A year has passed since we picked out a sweet little puppy from the animal shelter. It has been an exciting time. He is potty trained. If he steps in stickers, he pulls them out of his paws himself with his teeth.
We walk an hour almost every day of the week, he and I. We have bonded. I know him pretty well. He’ll sit and offer his paw for a shake and cuddle with you in your lap.
And I’m going to admit something here that’s pretty hard to admit: He might be a psycho dog.
He started out growling at my husband if he came home late at night. It progressed to full-fledged alarm barking that scared me out of bed every time. He would bark whenever the front door opened, when anyone came up the stairs, and every time he heard the garage door move. Then he started snapping at my husband when he kissed me goodbye in the morning.
We looked up a trainer and went to a puppy kindergarten class. He learned to sit, stay, down and heel. He would not come when called. He played chase when you called him. He jumped up on people who came to our home, scratching a few bad enough to draw blood. We visited a friend at the beginning of the summer and he snapped at their one-year-old child. We went to a baseball game and, although on a leash, he barked and scared an elderly man in the bleachers and jumped at a few other kids. We decided not to take him to the park anymore.
Having a bad dog is difficult. The only thing we have to compare Peter to is our first dog, Darwin. She was a lover, not a fighter. She was extremely social and very submissive to other dogs.
Peter barks and acts as if he wants to tear their throats out. Then he started chasing cars and golf carts that came down our street, dashing out of the front yard too quickly for me to stop him. The car chasing prompted me to get out our old Invisible Fence system. The dog wears a collar and is trained to avoid the perimeter of the property marked with little flags. If he gets too close, the collar gives him a warning beep and then a shock.
It took Peter two weeks to figure out that if he quickly hopped over the driveway where the line was buried, he could avoid the shock. We were getting nowhere.
When friends declined to dogsit for us because, as they put it, “That dog is mean!” I decided enough was enough. We were headed on vacation for nine days, so instead of simply boarding him, we signed Peter up for doggie boot camp -basic obedience classes where we would have no contact with him for 10 days. I was desperate.
The trainer said it took seven full days for Peter to not be scared and hide from people who came into his kennel, but to instead be excited for someone to approach him. They put on a little demonstration for us, showing how well Peter could sit, stay, heel, down and come when called.
We went home with a dog that does not bark when people enter the house, and who no longer lunges after cars in the street. He walks on the leash like a champ, and we practice our obedience commands daily. He will even ignore other dogs on the beach if he is in one of his “down stays”.
But the skittishness and aggressiveness are still there. He nipped at an uncle at a family gathering last week, and barked his head off at another dog. I continue to go to the trainer for sessions, reporting on these “setbacks”. The trainer tells me to be persistent and be firm, that there is no magic pill, that obedience training will help Peter focus. They say that German shepherds strongly bond to one person and are very protective.
The question is whether or not I want this kind of bond. Do I stick with it? Do I give up? Am I being responsible or irresponsible? Please tell me it’s going to get better…
Kate Williams is a Port Aransas