90 lbs, and while I am roughly as strong as an adolescent male, I sometimes have trouble controlling her. Not the case when she has her little face harness on!
    http://www.sitstay.com/dog/supplies/servlet/product_10001_10001_39029_-1_Gentle+Leader+w+Metal+Buckle%2C+Large_13273_26907_13272

  2. M.
    October 7, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Ok, so, this may not work because of geography, but… there’s this woman, Nancy Strouss. She runs People Training for Dogs. My mom went with our golden retriever, Max, who was adopted from a shelter after being beaten by his previous owners. He was a mess. But my mom went, did all the exercises with him, and he was very well-trained by the end of it.

    Here’s a link:
    http://www.peopletrainingfordogs.com/

    The thing is, she teaches you how to speak to your dog so he/she’ll understand what you want, how to do it, and you learn the value of consistency and reinforcement. Max was trained with a simple choke collar (cloth, no chains or spikes – echh), cheerios, tiny bits of cheese and smudges of peanut butter, and lots of praise and practice. He walked, heeled, sat, lay down, we taught him to creep, and best of all, he stopped urinating on himself if you looked at him crosswise.

    I would email and see if she knows someone in your neck of the woods who might be able to give you a hand. No dog is untrainable. Nancy Strouss is a genius. With her suggestions, we never hit Max, never used his name when scolding him, and never scolded him for something we didn’t catch him doing. And he was a wonderful, friendly, happy dog.

  3. MR
    October 7, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    I don’t know if you have a specific routine for when you leave her, but that has helped a lot with the dogs I’ve had that had separation anxiety. I would make them sit and give them cookies right before I left, say “Watch the house.” every time and then leave right away. When I came back, I’d take them out immediately. I think the routine helps with the fear that you are never coming back, because they know the pattern and know what to expect.

    Also, someone mentioned the Gentle Leader, I think that’s what is also called a Haltie in this neck of the woods, and it is IDEAL for controlling larger dogs. It looks like a muzzle but it’s made with fabric and doesn’t prevent them from using their mouth at all. It allows them only to pull with the strength of their head, as opposed to with the strength of their shoulders/body.

    Please don’t give up on her! It’s increasingly hard to find homes for large dogs, since so many people live in apartments and only want little purse breeds. The majority of dogs that are put down in shelters are large breeds with behaviour issues, since so few people are willing to take them on.

  4. Rene
    October 7, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    I agree!

    Please don’t give up on her! Dogs are a LOT of responsibility, but, as you have already learned firsthand, their loyalty and love are more than worth the work involved.

    She doesn’t sound untrainable. No dog is completely untrainable. It sounds like Min had an unfair start in life. While her owner may have had good intentions, he didn’t start training her as a pup (which is ideal) and didn’t have the time to work with her as she got older. I am certain that with some doggy training work she’ll astound you with the progress she will make. And all of the other commenters so far have had some good ideas as well.

    Gving away a dog like Min is almost a death sentence, as, it will be hard for anyone to deal with her in the state she is in now without already feeling bonded with her. She could very well, end up in a shelter and big, black dogs don’t do well in shelters. I know a person who runs a rescue group and she will tell you the same. So, please, PLEASE don’t give up on her.

    My dog, one of the most loving, gentle, sweet dogs, a pit bull, will also stand on the bed awaiting me to lift the covers so he can snuggle underneath! He also lays on my legs and sighs. And he will often spreadout and take over the bed laying between my boyfriend and I (he MUST be touching both of us) and forcing me to the outer edge of the bed! But I wouldn’t trade an occasional bad night of sleep for the absolute peace and love I feel when I am snuggled up with my pup!

    Good luck!

  5. Sara
    October 7, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    In addition to the gentle leader, there are also harnesses with soft sheepskin under the “armpits.” The harness pulls under the armpit when the dog pulls (but the sheepskin prevents it from rubbing.)

    Do you run or rollerblade, something that would wear the dog out faster? That would help with the destructiveness and loneliness…and if you don’t (I sure don’t), backpacks with a little weight in them are a terrific way to wear them out faster. I personally am not fit enough to exercise a big dog thoroughly without using something like a backpack.

    You mention giving lots of treats, love, affection…are you giving treats and love just because?

    It is incredibly easy to fall into that trap…dogs are so cute, so loving, so completely adoring and worshipful…but try turning treats into rewards for obeying commands rather than just-because treats. There is no need for her to listen to you if she is getting the reward anyway!

    And speaking of the good stuff…ever tried Kongs? You can fill it with treats, freeze it, then throw it in her crate while everyone’s gone all day. Getting the treats out will keep her occupied and stimulated…

  6. Beth
    October 7, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    Seriously, Anne, get a head harness for her. THe gentle lead one mentioned above is probably perfect.

    Also, Min needs to be walked. A ton. Like at least two hours a day of walking, or ball chasing or whatever, but hard exercise. A lot of what you’re talking about will be dealt with if she has a chance to get all of her extra energy out. She is a huge working dog and in order to be happy she really needs to be able to work out all her energy and use her brain otherwise she gets bored and starts looking for things to do with the extra energy and lots of times that turns into destroying things and starting squabbles with other dogs. I’ve worked with so many big dogs in my life and no one ever exercises them enough.

    Is she really agressive with other dogs? Like unprovoked snapping and charging? Will she share food? Toys? If not, that is a bigger problem you want to talk to a trainer about. If she snaps at people then you really want to get that under control. If she actually bites a person she will probably have to be put down. I’ve heard of Nancy Strauss and she’s supposed to be pretty good. If she can’t help you in Utah she might know someone who can.

    Min is NOT untrainable. No dog is. But it will take work and effort, and a lot of exercise (sorry, had to say it one more time. :) ).

  7. Ali
    October 7, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    I also recommend the Gentle Leader. I have a german shepherd and a border collie and swear by it. It does not hurt them at all, and all the pulling is gone. I tried those arnesses that go under the armpits, but they chapped my dog’s skin.

    Also, EXERCISE is key. Imagine being home alone all day with no job, no tv, no friends. Every day. You would go crazy! That is life without exercise for a dog. Exercise is their job and outlet, and it also gives them a mental workout, and a great bonding experience with you. Get her the Gentle Lead and walk her every day, NO EXCUSES, for at least 30 minutes. You will be amazed at what a difference that will make. Min will be happy.

    I also recommend the Kong toys; they keep your doggie entertained trying to get the treat out.

    And, for bad weather days, I put my dogs on the treadmill (and watch them very closely!).

    Good luck with Min; don’t give up on her.

  8. Punchy
    October 7, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    That Dog Whisperer show has a lot of good advice. Somehow he gets them to run on a treadmill to get the extra energy out because they can’t focus unless they are calm.

    Or strap her to your handlebars and have her pull you and your bike around town!

  9. October 7, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    I can’t improve on the excellent advice that you’ve received so far. I do think that “A” needs to give you the dog outright so that she is yours completely. He apparently can’t give the dog what it needs and her behavior reflects that uncertainty in her life. When you get a dog, you are responsible for its total well-being and happiness. There’s no higher priority, not even a busy schedule or a demanding girlfriend. Too many people take on a dog without condidering the tremendous responsibility it entails. If you can’t give a dog what it needs, don’t get a dog. But, if you give a dog a really good life, the rewards are many and wonderul.

    I know many people won’t agree with me, but I’ve had good luck with a prong collar. I know they look like a torture device from the middle ages, but they are quite effective and don’t hurt the dog. Good luck.You are a great candidate for having a dog. And I enjoyed meeting you at Jen and Iggy’s wedding.

  10. Anonymous
    October 8, 2008 at 2:10 am

    You call your dog Elmindreda?

    … as in the Wheel of Time books?

  11. kari
    October 13, 2008 at 8:48 am

    As the owner of two English Mastiffs, I feel that I can say with some authority that 9/10 of the things you have described about your pooch are really more breed-specific traits than personality defects! This is actually good news, because it indicates that rather than needing to be “fixed”, they require understanding to be able to deal with. I would strongly suggest reading as much as you can about the mastiff breed. Even if you are an experienced dog owner, I think you’ll find that mastiffs (Neopolitans, English, Brazillian, etc.) are very unique. You don’t have to go out and spend a ton of money on breed books, just google “mastiff personality” and you will come up with more stuff than you’d ever believe. I agree with the folks that advocate exercise and training, and the Gentle Leader/Halti device has produced good results for many– I have a nylon choke collar for our female (about 120 lbs), but I use a prong collar for my male, who is very close to 200 lbs. — It just depends what works for you and your pooch. Also, the person that suggested developing your own special routine for leaving and coming home again has given you excellent advice! You also might want to consider getting her a crate so that she has her own personal “space.”
    Don’t give up or get discouraged!

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