DOG OF THE DAY - FREEWAY, companion Cockapoo
HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE!
A story of love, concern and perseverance
It's not just about the dogs. A day in the life of a behavior trainer will find you motivating, inspiring, coaching and convincing people. Just everyday people, who love their dogs and just want the best for them. Here is such a story. His name is Freeway. He's a Cockapoo. His challenges are he doesn't like other dogs or strangers, yet he can cozy up to a kitten and lick the face of a baby. He hates to be groomed, especially his legs and back end, but yet gets excited when the grooming tools come out. Freeway is well....JUST Freeway.
It all started one day when an abandoned dog showed up at Gloria's father's home. He gave this dog, a black Cockapoo, to Gloria and her family. No this wasn't the JUST Freeway of our story, but his predesessor, Freeway #1.
Gloria Pritchett-Konarzewki is one of my favorite Facebook game friends. You never know who might come into your life, cross your pathway or how it will happen. One of Gloria's daughters lives just an island away from me and the commonality started there. In the life of a behavior trainer, as people read your Facebook wall and know you work with dogs who have challenges a lot of interesting conversations start. It can't be helped, it is a passion.
So it is with Gloria and Freeway. They wiggled their way into my life and heart, and so the last Thanksgiving Week "Dog of the Day" series focuses on a story that is not about a professional positive trainer, but simply about a normal, loving family who opened their heart to a dog for the companionship he provides, even with his behavior challenges. It doesn't get much better than that!
Freeway #1 was the first namesake to melt Gloria's heart. Gloria says, "He was a very well-behaved dog and never did anything wrong." As fate would have it and as Freeway aged, he started having heath problems. First, skin problems and then his joints were deteriorated. The veterinarian told Gloria it was time to put her Freeway to sleep. Gloria said she thought she would faint. Put him to sleep? That was six years ago. It is a painful memory.
But this is where Freeway's namesake enters.
Gloria was not only heartbroken, but devastated over Freeway #1's loss, but over time Gloria realized that her attachment to Freeway had deeper meaning and was really the only way she had to hold on not only to his loss, but to the loss of her father.
It was time to look for another black cockapoo to fill the emptiness in her heart. Gloria wanted one that looked like Freeway #1 and the only goal was to help her get over the loss of her cherished canine companion Freeway #1.
She went online, found what she was looking for and soon Freeway #2 was on his way via a big white bird to Michigan. Gloria describes this newcomer as cute, a ball of fur and once again, she fell in love immediately. There was no debate about what this new pup's name would be and initially, Freeway #2 was playful, got along well with people, as well as Gloria's treasured cats. The perfect puppy.
As Freeway #2 grew up, however, his behavior changed, "became strange," Gloria says. This dog's behavior was going to be quite different than that of her beloved Freeway #1, who remember "never did anything wrong."
Perfect puppy JUST can't behave
Freeway started trying to ride Gloria's arm or leg and to make matters worse, started biting at her feet. Riding being a kind term for humping.
Gloria says, "When I got dressed or put shoes on he would bite at my shoes." To a professional, we might tell her that this is normal puppyish behavior and recommend she teach him to "redirect" that behavior by rewarding the right behavior, the correct behavior she wanted from Freeway.
Gloria says, that while Freeway seemingly "grew out of that stage", he will try to ride her arm or leg occasionally today, especially when her granddaughter is around her. To an expert's eye it would seem Freeway #2 is over-excited, over-stimulated, maybe anxious, stressed or tense. This is the way his emotions come out when he is conflicted, or a new baby takes attention away from him, and we'd again want to teach Gloria and her family to redirect this behavior.
Remember, Gloria is an average dog owner. She JUST wants Freeway #2 to be like Freeway #1, trouble and worry-free. Why can't he JUST cooperate?
Gloria said, "As a puppy Freeway was ok with grooming, which I had done at first through Pet Smart. Then I had a groomer that came to my home and took Freeway to her van to groom him, but as he aged, he became harder and harder to groom." Freeway is almost six-years-old today.
"It's funny," she says, "because when he sees the grooming box he gets excited and comes running. But the reality is he gives me such a hard time and gets stressed out when it comes to trimming his legs, feet and rear end."
Cockapoos need to be groomed, that is just a part of their life. In fact, they need to be groomed every two months, that is six times a year. Six times Gloria and Freeway have to go through the dreaded ritual.
Gloria felt she JUST had to do something, but she didn't know what. Freeway's behavior was getting worse. So she talked her veterinarian about the situation and the vet gave her pills to sedate Freeway.
Gloria was scared to use them. So scared, she waited a week before they were going to expire before she thought she'd give it a try. Freeway would be going to the vet that day anyway to have his nails cut and if something went wrong or didn't seem right, she'd be abe to do something quickly.
What Gloria found was that the medication JUST "chilled Freeway out some and made grooming less stressful for him."
Gloria was able to groom him two days in a row, in fact, and he JUST sat nicely. The sedative now allowed her to "give him a good grooming without him growling at me or showing his teeth to me," she said.
WHAT now Freeway is growling and showing teeth? That JUST is not acceptable. How can I help?
What are Gloria's hopes for Freeway today? Her hope is simple, that one day she will JUST be able to groom Freeway, stress-free.
She says that today, "I can't even take him to a groomer, he WILL bite them. The only place that could do the grooming would be a vets office that offers grooming with sedation."
As behavior trainers we would jump at the chance to counter condition Freeway to loving his grooming time and change his attitude through clicker training.
Gloria has always been an animal lover. Dogs are her favorite. A year and a half ago a new addition came to live with Freeway, a dachshund/mini pin mix named Lou Lou. Gloria said Freeway "liked the cats" so she told Freeway Lou Lou was a kitten. That is hilarious, as Freeway "doesn't like dogs," but he liked Lou lou, who was small and so, Freeway accepted him, even played with him right away. Gloria said it was like he was that playful, happy, puppy again.
Freeway was great with the babies until they started crawling. Crawling babies were JUST one more thing and Gloria says, "when the babies start to crawl Freeway growls and runs from the same babies he loved and licked."
As a behavior trainer we would see this as a disaster waiting to happen. We would say it is because Freeway hasn't been desensitized to the "movements babies make" and Freeway might now be afraid of this little one who is now his size and moving and soon touching, maybe pulling hair and feet, something Freeway hates.
Admittedly, Freeway has many challenges. He is very protective over Gloria, and the house and does not take to strangers. Gloria says, "if a stranger came in my house he would sniff them, back up and bark, do that a few times and would walk away."
She tells people NOT to try to pet Freeway, because he will try to bite them. He is known to nip at their ankles or legs, not enough to hurt them, says Gloria, but it is frightening enough where she is scared to let him be around anyone he doesn't know.
Freeway JUST has some insecurities. As Karen Pryor would say, it is JUST behavior.
Calling Freeway away to "come" is fruitless, says Gloria, because he ignores her. He comes when he is ready to do so. As a behavior trainer, I'd have to say this is a skill that needs strengthening and again I'd use a clicker.
Gloria's second hope for the future is that Freeway will JUST mellow out and be more loving and not behave the way he currently does.
One more thing, Freeway is not very affectionate. Sometimes he will give kisses, but most of the time he won't, she says.
Will Gloria give up? Not likely, she said "I have adopted 3 daughters that were abused and raising them wasn't easy. I look at Freeway the same way. I love my daughters, even though it wasn't easy and likewise, I love Freeway even though he isn't easy :)
This Thanksgiving holiday, Freeway is lucky to have such a loving, caring and understanding family. Gloria says she is thankful that Freeway does seem to love her back. She knows this by the way he gets excited whenever she comes home. Her family tells her he sits on the love seat waiting and watching by the door.
Behavior trainers will read Gloria and Freeway's story and know all the things to do to help. Admit it, I can hear your wheels grinding. The thing to remember is often raising dogs "love is not enough." Love is an essential ingredient, but to finish the cake there are many more ingredients to add. Gloria is a loving, normal dog owner. I believe her persistence will pay off and have recommended she seek a qualified trainer in her area of Michigan.
I will admit I've walked Gloria through with a few tips like using the clicker as a tool to mark good behaviors during incremental grooming. For instance click and treat for one nail and maybe clip the nails over a week, work on the hind leg, change the environment of the grooming, groom on walks and more.
Changing behaviors means changing the way we do things with our dogs and a clicker can be an invaluable tool to accomplish the end Gloria wishes for Freeway - a carefree grooming session.
If you feel motivated offer a few comments to help turn this little guy around.
A big thanks to Gloria for taking the time to share this heartwarming and challenging tale of Freeway. These are the challenges people face with their pets whether trainers or loving companion dog owners and these behaviors aren't that much out of the ordinary as one might think.
Be thankful for the small changes, the incremental steps and for those kisses Freeway sometimes gives. See his individuality and work slowly to reward the behavior you want. Next year at this time, a different dog should emerge and you might even enjoy your grooming times together! Time will tell.
For now, be thankful because Freeway, well, he's JUST Freeway!