Personality clashes and journeys

It’s November! Good grief, where does the time go? And why must it go so quickly?!

I just realized that I have neglected to introduce you to all of my critters. I was all set to write a post introducing Phoebe a few months ago, but she fell quite ill and I was afraid she was going to die, so every time I sat down to write the post, I started to cry.

 Yeah, I’m weepy like that.

Now that she’s fully recovered, I can introduce you to my demon-dachshund-from-hell…uh…I mean, my sweet little-old-lady doxie.  Phoebe and I have a bit of a personality clash.

Every. Single. Day.  

Such a sweet, serious face!

She’s actually a sweet little dog. People absolutely love the little Phoebster because she’s so friendly. Never met a stranger, this one! She’s not the least bit tempermental; she’s not a resource guarder; she’s cautious, but not fearful.

 But she has one little problem:  she refuses to be housetrained. 

And then there’s the fact that she’s a dachshund.

I spent Christmas Day, 2001, with my friend, Teri, and her family. As we drove back to her house from her sister’s that night, Teri told me that I needed to come in and see her dog, Bitsy. She’d purchased Bitsy from a breeder back in February. She’d wanted a puppy, but the sad little eyes of a piebald mama-dog caught her attention. Teri felt like the dog was being mistreated, so she bargained for her, instead. But, Bitsy just wasn’t working out. At three years old, she didn’t have any manners, didn’t know anything about anything at all. And she peed and pooped wherever she pleased. Teri wasn’t getting any cooperation from her family to help with training and had very little time to spend with Bitsy, so she’d arranged for a small shelter to take her. The shelter had assured Teri that Bitsy would be placed in a good home, that there was no chance she’d be euthanized.

It was dark outside when this sweet little dog came bounding up to me. I scooped her up and petted her. “So, Teri…how much are you feeding her?”

Teri motioned to a bowl and said, “We just fill it up when it’s empty. I guess she eats about a bowl a day.” That’s when I knew that Bitsy would never make it out of the tiny little shelter. The bowl held about 3-4 cups of food; I was holding a 6 lb. dog with protruding ribs in my arms. The numbers just didn’t add up. She had to be sick.

Teri, always eager to play matchmaker, said, “You know, you can take her home with you if you want. I can call the shelter and tell them she’s not coming tomorrow.” So, I did. I don’t regret it. But it’s been a long, tumultuous journey. 

Phoebe on Phoebe: Look, I'm a dachshund. What were you expecting??

 Introductions at my apartment didn’t go well. Alex was intrigued with the possibility of a new playmate; Mac was indifferent, at best, until Bitsy picked up his bone. He pounced on her so fast it made both our heads spin. She rolled onto her back and screamed bloody murder while he stood over her, growling. Alex and I were both stunned. I finally came to my senses, separated them and put the bone away. Mac never forgave her 

Having three homes in 12 months was understandably difficult for Bitsy, but we soon learned that she was sick.  I took her to the vet when I saw tapeworms. She also had whipworms, which probably accounted for her weight loss. In February, she was spayed. When I went to pick her up, my vet was practically apoplectic as he recounted the surgery. We knew she’d probably been bred (a huge no-no, since any dachshund with white fur – other than dapples – should not be bred), we knew she had an umbilical hernia, and we knew her molars oozed puss and her incisors were about to fall out. So, I guess what Dr. Gray found when he spayed her should’ve come as no big surprise:  a massive uterine infection that would’ve taken her life before we ever traced its roots; suture material, probably from botched C-sections; and scar tissue the likes of which he’d never seen before.

So, you see, Phoebe had a really bad start in life. She was neglected, abused, not treated like a pet at all. When I got her, the pads of her feet were as soft as a puppy’s. She peed and pooped in her crate, no matter what crate size. The only thing that we can surmise is that her first owner conditioned her to do so by not ever letting her out of her crate except to breed and give birth. That’s only a guess, but it’s probably close, given that dogs generally don’t soil where they sleep if they can help it.  

A little bitty dog in a great big world!

 Here she was, four years old, new house, new owner, new siblings, new routines. And oh, this little dog and I fought battle after battle, mostly about her potty habits. Before her spay surgery, we’d walk 1/2 mile, come home, and she’d pee in the living room. I’ll never forget the day that we walked up and down the street over and over, sleet pelting us as I repeated over and over, “Phoebe! Go PEE!!” To no avail, of course.

At the time, I knew almost nothing about training dogs, even though I’d had dogs my entire life. Cocker spaniels, despite what some people say, are quite smart and extremely easy to train. They tend to like their people, and they tend to like to please their people. I had two of them, and I had the advantage of having both of them from the time they were babies. They didn’t come with any emotional baggage.

Phoebe had plenty of emotional baggage. And while dachshunds like their people, they couldn’t care less about pleasing them. Despite being smart as whips, dachshunds are notoriously difficult to train because they are notoriously stubborn. Phoebe is no exception. I ask her to do something and she pauses, thinks about it, and if food isn’t involved, she tends to decide against doing whatever I’ve asked. I can see the wheels turning in her little brain, coming to a rest on NO. It is, without a doubt, the most infuriating thing I’ve ever experienced. I’m often convinced that God entrusted me with Phoebe’s care because he wanted me to learn a few lessons in patience and humility. Because he’s ever so optimistic.

"Mommy, can you please get me out of the cold wind?"

 It took me a long time to like Phoebe, and even longer to love her. As Patricia McConnell suggests, I very sweetly call her all sorts of unsavory names when she’s being a brat. It makes me feel better and doesn’t bother her at all. And, yes, sometimes I lose my temper. Amazingly, when I get “that tone” in my voice, she tends to do what I ask, kinda like I did when I was a kid and my dad would say, “Sherron Ann!” The only reasonable response was “sir!” I really, really hate that because I don’t want to get angry to get my dog to do what I ask. So, we struggle, Phoebe and I.

When I adopted Phoebe, I didn’t know that dogs have personality types and some people are better suited for some types of dogs and not others. I didn’t know that even though I like terriers and hounds, I should never adopt one. I just don’t have the personality suited for them. Adopting Phoebe forced me to learn more about training and introduced me to clicker training, an indispensible tool in my training toolbox today.

Living with Phoebe has been a roller coaster ride, but life with her has taught me something important about myself: I just don’t give up. I often want to curl up in a ball and hide from the world for the rest of my life, but it’s only a matter of time before I’ll come out of hiding. Eventually, even if after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I’ll look up, see the light, and know that there’s a better, brighter day ahead. I’ll rethink things, find a solution.

A few months ago, Phoebe and I went through a particularly rough time. Every day was a new battle, bigger and bloodier (metaphorically speaking!) than the day before. I would often tell her, “Little Dog, you’re 12 years old. Honestly, you’re not gonna be around a whole lot longer. And you know what? I’m really not going to miss you when you’re gone.”  

That, of course, is a big, fat lie. I’m pretty sure she knows.

Our long and winding journey...there's still more to see!

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