Sunday, June 6, 2010

Breaking the Habit

I have accomplished a lot with Marge.  That's no secret.  But, I still haven't cracked the dad issue completely, and it's very, very hard to deal with sometimes, seeing as we live under the same roof.

I have basically scheduled my life around his comings and goings so that she doesn't run up to the door growling at him when he comes home.  I have conditioned her to come find me when she hears the door.  She sits on her mat near the back door of the house and I feed her treats.  Once he's home, I generally don't have to worry any more, even if he goes in and out of the house a few times.

Today, she decided otherwise.  She was great when he came home from work - went right in to her crate, got her cookies, and calmly came upstairs with me to see who was there.

But just now, he came in the back door from working in the yard, and she decided that that was extremely scary and not cool.. despite the fact that he came in and went back out just a little while earlier.  What changed in the span of just a couple hours?  Unless I something happened that I didn't see, it seemed like it was the same exact situation.  He was home from work, so that initial "oh my God he's here" was over.  So why did she do it?

A lot of times I CAN fault my dad for instigating certain behaviors... this time, I'm not sure I can.  Of course, I can't REALLY fault the dog, she has known behavior issues and faulting her is unproductive.  But it's a tough place to be in, for sure.

She growled at him the other day, too, when I took a rare opportunity to sleep late, not realizing that he'd be coming home and I'd be needed on what my sister and I have termed "Dad duty."

It's not that I'm not sympathetic of her fear issues.  Any one with a brain knows that, especially since I carefully make all of my decisions with her best interests in mind.  But,  a small part of me is extremely frustrated, and I wish I could ask her, "what the heck is wrong with you?" Mostly, I'm angry that it still happens because of the fact that I always hear about it later from my dad.   I'll hear about it when she lays by his feet at dinner time, waiting for food.  He'll announce to all those there, "This dog growled at me again" and tell Marge "No, you're not getting any food from me," as if she could understand.  My dad sees this contrast in behavior as "stupid," I see it as unsurprising since she's been reinforced by him giving her treats in that position very often.

Surely, the door issue could be solved the same way, but my dad wants no part of it.  If he threw treats at her as he entered the door every day and was understanding of the fact that progress with these kinds of things isn't instant, the issue could be solved.  But, no, he won't get off his high horse and refuses to participate, even though he gladly gives her food at his own free will throughout the day.  I stopped asking him a long time ago.

Another part of me is sad and upset, mostly for the same reasons as mentioned above.  I take any issues surrounding my dog extremely personally.  It's hard to work on something so much and basically hear nothing good from my dad in return.  He won't even acknowledge that she's improved her behavior around him, despite the fact that she will seek him out when he's watching TV on the couch, even if she knows he doesn't have treats.  Despite the fact that she frequently jumps up on him and swats him playfully with her paws if he is in a sitting or reclining position.  No, those things mean nothing to him.  She still growls when he comes home, so therefore, she still "hates" him.  It's hard for me to swallow.   It would mean a lot to me for him to say that I've done a good job with Marge, or that Marge has changed a lot since we first adopted her.  So many other people have said it, but I guess he doesn't think it's true.

Yet another part of me feels like it's my fault.  Why wasn't I ready with treats, attempting to distract her from the door confrontation and continuing to condition her that people coming in the door is a good thing?  Why did I let my guard down for a minute?  Now I'm paying the price.

He's not a monster, really.  He's not a mean person. He's a hard-working guy who probably doesn't want to be bothered with something like this at the end of the day.  Any time I've gotten really upset over it, he's told me that it's not a big deal, and that it doesn't really matter "if the dog doesn't like him."  But, somehow, those words mean less in comparison to the things he says after one of these little episodes.  It's not that he even says anything bad - but by drawing attention to it and telling every one, or announcing out loud that he's not going to give her treats any more, he makes me feel really bad.

My dog will never love my dad.  My dad will never love my dog. Honestly, there's only a handful people in this world who can handle her fully - me, my sister, and my boyfriend, with my mom a close second.  This will never change, and that's okay.  But I really, really wish that my dog and my dad could understand each other a bit more so that I didn't have to be on guard and let down as often as I am.

It's upsetting, frustrating, nerve-wracking, and in some ways, kind of makes me feel like a failure.  I can direct my dog off-leash over 20 obstacles, but can't get her to stop growling at my dad.


Nellie, Yuchie, Calvert and Bailey June 6, 2010 at 5:14 PM  

Hi Sam,

You know you're doing a great job, you know that we can't always be "on" all the time; this is not your fault.

Learn from this experience, as I am sure you've learned from all others that involve Marge and move forward with that knowledge to continue doing your best with her.

You should be very proud of what you've accomplished with her so far. I know as a follower of your blog I'm impressed and at awe of what you do. It's not easy, but the results are so worth it.

Belly rubs to Marge. Keep up your wonderful work and your incredible spirit.


Frankie Furter and Ernie June 6, 2010 at 5:30 PM  

I didn't know what to say about this soooo I asked my mom to answer. Please don't be mad at ME. OK.. Frankie Furter.
Frankie's mom here. After reading this, I would make a suggestion... Print this post out and at the bottom WRITE... I Love You. Then hand it to your dad.

jesirose June 6, 2010 at 5:39 PM  

Seconding Frankie's Mom.

As someone who's never gotten dad's acceptance, I wouldn't be surprised if he's like this with everything, not just Marge. You can either move on, or try to show him how you feel. Not how Marge feels, but YOU. You're the one that matters to him.

LauraK June 6, 2010 at 5:58 PM  

That's a tough situation to be in, Sam. I don't think we'll ever understand why dogs do some of the things they do- but please don't get so down on yourself! I give you A LOT of credit for getting Marge through a lot of her issues and having the commitment to turn her into an agility star :) Hopefully, your dad will come around and decide that he and Marge need to work on their relationship, and he's going to have to put some love and patience into it and help your girl along. Be happy- you're doing an awesome job as a dog mom!

KB June 6, 2010 at 6:00 PM  

Oh Sam, that does sound frustrating. And, the "being on duty" job is very tiring and hard to stay focused on. I don't have any good advice for you, just empathy. I have to be "on duty" constantly when my nephews are here because they've kicked and hurt the dogs before. I don't want dogs who are afraid of kids so I feel like a full-time referee and monitor when they're here. And, I screw up... I let my guard down and something happens. Then, the boys complain about the dogs and I worry that they'll never like kids again. It's actually very similar to your situation, except that it's not every day.

Hang in there. I'm sad that your dad won't toss Marge treats as he comes through the door. That might help.

An English Shepherd June 6, 2010 at 6:54 PM  

Its not always easy being a dog or... a dad :-)


(Ps nice blog)

Sara June 6, 2010 at 7:19 PM  

It must be so hard not feeling 100%supported by your dad.

Keep doing what you are doing for Marge. We are all seeing the major changes blossoming in Marge!

Cyndi and Stumpy June 6, 2010 at 7:30 PM  

This is a tuff one, Sam. I feel for you, Marge and your Dad. I think your dad has taken it personally, that marge hasn't warmed up to him. maybe if you rub hotdogs all over his clean clothes...

The Army of Four June 6, 2010 at 8:23 PM  

You're doing all the right stuff! Try not to stress; Marge will pick up on it. Just relax and take one step at a time. It'll work out!
In for the Ao4,
PS: sorry we are so far behind. Am trying to get caught up reading and commenting! That military working dog was gorgeous! It takes a special pup to make it through their programs!

Lorenza June 6, 2010 at 8:38 PM  

Just relax. I know it is easy for us to tell you this but you can't be on guard all the time. You have made a great job with Marge. One day at a time. I hope everything is going to be ok!
Take care
Kisses and hugs

Stella June 6, 2010 at 8:42 PM  

Of my family and friends, everyone thinks I should have gotten a 10 lb
cute tiny dog because that is what they would get. My son and dil won't invite Stella to their house because she is too big and its all so silly. So I just forget it, Sam and I think maybe thats a good thing for you too. If Marge barks, well, dogs do that sometimes. No big deal. Let your Dad and Marge get over it all in their own time. And don't you sweat it.

Jo, Stella and Z

houndstooth June 6, 2010 at 9:32 PM  

I'm going to go out on my little limb here and just say this bluntly. This issue isn't really between Marge and your dad. It's between you and your dad. His little digs get to you, and he has to know that. It's immature and controlling. I could be way off base here, but that's what it looks like to me. Don't sweat it if things aren't perfect between Marge and your dad. He likes her, he just doesn't want to admit it to you.

Kathy Mocharnuk June 6, 2010 at 10:40 PM  

Your dad sounds ok, just a little more old school where training is concerned, but it has to be frustrating. I wonder if you could put a manners minder by the door and then click treat, click treat a ton of times so she is by him and get the same effect if he was to come in and throw cookies? you could wean yourself out of the picture a little bit, or like even if when he came in and she ran to her crate and the manners minder would go off and jack pot her with the remote-so it just seems to happen- eventually maybe then if your dad popped in and you were not aware then she could go take care of putting herself away by herself???? Just an idea.
Maybe you could find a used one or someone who would just lend you theirs and see if it looked like it would help before making an investment?

Amy / Layla the Malamute June 7, 2010 at 12:36 AM  

That's a really frustrating situation. I'm sorry that it feels that your accomplishments seem less because of this. You really have done incredible things with Marge. Not just with agility or rally, but dealing with her fear issues and everything. A lot of dogs who could do agility or rally would never be able to pass the CGC test; that's a huge accomplishment for a dog like Marge. Please don't let the Dad-issue make any of it seem insignificant.

The part that would frustrate me the most is that, he's taking it personally but not willing to help take action! You can't complain about things you aren't willing to change. But you can't yell at dads. I've tried. It gets nowhere. As soon as you try to tell them they're wrong, they start acting like you're 8 years old again. At least that's how my dad acts if I try telling him he's wrong.

Dads are weird when it comes to dogs. Or maybe just people that age (I'm sure our dads are close to the same age) who haven't really seen any of the advancements in dog training. When Layla was going through her destructive puppy phase, she did something, but I can't remember specifically what...nothing incredibly bad, just regular bad-puppy things due to someone not watching her closely enough. My dad wanted to get a wooden dowel from the garage and beat her with it. Can you imagine? For something that was either his fault or mine. Obviously, that didn't happen. Whenever Layla doesn't seem super happy to see him, he gets all offended and really pissy. Definitely takes it personally.

I really hope this works out. It will, eventually, I'm sure of it but in the meantime try not to let it get you too stressed.

It might sound weird, but have you considered talking to one of the animal communicators? The one that I called lets you book in 15 minute increments, so you could ask what Marge thinks of your dad or why she barks, and then ask her to tell Marge that he'd appreciate it if she didn't. Sounds far-fetched, but you never know.

TC June 7, 2010 at 6:13 AM  

You are to be commended for your patience. It will all be OK I think, just keep up the work.
My German Shepherd I'd had for years didn't let my second husband in the house one night. She soon got over it but I heard about it.
Dispatch my bichon. ABSOLUTELY hates some people, no rhyme nor reason for some but I've noticed he doesn't like people who have an accent. I don't think he can understand what they are saying. We spend lots of time by the border so this isn't a good thing all the time although he is getting better with a hispanic accent.
Just keep up the good's frustrating but sounds like you've got it under control.

Gus, Louie and Callie June 7, 2010 at 6:09 PM  

Just give her time.. She will warm up...

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus, Louie and Callie

AC June 7, 2010 at 7:14 PM  

Ugh , Sam, I feel ya. I'm very lucky that my dad has ended up adoring Kona, even though she bit him when she was a puppy (the only person she has ever come near biting).

Some thoughts: I think our fearful/sensitive girls have got top-notch senses. I wonder if Marge knows your dad isn't in it for her. I had one person who came over quite often when Kona was younger. He seemed to have a similar attitude to how you describe your dad. Kona has a good capacity to get use to regular visitors, but she hated this guy. She could never settle when he was around...barked, growled...and this guy always pointed it out. I feel like he didn't like Kona and Kona didn't like him. I don't think Kona's behavior could change without this guys attitude changing.

I have no clue if there's something similar with Marge...hang in there!

SissySees June 7, 2010 at 10:49 PM  

Oh, this post was hard on the heart! When the Knight and I were new to dating, he bought me this adorable puppy, who grew into my beloved Mugsy, the most Jackish Russell ever. He growled at the Knight once we were married, every single night. However, unlike your dad, the Knight loved my brat and spent YEARS finding common ground. In the end, the bitter end, the Knight would carry our paralyzed (back legs) baby around and grieved as hard and deeply as I did...

Life With Dogs June 8, 2010 at 12:26 AM  

I hate to say I've been there, but I have - and I don't have any miracle answers. But I wish you luck in sorting this out...

Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart June 8, 2010 at 2:49 PM  

Is there any chance it's a scent issue? Smells from work or smoke or something that sets her off about him?

Just a thought.

I wish I could magically create a home just for you and marge.

Dawn June 8, 2010 at 11:03 PM  

Don't let Marge's relationship or lack of one taint your relationship with your Dad. You're doing great with Marge...don't let this issue taint that either! You're in a hard place, but look at the patience you've shown with Marge; you can work through this as well. It might never be perfect, but the two of you can work out a solution together I'm sure. He loves you. You love him, and you love Marge. I hope it all works out!!!!

Cheryl, Indiana, Shingo and Molly June 9, 2010 at 11:22 AM  

That's just one of those dog/people things! Maybe you should let him run her through a course and do a little teamwork with him. It's worth a try.

Woofs and Kisses!
The Fiesty Three

Never Say Never Greyhounds June 9, 2010 at 8:39 PM  

Glad your kitty is going to be ok. Could you practice repetitions of coming through the door with other people? People willing to throw the treats. Or maybe you ought to be the one to give the treats since your dad never will, but maybe other people could provide the reps you need. That is disappointing about your dad.... try not to let it get to you. Jen

Diana June 9, 2010 at 9:52 PM  

Im so sorry for your set back. It must be so hard. Every time you think you have it figured out the dog changes the rules. I hope it gets better. Diana

BRUTUS June 10, 2010 at 1:03 AM  

Geez, I feel for you. Thankfully I don't have quite the same issue with Brutus, but still there is a lot of animosity with some of my family. The don't understand him or our relationship, and don't want to. Would rather just complain that I spoil him (not true) and that he's just a nuisance. He's not as fearful as Marge, but anxiety certainly gets in our way. They don't understand how one thoughtless move on their part can undo hours of time we've spent trying to work through a problem.

So again, I feel for you both!!


Poochie Freak Pet Photography June 23, 2010 at 7:44 AM  

Must be tough :-( One of my dogs was very wary of my husband for a good while when we first adopted him, but thankfully my husband did all he could to help the dog settle in and things are much improved.

I haven't read all of your blog posts, but have you ever looked into flower remedies or TTouch?


Kari in Alaska July 4, 2010 at 10:43 PM  

I can understand how frustrating this is. Mesa and Big Carl have some issues that we just do not seem to be able to work through

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