The Emperor Spats with an Elder

(Continued from previous blog. And final dog episode)…

The first dog to enter Kaiser’s oversized personal bubble was a giant, well filled out, tan and black German Shepherd. He had the straight back and full body and a general look of authority and confidence. Kaiser is lean and slanted with a bit of a wolfe-like face and mane area. Especially when his hair flares in aggression. And it did.

This shocked me.

Kaiser lived with seven or eight other dogs at camp, I was told, and did well. He went to obedience training and spent time with other dogs. He did well there too, I was told.  So when he bristled at the sight of one old, unconcerned Shepherd, and looked like he was ready to slaughter him for lunch, I gulped. And I certainly didn’t know what to do besides pull back while he tugged forward, barking viciously .

The gentleman with the other Shepherd looked as unconcerned as his dog, and moved forward, even as I apologized for my dog’s behavior, which was drowned out by the raucous. At length the world was quiet, and before I could say a thing, the gentleman spoke.

“You have a pretty vicious dog there?”

I explained that I had owned him for all of under three hours, and still had quite a drive ahead, and I really didn’t know he was vicious. “When you look at him, does his face look vicious?” I asked him, because I couldn’t see my dog’s face with him pulling ahead of me like that, and besides, he owned a Shepherd. He was far more likely to know.

“Yes, he looks quite vicious, really,” he said.

“I’m beginning to wonder what I’ve gotten myself into,” I said. “No one mentioned any of this to me. I wasn’t expecting it.” I apologized again, this time without the racket, and said I would take him to another corner and figure it out.

But the gentleman encouraged me to stay. “Give them a chance. My old guy here can handle him. He’ll calm him down.” So, instead of moving further apart, we moved closer together. Nervously I watched as Kaiser barked and threatened, teeth bared, his bark carrying for miles around. And then he calmed again. We moved closer, letting both dogs move until they were face to face, and that is when I witnessed a most miraculous thing. Kaiser bristled a bit and barked loudly again. The older Shepherd returned a gentle authoritative bark, and kept walking. He walked right past Kaiser’s face, brushing gently against him–at which point the usual dog greeting ensued, which I shall not describe–and then the old fellow walked around to the other side and brushed right up against Kaiser again, ever so gently again. The barking stopped instantly, and Kaiser had a new friend. It gave me a shred of hope that I had not purchased  a dog that would maul anyone and anything that approached me.

The other Shepherd went and stood at his master’s side. Kaiser came and stood ever so slightly in front of me.

“Look at that! You have yourself a protector. He’s already bonded with you and will defend you,” the man said.

I wasn’t sure if that was comforting or terrifying, after what I had seen, and with picturing a family and neighbourhood of children back home, but at least there was a bond. It was a starting point. We chatted a while before we each walked our separate ways. That’s when other dogs came. Not one. Not two. But dogs. Plural, way too many, walking around. I wasn’t ready to drive with Kaiser, and I wasn’t ready to deal with his aggression. I opted for the latter and kept walking, trying to keep him focused away from the other dogs, but he was on high alert, and it started all over again. The gentleman and his Shepherd walked our way, the old shepherd walking between Kaiser and the other dogs, and again Kaiser settled down, only distracted momentarily, to bark, when a new dog came too near.

We returned to the car, after about an hour of play, and a drink–his drink, not mine, because I knew I had hours of driving with no break–and headed for home. He nuzzled close to my hand when I reached back each time he showed signs of distress, and calmed right back down.

About an hour from home I noted my gas tank was running low, and stopped at the last rest stop to get gas and rid Kaiser of more energy. I pulled up to the gas bar, opened the door and Kaiser again dove recklessly at me. And at that moment I stopped being his comforter and I became his master. I pushed him back into his seat with great determination, much like a kid trying to force a heavy spring loaded jack-in-the-box into its container, and closed the lid. I mean, the door. I waited a moment and tried again to open the door and get gas. Again he tried to bolt. So I belted myself in and drove  across the parking lot. And that’s when he figured out I don’t like his behavior. I talked to him like I would to any toddler in a tantrum, and knew he didn’t understand a word of it, but I felt better. And I was certain he understood my displeasure, because he whimpered and barked a quiet, sad little bark and then settled down when I told him, “No! You can’t behave that way and there is no way you’re getting out. You will learn to sit quietly and wait.” And he sat back in his seat in resignation.

We sat there for what must seem like ‘forever’ in dog minutes, especially a young one like him. And then I spoke to him before I opened the door. I explained that he needed to wait, and I would help him out on my terms. Amazingly, it went sort of okay. I wasn’t as ‘in charge’ as I wanted to be, but more than earlier, and that was progress. And all progress is good progress. This is what I tell myself daily right now.

We played for a good twenty minutes, after which I pulled back to the gas bar. I told Kaiser he would stay in the car, and I would get out without him, and commanded him to ‘Sit’. He sat. I held up my hand and said, “Wait”. And he waited. He watched me closely as I moved out of the car and filled up, but he waited politely.

I had opened the window a few inches and spoke before going in to pay–because of course the ‘pay at the pump’ wasn’t working. He sat there, all proper, and watched me. “Wait’ in Kaiser’s world means I will return soon, and you may move around while you wait.” He practiced in the next few minutes.

The guy in front of me was on a mini-winning streak, buying lottery tickets and spending the money faster than he was making it. He used his winnings and added from his pocket, before finally wrapping it up, whether due to boredom from not winning, or out of change. Either way, he shuffled along and I paid for my gas.

In the car Kaiser sat as properly as an Emperor should, in a fur coat and four legs, and waited, eyes on me with every move. I sat in with no lunging. He rose to his feet, kissed my shoulders generously, as if to thank me for coming back, and then settled down again.

The final stretch home was completely uneventful, until that moment when we pulled in the lane. Incorporating a German Shepherd dog with fear issues, into a family of seven humans and one other canine, is a very different challenge entirely.

It has been almost a month now, since getting Kaiser, and he has overcome most anxieties in the day to day. Nighttime anxieties still come and go, and, speaking of coming and going, that’s still not his favourite thing, to have changes to the household ‘pack’. So our last big hurdle is to have all of us leave him several hours a week, when the children return to school and I begin university next week.

Aside from this he has made himself at home enough to sneak into Tim’s chair, wear Bryan’s hat, and allow our 10-yr-old cockapoo, Akira, to visit his ‘house’. Keeping in mind that she despised him and would have had him for a snack if she wasn’t a quarter of his size, so some of that ‘allowing’ is her growth.

  
    
   
His favourite thing in the world is playing ball, of any sort but in particular soccer. And especially with Kordan, which has been a very good thing, drawing the youngest teen off the couch to play. I read that German Shepherds do their best to draw a family together, and that is accurate. His self-appointed job–because he is bred to be a working dog–is to engage the whole family in play. Everything from keep away, to high jump, to hide and seek, and whatever entertainment we can conjure up, he’s in. When playing ball we count down, “Three, two… play ball”, so that when Kordan randomly counts, he studies him closely, appearing confused as to why there’s no ball to play.

All around, I am glad I made that trip to Montreal four weeks ago, and glad that we acquired a dog of his intelligence, obedience and affection. He is a guard dog, however, so if you plan on ‘popping by’, call first and don’t walk into the house uninvited, or without an ‘inspection’ from the Emperor himself.

And now, having adjusted to life with a dog like Kaiser, and before I become the crazy dog lady if it’s not already too l, I will move on to a new chapter of life. Where the road will lead,  after my next two years of being invested in intense study, doing the University of Waterloo Master Peace and Conflict Studies, I am not certain. Still, I am glad I made that decision to move in a new direction even though I do not love the uncertainty of dramatic change. That said, I am confident it will be good and a step forward… it always has been in the past.

 

Love,
~ T ~

 © Trudy Metzger

The Emperor is a Lap Dog… Suddenly, while driving

It came out of the blue, the big German Shepherd dog sitting on my lap. And while driving at 120 km an hour down the 401, on my way home from Montreal. Well, almost out of the blue.

For the first few hours, things went well after we left the doggy camp, where Kaiser had stayed for some time, because his master had developed an illness. Without any fuss he left both camp leader and previous master without a fuss. He laid down, just like his master said he would, and went to sleep. Up to two hours or a bit more, she figured, he would be good before needing a break. And right she was. I made one stop within the first hour to fuel up and get a Timmies coffee and snack while Kaiser sat quietly in the car, windows down, and waited until I returned, then promptly settled back to sleep. We had passed the two hour mark, with no place to pull over, when he started pacing.

For two peaceful hours he had settled quickly whenever I reached my one hand back, rested it on the seat–which he had understandably slobbered on in his nervous state, panting furiously–and always laid his head up against it. His breathing calmed each time,  and his panting slowed, and then he went to sleep. Ever so carefully I pulled my hand forward each time, and ‘Voila!’…

On an occasion or two, maybe even three, when I made this transition, I allowed my car to drift ever so slightly to the right shoulder, over the ribbed pavement. And we all know what happens then. That loud startling racket. Now imagine it for a nervous sleeping dog. After the momentary startle, each time, he settled nicely again.

What started it at that particular moment, I don’t recall. Was it leftover nervousness from that startling sound a bit earlier, or did I bring my hand forward and drift slightly again, hitting the ribs at just that moment? Whatever it was, the shock of a giant dog attempting to lunge into the front seat, wiped my memory of whatever preceded that moment. He stood in the seat, pacing as much as a dog can pace with a seatbelt on. I recall that much. His panting escalated. He whined and whimpered. In my rear view mirror I watched as he looked out the back, then side windows, then up at me, eyes wild, and then repeated the cycle pacing. It all happened in a matter of seconds… much faster than I can tell it.

We had just passed the sign: 2 km’s to the next rest stop, and I was relieved to see it, wondering how long before he would need a stop desperately. When he suddenly grew frantic, I reached my hand back again to comfort and calm, but that wasn’t going to cut it. Not this time. Sweet talking and charming him was off the table. I tried food. Rejected.

And that’s when he lunged. I felt it. Saw it. And I reacted as quickly, blocking the small space between seats with my shoulder and elbow, so that he rammed into me, full force. He pulled back and dove with such determination I didn’t know what hit me. I thought his seatbelt was designed to prevent what happened next. But it didn’t. His rump planted itself firmly on my lap, his head still facing back, where the seatbelt held him. And then he jerked his face forward, throwing his bulk to the front. All of it. Leaving his head draped over my stick shift. Whimpering and panting and half wailing. and gagging ever so slightly from the choke collar he wore.

Fortunately, I still had control of the steering wheel, and  did the only thing I could do. I popped in the clutch and coasted, then pulled over, hitting those darn ribbed spots, before coming to a stop.

By this time Kaiser was borderline hyperventilating. With sheer force of will, I shoved him back to the back seat so I could get him out. He then lurched forward against my seat as I reached for the door, and wouldn’t back off for anything. The flow of traffic was steady and I knew if I opened the door–which I attempted–he would lunge again, and, I feared, break the belt and make a run for it. Then I would be left to find a spot for a gorgeous corpse. I swung the door shut, and tried to talk to him. He panicked all the more.

Finally traffic moved to the far side, and I held him back while I unbelted him, and led him to the grass. We paced there for about 15 minutes. I told him to go pee, but he just paced and looked at me with those wild eye.

In that moment I was sure I had picked up a possessed creature, the way he was. He never did go pee, even though it had been a long while since I had stopped earlier to give him a drink. I sweet talked him into the back seat, belted him on as short a leash as possible, and drove the 2 kilometers to the rest stop.

I’ve never been more relieved to see a rest area. And I don’t mean that ‘relieved’ in the way I usually would. No, that wasn’t going to happen. My bladder would be just fine the whole way home.

Reasoning with him was pointless, so I didn’t bother. I only made sure I had his leash, firmly in my hand, and let him make a run for it. He dragged me around the grassy area like I was his pet, for the first few minutes. And then I took charge. Well, mostly.

It went well for a while, but he was bored and I knew he needed to get rid of some energy. So I grabbed a ball and tossed it, careful not to go beyond the reach of the leash, so that he wouldn’t break away, or yank my shoulder or some such thing. This went well. Until that moment when I forgot that I used to be a baseball pitcher with a good arm, and I threw the ball way too hard.

I saw it coming before it happened, but there was nothing I could do to stop it. I had to roll with it. Almost literally. I was in crocs, flopping around in the grass, not in running shoes like I used to wear for sports and still wear for long walks. And I’m almost 47 now. Not 14, 17 or 23. Also, I don’t run anymore. I still walk briskly, if I’m so inclined, but since surviving a massive heart attack in 2006, running pushes up my heart rate higher than it’s supposed to go. So I don’t run. Usually.

But that all changes in a moment like that, when you throw the ball and you have a leash firmly in your grip, wrapped about your hand a few times. Especially if the force at the other end of that leash is a muscular German Shepherd with anxiety and brutal pent up energy. In a moment like that you run again. Fast. And clumsy. Dragging those flip flops awkwardly and wishing to goodness they would fly off. But they don’t. No. They flap about carelessly and try to trip you, and you find yourself running and lurching forward most awkwardly, bent over in what should really end in a nose dive. But you are stubborn and fight back. You keep that leash firmly in your grip, and schlop along behind him, because this dog you just met… well…  only God knows what he is capable of or what he will do if he is on the loose in the middle of God’s green earth with no one at the other end of the leash… so you run awhile at that angle, feeling more like ninety than forty-seven. And you don’t even have it in you to pray, because you’re focusing so hard on holding the animal back and staying on your feet. Until finally you surrender, let that leash fly and gradually bring yourself to an upright position. If he perishes, he perishes, you tell yourself. Which is almost biblical. And you’re no Esther willing to go down for the cause.

You stand there a brief moment, relieved to have landed upright, and, then, promptly bend over laughing so hard you cry. And being who you are, you look around to make sure you didn’t have an audience. But it’s a public rest stop and there are people here and there. Quickly you realize you are not alone; there are several bikers dying laughing with you. So you take it all in stride, and you wave, because what else can you do?  And then you grab your dog, who now has the ball and is ready for another round.

In mere moments you become much older and wiser, and you set your forty-seven year old bottom firmly on the grass, like a tree well rooted, grab that leash yet more firmly, and throw the ball. Ever so gently. Because there is no way you will have that happen again.

No more have you started to play, when the other dogs start coming. And it’s almost like every dog traveling the 401 have timers set, to stop right then, and traumatize an already troubled, overgrown puppy.

…to be continued.

 

 

Love,
~ T ~

 © Trudy Metzger