Dusty is a strange dog. I was told he would be when I adopted him at the Bonita Animal Shelter. They told me he couldn’t be a pet; he was too traumatized to become socialized. He would be dangerous. He would grow up to be a big dog — 80 pounds — a Dobie/Lab mix.
I’ll agree that when he’s barking and running along the front fence with his hackles up, he’s scary. Back in Descanso I had neighbors who filed a complaint — but when the animal control officer came out to see if my dog was dangerous (or, as the neighbors had alleged, that I was “hoarding” dogs and not removing “fecal matter” from “the premises” — I had 3 on 1/4 acre, a 100 square foot dog run, a fenced yard and my dogs come in and out of the house as they pleased — and, at that moment, I was performing my daily ritual of “removing fecal matter from the premises”) the animal control officer found a nervous — but friendly — young neutered male dog. “This is dog paradise,” he said. “Dusty here (the officer was scratching Dusty’s ears and Dusty was leaning against the officer’s leg) is a pup. He’ll calm down. Your yard is securely fenced. Seems to me your neighbors might have an axe to grind. There are people like that everywhere, even out here in the country.” The fact is, my neighbor had tried to provoke Dusty into biting him…
Still, I don’t like Dusty’s exaggerated protective behavior, but I love Dusty. To help him (and me) I invested in professional training for him and that made a real difference in his happiness. All of this was eight years ago.
Now that Dusty has a “little sister” (” ” because 1) she’s not his sister, 2) she’s not little) he has been helping me teach her to walk on a leash and to respond promptly to other important commands. At first, he wasn’t sure about her. He wasn’t always very nice to her, but now, after miles and miles of leash walks and nights sharing the living room floor, he clearly loves her. He’s also becoming a better dog.
A few evenings ago we were on our walk and a little boy (three? four?) on a bike saw us. “Can I pet your dogs?”
“Sure!” The little boy waited for his parents, and I made the dogs sit calmly on the grass. When the parents came out the little boy said, “She said I can pet her dogs. Can I?”
They all came over to me, gently and calmly, even the little boy. I thought “What a cool family!” I said, “Dusty will bark and he’s scary, but he is actually a sweet and friendly dog. He just thinks he has to do that.”
“Bear here, she’s a puppy. She knows not to jump up, but…”
“That’s a big puppy! How old is she?”
“She’s going to be a big dog.” That amuses me whenever I hear it because Bear is already a big dog…
Bear, of course, went right to the little boy and Dusty barked fiercely. The mom looked a little nervous, but she believed I had Dusty under control (I did). Dusty began to mellow. The mom petted him and then the dad (the little boy and Bear were focused on each other). Dusty was so happy to have people pay attention to him and pet him, AND he really liked the people. When the man began to straighten up after petting the dogs, Dusty jumped up gently and gave the man a kiss. That’s not the most common gesture in Dusty’s repertoire. I said, “He kissed you. It’s gross, but it’s special.”
“I know,” said the man. “Good boy, Dusty.” ❤
I’m proud of Dusty T. Dog and all the progress he’s made from being a scared, anti-social pup to being the dog he is today — and you CAN teach old dogs new tricks if you have faith in them.