When I got my next dog, Greta the Rottweiler (a.k.a Best Dog in the World), the conventional wisdom about dog training had changed. I took her to obedience classes, and I read a series of books by the Monks of New Skete, who advocated a training method based on pack dynamics. There was no hitting involved, or even much coercion, but the answer for almost any challenge to the human's status in the pack was the "alpha roll," wherein you roll the dog on its back forcefully and hold it there until it realizes who is boss. They also advocated a "chuck" under the chin to get a rowdy dog's attention. Greta was an alpha bitch, who humped other dogs and lifted her leg to pee, so I had to roll her a few times when she got too big for her britches, and even chucked her chin once or twice. She always got the message quickly though, and we went right back to being best buddies.
The current preferred training methods are based on rewarding the dog with love and treats. And that's what I have done with Stella. This may be just as effective as the more heavy-handed approaches. It may even be more effective, as the gurus claim. But let me tell you, it's extremely difficult to use the light, happy, voice that you did in puppy kindergarten when your 120-lb. neurotic dog is seriously pissing you off.
I've had all kinds of problems with Stella, none of which are really her fault. I mean, how can a dog, or anyone else, be blamed for her personality? I blame myself for getting a super-fancy boutique dog and for taking the first one that I was able to get my hands on. I'm afraid that in many ways we're just not suited for each other, even though the breeder had an "expert" do temperament profiling on all the pups, and I had to fill out a ten-page questionnaire, which supposedly revealed that we were a perfect match. So I guess I blame the breeder too. I've said it before: Stella's great when she's outside pulling a cart or just running loose; but in the house the best thing we can do is keep our distance from one another.
You have probably guessed that there's been another Stella incident. Or an incident set in motion by Stella that turned into an angry Dad incident. This time, thankfully, the kids were not around.
By the time I went out to take Stella for her nightly one-hour walk last night, I was already a tiny bit grumpy because I hadn't gotten many items checked off my to-do list and it looked like I would be up late. And there were the usual half-dozen or so cosmic injustices gnawing at me as well.
Stella and I were walking through the park, as we do almost every night. I always let Stella run off-lead at night. Oh yeah. There's another thing she's good at--not running away. Don't say I never said anything nice about her.
So we're doing our usual loop, and she's stopping to nibble rabbit turds, as she sometimes does, and I figure that's kind of gross, but mostly harmless. She lingers at a little stand of hardwoods and I wait, engrossed in a podcast of All Things Considered.
Something--probably the passage of a certain amount of time--tells me that she is up to no good there in the darkness. I call her, and she eventually ambles over to me. Sheepishly.
I see some debris hanging from her mouth, and suspect the worst.
I grab her under the jaw and smell her breath.
Yep. Hobo shit*.
I cussed. I yelled.
I kicked my dog.
That's right. I kicked her.
Okay, if it were some kind of martial arts contest, I probably would not have scored any points for it. It was more of a foot-nudge, really, thrown from a very awkward squatting position. But it made her yelp.
Go ahead--report me to PETA. I'll foot-nudge them right in the ass when they come to my door.
But seriously, I was beside myself with ineffectual rage. I am fully aware that beating or yelling at a dog for something it did more than two seconds prior does nothing but confuse and scare the poor beast; especially one as sensitive and...um...prone to confusion as Stella. But my reaction had nothing to do with logic. I needed to release the furies lest they consume me from within.
The Monks of New Skete suggest that when a dog steps out of line, the owner might, after dealing with the immediate damage, hold a little training session, both to reinforce positive behaviors, and, of course, to remind the animal about the hierarchy in the home.
So I figured Stella and I would work on some "heeling" to get ourselves re-focused. But Stella would have none of it. She was so freaked out from my outburst that all she could do was cower and cringe. Which just made me angrier. For some reason, her all-encompassing fear offends me more than any of her other shortcomings. I dragged her by the collar. I shook her. I cussed some more. And even I was not surprised that this didn't help matters.
Finally I had to let her back off the leash and, once I had cooled off, use the cloying puppy-kindergarten voice to convince her to follow me home.
Now Stella is sleeping across the room from me. There is no sign of hoboshitvomit. I've cooled down enough that her presence does not offend me; but a nuzzling moratorium is in effect until further notice.
Although Stella and I will probably be all right--she's just a few feet away from me, and I'm not seething at all--this is the kind of incident that makes me worry a little about my kids. There have been times when I have felt similarly frustrated with them, usually when they were screaming and wailing incessantly, apparently for no other reason than to torture me. And there have been times that I have, in "comforting" them, jiggled a little more vigorously than I probably needed to, or squeezed their arms harder than was strictly necessary to get them to STAY AWAY FROM THAT DANGEROUS THING.
I don't think I'll ever kick (or foot-nudge) my children, or alpha roll them, or cuss them up one side and down the other as I did with Stella last night, but I can imagine making them flinch every once in a while. And that's not the kind of parent I want to be.
I guess there are websites dedicated to demonstrating how likely men are, statistically, to physically abuse their families. I've never visited one, but I've seen daddy bloggers rail against these "sexist" sites. But I don't know. I suspect we are more given to anger and violence than women, for whatever reasons. And that's why we need to be as vigilant about these impulses in ourselves as any gratuitous man-basher is.
*I won't go into details about how I was able to identify the scat so readily: suffice it to say it was not the first time a dog of mine has gotten into that particular delicacy.