Listen. When my ex and I decided to adopt Cooper, we knew that it wouldn’t be easy. In fact, when we decided to get a dog, we specifically said that we WOULDN’T get a pitbull because we weren’t sure we could handle it. But then there he was, three months old with an inquisitive gaze and a wrinkly forehead, and that was that.
We did the training classes. We took him to the dog park every day. We brought a behaviorist into the house. Seemingly overnight he became reactive to other dogs, so eventually I found a pitbull-friendly daycare and took him three days a week. There he learned better leash manners and how to walk with a pack. Every person who has ever met him loves him. Lots of people assume that Huck will be their favorite, but he never has been. Cooper loves people, and it shows. So Cooper always wins.
We adopted Huck because we were worried that eventually Cooper might not be able to hang out with other dogs, and we wanted him to grow up with a friend. We got Huck specifically because he’s a Labrador mix, and a) I’ve always had good experiences with Labs, and b) we thought that if you saw us coming with both a pitbull and a happy Lab that Huck would somehow soften others’ feelings about Cooper.
All this is to say that we planned to have a tough road ahead with Cooper, and we assumed that life with Huck would be easy peasy. And that was wrong.
From the moment we brought him home, Huck displayed separation anxiety. We confined him to a small bathroom the first couple of nights, and he cried and cried until one of us would curl up on the floor with him and sleep there. When he was allowed into the bedroom, he quickly figured out how to sneak up into the bed so no one would notice. He would curl into the bend of my knees and sleep like the dead. He looks devastated anytime someone leaves the house without him, and if Cooper gets to go somewhere without him, he whines and paces until everyone is home. While he would often refuse to get out of the car at their daycare back home, it was always because he wanted to go to work with me, which he did one day a week.
This dog, now 100 pounds, follows me into the bathroom and sleeps next to the tub when I’m soaking. He tries very hard to herd the people into different rooms as his biological clock ticks. Too much time loitering at the dinner table and he starts pacing, trying to move things along to the TV-watching phase of the evening. Too much time TV watching, and he paces back and forth between the bedroom and the TV room.
Huck is also terrified of the dishwasher, the microwave, the sound of anything sizzling in a pan, and spray nozzles. Apparently, at the high-kill shelter where the rescue org found him, he and his brother were confined to a tiny room with a concrete floor and a drain in the middle, and instead of letting the dogs out to do their business, they just hosed it down the drain a couple of times a day with the dogs inside. Thus. Huck has issues.
Moving to Minneapolis has amplified his anxieties and bad behavior by like a million. I’ve talked about his rocky relationship with Claire, but it doesn’t stop there. He has tried to claw his way out of the kitchen – where the dogs are confined during the day – and has destroyed two doors and a doorframe. He’s done serious damage to the baby gate we use to control access to the mud room (and the outside). He’s destroyed a dog bed, a rug, one of Joel’s slippers, a christmas ornament and a Santa stocking. Two nights ago, he growled at me when I made him get off our bed. Two weeks ago he reacted viciously when Joel tried to get him to stop licking an injured paw.
We’ve been working with the dog trainer – though not as regular as we should – and we toyed with crate training him before my own fear that he would hurt himself took over. The ginormous crate is now sitting closed in the kitchen, a hulking representation of how overwhelmed we feel trying to deal with this dog. Whenever I see it, I feel like the crate is judging me. Yet, we have to do something with this dog, because he cannot be allowed to tear the house down and growl at people and glare at kids and bully his brother. (Even his behavior toward Cooper has escalated from just being dominant to being kind of mean.)
So, on Monday Huck is going for an assessment at a doggie daycare near the house. It’s the kind of place I’ve always hated – a big concrete building with concrete floors and kennels and a bunch of dogs just running around. I prefer that the bulk of his exercise happen on leash each day, but clearly his 40-minute, full-speed, 6-mile bike ride isn’t enough for him. He needs to be social. He needs to be with people. He cannot be left at home to miss me and get bored and act out.
Cooper, my troubled little pitbull, is practically a saint in comparison. Sure, he barks viciously at other dogs when we pass them on walks. He barks in the house when any dog in the neighborhood makes a peep. He barks at airplanes. He hates squirrels. But all these things are easy to handle. They are controllable. Huck, on the other hand, is fine one day and crazy the next. You never know what his mood will be. And I’m over being riddled with worry about him day in and day out.
When I got Huck, I thought he would be like the Labs my family had when I was a kid – fiercely loyal and sweet and goofy. He is all those things. He is my running partner, my morning snuggle buddy, my perfect little retriever. He is also an over-zealous, anxiety-ridden maniac sometimes. I feel awful that he spends so much of his life scared and sad and worried that I’m not coming back, but something’s gotta give.