Monday, November 06, 2006
One of the reasons I haven't posted much lately is the puppy you see above. For some insane reason, I decided to be her foster home. Actually, I know exactly why I'm fostering her: she's absolutely awesome and needs to find an active home that will take full advantage of her awesomeness. I first met the pup--I'm calling her Zsa Zsa--at a flyball tournament in September, and I spent some time walking her, playing with her and trying some basic training (sit, loose-leash walking) with her. Her focus and attention for such a youngster (she was about 12 weeks old at the time--she's about 17-weeks now) just astounded me. She had all the motivations I would want for a sporty dog (tug, ball and food), and she was super handler-attentive even in the presence of lots of dogs and people. If I had been in a position to add a third dog to my household, she would have been it.
One would think that a pup like this would have no problem finding a home quickly, but she has a bit of a reputation to overcome--she's a pit bull. (More after the jump.)
She did briefly have a home, but they turned out not to be the right fit. The truth is that pit bulls--which in my opinion can be absolutely wonderful pets and sport dogs--are not for everyone. They require committed and knowledgeable owners willing to spend a lot of time with their dog. They require consistent and firm but loving training, and they need a lot of exercise. They get a lot of bad press for supposedly being aggressive towards humans, but the real problem to watch out for is aggression towards other dogs (those who know the breed recognize that they are usually extremely loving and devoted to humans, and very tolerant of handling). Proper socialization and supervision with other dogs is essential, and pit bulls may not always be suitable for dog-park-like recreational settings or multi-dog households. But their work ethic, drive and general enthusiasm make them well-suited for many different dog sports and work. A U.S. Customs dog trainer once told me that pit bulls make exceptional drug sniffer dogs, but the agency had to stop using them because anti-pit bull hysteria made people freak out when they saw them. I've even gotten some bad-will over the last few days just walking her around my neighborhood: people ask what she is and I've gotten a few horrified looks when I tell the truth ... as if she's going to eat all the neighborhood toddlers one day (one can only hope ... oh, I'm kidding, lighten up!)
Before she came to my house, Zsa Zsa's home was a boarding kennel. She was surrendered along with her heartworm-positive mother to the kennel owner by a neighbor who could not or would not take proper care of her dogs (the mother was so sick that Zsa Zsa is the only pup from the litter who survived). Although she got a lot of love from the kennel staff and was able to play with other dogs and pups, it really wasn't a great place for her to learn good potty-training or home-life skills and habits, and the kennel staff wasn't doing anything to pubicize her to potential adopters. I couldn't stand the thought that for lack of a little training she could end up being someone's problem--which is usually what happens when high-drive dogs don't get the stimulation and attention they require.
I decided to bring her to my house for a weekend trial period. Wow--even though I teach puppy classes, my dogs are getting old so I've not been required in recent years to practice what I preach! I had forgotten how extraordinarily demanding the little breasts are, and it took me a couple of mistakes to get the potty training rhythm going (once I got my act together Zsa Zsa responded well, and we're almost pros now). I had also forgotten that in the blink of an eye, puppy can go from chewing on authorized toy to unauthorized table leg, rug or pants leg, and when I tell my puppy classes that pup needs to be confined in a crate or x-pen if they aren't actively supervised, I'm not making it up or exaggerating! There is nothing in this world that Zsa Zsa doesn't want to pick up or chew on--or both. I noticed this morning that there's a growing pile of sticks by the front door--she picks them up when we're walking outside, but I make her drop them before we go in. I think that pit bulls can be even "mouthier" than other breeds, and it's likely to be a trait she holds onto past puppyhood. That means whoever adopts her will need to be committed to keeping her in a "dog-proof" place like a crate or x-pen well-into adulthood. Some people think it's cruel to confine a dog, but it's far better than what happens to dogs whose owners allow them to run loose only to decide that the dog "isn't working out" after it destroys expensive furnishings and posessions ...
Anyway, the big problem with having Zsa Zsa in my home is that Mr. Gomez (my big border collie mix) vociferously hates her (or almost any dog guest in our home), and I have to keep them separated, because Zsa Zsa wants nothing more in life than for him to love her. She's doing all the proper submissive things--scrunching down, bowing her head, trying to lick his mouth--but it only gets him more upset. At first, the mere sight of her set him to growling, but now he's cool if she doesn't pay any attention to him ... which doesn't last for long. At any rate, I have to keep them separated (he tolerates her hanging out in an X-pen in the same room as him), and the last thing I want her to learn is how to be hateful toward other dogs. Lucy tolerates her presence but she doesn't actually want to have anything to do with her so I don't really let Zsa Zsa try to play with her at all. The whole situation requires a lot of time and energy to manage, and when people say (as they do say--a lot) when I'm singing Zsa Zsa's praises "Oh, you're going to end up keeping that dog" I know there is no way I could do this permamnently. I had a foster dog several years ago whom I dearly loved (I think he was a lab/pit mix), but the three-dog circus just wasn't working (Mr. Gomez actively hated him, too, and he grew to hate Gomey right back). So when he finally found a home after seven months, I was sorry to part with him but very happy to be back down to two dogs.
The good news is that a fellow dog-training type and her partner may be interested in Zsa Zsa. They are going to meet her tonight. It would be an excellent home for her because they are experienced and active dog people, and they would give Zsa Zsa some training and a job. I really want to see her doing agility if possible, because I think she has the aptitude--I've already got her doing figure-8's around cones, running through tunnels and jumping onto a "tippy board," all of which she does with great enthusiasm. We'll see, and maybe I'll even find the time to keep you posted!