I'm not Dog-gone mad anymore...

I adopted Aspen, our 2 yr old Staffordshire Terrier who joined us this winter, because she's done with having puppies and I'm done with having kids (so at least we have a connection).... I also got Sherlock, my 18 week Cardigan Welsh Corgi, to have a fresh start in pet ownership and hopefully accomplish all those dreams of dog agility and dog shows that are unfulfilled. And Leo the obnoxious cat comes to dinner every once in a while.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

I know it's supposed to be spring, but with as much slipping and sliding, and snow every where, this is a very appropriate title.

I realized that my experience with Aspen is something very important to blog about. Specially with all the issues that have come to my attention with owning a Staffordshire Terrier. I look back to the flight restrictions on American Airlines, the McDonald's radio commercial controversy, and I can't help but wonder if maybe sharing what this particular dog is like it may help with some of the stereo-types that people have against dogs with such square faces and broad chests.

I get upset because Aspen is such a good dog! It makes me angry that my dog can't fly with us to Florida on American Airlines simply because of the way she looks, when she is less likely to bite a stranger than some of the smaller breeds that are allowed to fly in the cabin!

I was also a little... perturbed with the looks I got walking her at the dog park. People who were just strollin' about suddenly put their dogs on the leash and rush past us, instructing their dogs to leave my dog alone the whole way they are crossing us, only because Aspen is not a lab or an australian shepherd.

The more frustrating thing is that as a dog she can sometimes show some signs of aggression - whether in fear or just as her way of saying, "no". It's dog language; it's how they let other dogs know they don't like it. I'm not talking about a lunging, growling beast that wants to tear up every dog in sight. I'm talking about a snarl, a warning snap, when dogs are too close or they are invading her personal space in a way that isn't comfortable to her. Never mind the fact that I've seen dogs act inappropriate in what the owners think is "friendly" behavior; humping, jumping on her, wanting to tackle her. So because Aspen doesn't like this kind of forwardness, and shows it to the other dog (and the other dog has not been taught to approach dogs in an appropriate manner), Aspen is now in trouble: She's of that "breed" that is "dangerous". After all, don't they use these dogs to fight?

I wish people would understand, truly understand, the amount of cruelty that a pit bull terrier has to go through to be turned into a fighting dog because it goes entirely against their nature to be that aggressive. And yes, Terriers are protective - from the pit bull to the Jack Russell. And I've known some dogs that don't really like other dogs simply based on genetics and personality types; one pit bull, a few german shepherds, and a couple of boxers, actually.

And then there are the idiots who get pit bulls because they look cool, have their ear crops so they scare people away from their yards, and let the animal overpower and dominate everything so that the person holding the leash has no control, the animal has no behavior training, and society has a problem on their hands. I have to be honest, when these clients come into the clinic that I work at, I get very frustrated. And while I will never show them any disrespect, from the bottom of my heart I want to tell them: "Do you realize that your ignorance in handling the dog you have on the other end of the leash is the reason why MY dog is not allowed in a lot of the homes and apartments I would apply to rent at? Why MY dog can't board a plane with American Airlines? And why any child or other dog is in serious danger around your pit bull, but people are afraid of MY dog for no good reason!?"

I want to share with people that the scratches and scars on my arms from Aspen are because I failed to trim her nails and she tackled me to the ground with kisses during our play time. That my kids sleep on her during nap time. That she helped me take care of a deaf french bulldog puppy of only about 10 weeks of age.

The best I can do is keep socializing her, keep training her, and keep exposing her. I take her to the dog park at least once a week. She gets lots of praise for being relaxed when sniffing other dogs. I keep the introductions short and painless so that she has more positive experiences and less scary ones. There are some dogs she wants to chase and play with, a lot of dogs she likes to sniff. Others she approaches very stiffly and I know it's time to go.

For example, today she was snapping at a German Shepherd that was running around her. She was not happy. As soon as I could, I put her back on the leash (I had to climb up this hill with melting snow and wasn't doing too good at it). Less than a minute later, a golden retriever approached her, tail wagging. She was still pretty stiff. The retriever cowered up to her, and when they were nose to nose, dropped on his back and showed her his belly! She sniffed him, wagged her tail a bit, and moved on. She does great with smaller breed dogs - loves pomeranians and boston terriers as far as I've seen. And she has been pretty playful with some of the older, more gentle big dogs. Truthfully, Aspen goes to the dog park more interested in the PEOPLE than in the dogs. She'll follow children and introduce her self to every stranger she sees.

My favorite dog park interaction thus far has been when I was walking with my friend Jenna and her Pomeranian, Pomegranate. We were approached by a growling, chasing miniature aussie that was off leash, really going after Pom. Aspen stood over Pom, planted her feet, and growled at the aussie in Pom's defense it seems. It gave Jenna the chance to pick Pom up (oh the joys of owning a small breed dog!), and we were able to walk by and keep moving without any further altercations. Everyone was happy and back to running in the snow. I will add here that Aspen, running full speed in the snow, has the potential to break your shins in half if she can't stop right in front of you and slides into you like a bowling ball knocking a pin over. It's the biggest hazard in owning her that I've experienced so far, LOL.

But nobody takes a glance at the miniature aussie and react with fear for their dogs.

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