Friday, October 19, 2007

not the smartest dog in the world

I don't know what to do anymore with our black lab, Dee Dee. She's driving me crazy and I can't figure out a solution. Actually, that isn't true. I can think of a solution. I just can't do it.

Wednesday, for the second time in a week, she got out of the house. It was pouring down rain, thundering and lightning. The streets were flooded, cars struggling to stay on the road, the kind of day you don't want to set foot off the porch. One of the kids (this time Gumby) didn't shut the front door all the way and the wind pushed it open. It was like that for maybe five seconds. The other two dogs approached the open door, peered out and turned around in search of a warm sofa. Not Dee Dee. She bolted. I headed out after her in the car and got her two blocks away, drenched to the bone. She climbed meekly into the backseat and came home.

The last time she did this was not even a week ago and it was the scariest one yet. She got across not one but two major streets before one of Sasquatch's friends (the one who had let her out to start with) collared her after she had worn herself out. He's the only person to ever be able to actually catch her when she's run, and I suspect it's a good thing he did. She was on the side of one of the major streets she had crossed - a black dog at dusk. Can you hear the clock ticking? I sure can.

We got Dee Dee the beginning of March 2005. She was a shelter dog and they figured she was between two and three years old at that point. She and her brother had been brought in together from the next county over, and from the info we got it seemed that the family who had them was financially unable to keep them. She was skinny and scared, not unlike most shelter dogs. After a fair amount of politicking, we brought her home.

And in a lot of ways, I've regretted it ever since. She has some interesting issues. The first relates to food. She has lost her girlish figure and now looks like Fat Elvis. No food is safe in my house. She has even eaten boxes of crackers and loaves of bread off of shelves and out of cabinets. I wouldn't think she would be smart enough to pop a cabinet, but clearly where food is involved she is genius material.

She also had some chewing issues when we first got her, enough so that I started to doubt the original pound story and think that her former people just got tired of her destructive ways. She ate two living room arm chairs and a fairly expensive slipcover right off the bat. Then there was this little trick - she would get on a bed and kick all the covers off. Then she would lay smack in the middle of the bed, on the fitted sheet, and kick backwards as hard as she could. This would inevitable rip the sheet straight down the middle. We have a California King bed. Do you know how expensive those fitted sheets are?

Of course the obvious solution (other than taking the dog back to the pound) is to keep the doors closed, both so she can't destroy the beds and can't get out of the house. And, while I agree wholeheartedly about the validity of that, it's not always feasible in my house. Our back yard is totally enclosed. The fence was the first thing we put up when we bought the house. But I have too many kids in and out of my front door on a daily basis. I can yell and scream to shut the blessed door (and most of the time they do), but it only takes once. Then there's this aspect of it -

Gumby panics when she gets out. In a lot of ways, she's become his dog. One time last year when she bolted he chased her. Chased her across a street, chased her down the road, blindly followed her. And no matter how hard I screamed for him to stop (in my very best "do not screw with me" mom voice), he wouldn't. He was so afraid for her that he put himself in danger. I probably don't have to even say this, but that sent me over the edge. I'm terrified that he's going to do it again, and we live in a more urban area than we did then.

That leads into her only saving grace. The children positively adore her. And she is fabulous with them. Absolutely fabulous. Not a speck of temper, gentle as can be, sleeps with them at night and watches over them. Perfect. She's also very protective of her house, barking like mad if anyone approaches. And she's a big girl, with a big bark. She's intimidating if you don't know her. Or if you don't have a pocket full of food. The chewing and the sheet wrecking even stopped after a bit. The running slowed down, but never completely went away.

The fact that she runs away is even more aggravating because she cannot stand to be outside. If you let her in the yard to do her business, she's finished in about thirty seconds and then parks at the back door and barks until you let her in. But she'll bolt every chance she can. She doesn't usually get too far, because she's so heavy that she has no stamina, and after running full out for a couple of minutes she's too tired to do anything else. Unfortunately for me, she moves pretty fast initially. Ultimately, she flops down in an exhausted pile, but she can cover some ground in the meantime.

Last week, when she crossed the major roads, I said to my friend Laurie (who was here when it happened), "She's dead. There's no way she isn't going to get hit." And all I could think was Oh, please don't let any of my kids see it happen. (This was also right after Gumby's rat died, to add to the stress level). Laurie ran one way, I ran another, Sasquatch and his friends headed in yet another direction. Laurie's husband John took off in their van, and Gumby and Surfer Dude stayed home to man the phone in case someone grabbed her and called. And we caught her. That time.

I really believe her luck is running out. She's just not smart enough to realize it.

But I am.


Kimberly said...

What a horribly conflicting situation! In your place I'd probably have a hard time not "accidentally" leaving a door open, but only because I'm evil and my pantry is sacrosanct.

Kaycie said...

There are several things you said about your sweet dog that sound like Jack. The running thing, for one. Except Jack is not fat and he is so, so fast. And chewing, although he doesn't chew furniture, thank goodness. Our big challenge is remember to put up our shoes. I can't even count how many pairs of shoes he's destroyed. He has trained me to put my shoes away and the rest of the family is getting there. He's totally worth the trouble, though.

In the immortal words of my favorite former president, "I feel your pain!"

-Ann said...

Would an invisible fence be at all feasible? (Of course, I'm not sure it would work, since she could probably bolt though it like a wombat, but it might work.)

We're debating getting one for Toby. He's 95% reliable about staying in the yard but that 5% scares me since we live on a main (for the middle of nowhere) road.

Sweet Irene said...

I hope that day never arrives, because it would be such a sad thing to have a run over dog. You certainly have been patient, though. I would have taken her back with the first ripped up sheet. I am saying that now, but I am a sucker for a pair of sweet looking dog's eyes too. It's hard to make a decision when both your heart and your head are involved. Good luck, I hope your kids remember to shut the door.Maybe you should put one of those springs on the door so it will close itself.

Devon said...

Do you live near a place where you could let her run off leash? My lab used to bolt when given the chance, then I started hiking last year. We are both addicted and he is great about staying home now.

If that doesn't work, I hear Ellen Degeneres is looking for a dog. :)

Thalia's Child said...

I second the idea of an invisible fence. I've seen them at work and they are amazing.

And I totally sympathize with the not knowing what to do aspect of things, considering I just had to make a devastating decision regarding my dog

Corey~living and loving said...

oh my....I just can't imagine why she bolts like that when she doesn't even like being outside. How horrible for you.
I hope you find a good solution. It does sound like her luck will run out soon. :(

Dee said...

That is a difficult situation indeed. You obviously love the dog, and he's good for your children.
When I was about 14 or so, my parents and I rescued a dog from the street literally. He would chew anything and everything (furniture, carpets, toys..) he was very skinny and dehydrated.. and he ate everything in sight. We couldn't keep him, sadly, because of the chewing/eating and because he kinda trampled our other dog who was much smaller, in the fight for affection from us. And I cried my eyes out. That's probably not helping you, but that's what came to mind when I read your post.
Good luck, maybe an invisible fence is a good idea? Or one of those mechanisms that makes your door close automatically.

Stacie said...

How scary! She sounds incredibly sweet, though.

I agree with the invisible fence idea...she probably gets so scared that she can't even think about staying put. The fence would "make" her remember.

Mya said...

Nutty dogs!They are both a pain and a joy (people tell me, I've never actually had one myself - I'm a cat person - but I like dogs too). I'm not sure I'd be as understanding as you about the bed sheets and the food.It's clear you are a saint, RC!

Mya x

Jo Beaufoix said...

RC what a nightmare.
I have no idea what an invisible fence is, except that it's probably a fence, that is invisible...
But try it. People seem to think it might work.

Otherwise maybe you could speak to your local vet and see if they have any ideas?

Or put a sign on the door to remind the kids that Dee Dee is waiting to escape.

Or put a kiddie gate into the kitchen or a space near the door so that she can't physically get to it??

Hope you find a way to keep her as it would be so awful to have to let her go.

But in the end, your kids safety has to come first.


PixelPi said...

I've heard that invisible fencing works too, and seen it in action, where a neighbor's Doberman, who terrified me, stopped in his tracks at the invisible fence border about 4 feet from me. Luckily I didn't lose bladder control.

It was kind of amazing that the dog just stopped cold at the fence line. Those things work.

auntie barbie said...

I would try the invisible fence around the front yard. There is some training involved and it doesn't work for all dogs but its worth a try.
I've noticed that most dogs that I've known that have come from shelters or have been strays have eating problems. It's as of they believe that every bit of food they can get their paws on could be their last.

laurie said...

oh boy. she's a classic labs. labs do get heavy like that, even without the food-stealing; our next-door-neighbors have a sweet chocolate lab and they are very careful about what they feed her, but she still has that jowly heavy look to her. it's genetic.

and that eating everything in sight thing? not a shelter dog thing. a LAB thing. but you're right, they're totally sweet.

i'm not sure what i'd do in your situation. an invisible fence is a good idea, but they take a lot of training--and, like you said, she might just bolt through the shock anyway.

can you fence your front yard? not invisibly, but a real fence?

gating her off from the front of the house sounds like a posible solution, too, though implausible. if people can't remember to keep the frickin' front door shut, they're not going to remember to keep the dog behind the gate.

and if the solution you're thinking of but can't do--the one you alluded to in the first graf--is to get rid of her, that' s no solution at all.

a fence makes much more sense.

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

Dee Dee sounds like a typical lab, at least like the ones I know. It might be she's younger than you thought. Labs have a long puppyhood apparently. My friend's lab also wanders every chance he gets. One time, they got a phone call from the school down the road. He was wandering the hallways looking for their daughter.

I would seek out a trainer, like the dog whisperer from TV. That's what my friends have done, and their lab has calmed down a lot and doesn't wander as much. But that could be down to the new fence.

The Rotten Correspondent said...

Popping in for a quick hello before I head out for a 12 hour fun fest. I'll check back in later. Thanks to all for the electric fence idea. I'll definitely check into that.

kimberly - it really is a conflict. She's a conflicting dog.

kaycie - you and I have the very same favorite former president. From the waist up.

ann - is Toby a lab? And a busy road in the middle of nowhere is the worst, because people speed like crazy.

sweet irene - I can't figure out how to do the spring because we have a really old house.I'm going to try again though.

devon - we do have an off leash park. That's an interesting idea. And the Ellen comment made me laugh out loud.

thalia's child - your dog story made me cry. What a horrible position you were in.

corey - exactly my point. Why does she bolt out into a place she hates?

dee - she still (rarely) goes on chewing jags. It's strange. If they have chew toys it's like it triggers something in her and then for a couple of days she chews everything. That's really sad about your dog.

stacie - she doesn't have a cranky fiber in her body. Very sweet. Just not a rocket scientist, you know what I mean?

mya - oh, honey, if you only knew. I am so NOT saint material. heh.

jo - we actually have one of those half doors between the kitchen and dining room. I put her in there once and she threw all four hundred pounds of herself at it and knocked it off the hinges. So...the door is still there, but doesn't latch.

pixelpi - I'm terrified of Dobermans too. I've had too many bad experiences with them.Good thing yours stopped.

auntie barbie - all three of our dogs are shelter dogs and they all did the "I'm going to clean out the food bowl because it's here" routine. But the other two realized pretty quick that there would always be food. She doesn't get that. She's even fallen asleep with her head in the kibble bowl.

laurie - I know, she is a totally classic lab. And, yes, the solution I was alluding to was finding her a nice home in the country where she could run, but of course I can't do it. You're right. It isn't a solution at all. It's just me venting when I've gone into a torrential downpour to hunt down a neurotic dog.Even in I could do it (which I can't) my kids would NEVER forgive me.

The Rotten Correspondent said...

wakeup - you're absolutely right. She could be younger than they told us. It's hard to tell because she's so damn big.And yeah, a trainer could make a big difference. Hmmm...

Flowerpot said...

for what it's worth I agree about the trainer and the fence. I erally do hope you dont have to send her back to the pound. I visited a rescue centre at th e weekend and it nearly broke my heart.

Flowerpot said...

for what it's worth I agree about the trainer and the fence. I really do hope you don't have to send her back to the pound. I visited a rescue centre at the weekend and it nearly broke my heart.

Diana said...

Jeez. I have no words of wisdom just lots and lots of sympathy. At least her heft is working in your favor.

Em said...

Spring on the door, invisible fence is good although it would probably need some training. Also, if she gets scared when she escapes and then runs away, a trainer or behaviourist might be able to help to teach her to run TO you when she's scared, instead of AWAY.

Have you considered a porch? If you've got two doors, there's a chance that one of them might get shut... also, a handy place to keep your shoes out of reach of the dogs...building a small wooden porch probably wouldn't cost a hideous amount of cash (compared to the vet bills for a mangled labrador...)

Em said...

Forgot to say, good luck! When we first got Mollie dog, she escaped for a few days. I was a wreck until she turned up at a local vet, unharmed. And she ran away from me once - OK, so she ran HOME, but that was across several roads, and she's useless with I really can sympathise.

CableGirl said...

I'm so sorry the poor puppy is causing so much havoc. I really don't have any words of advice, but I did have a dog similar to that when I was growing up. Schroeder was Mr Destruction. He ate bi fold doors, a mattress and box spring, the linoleum off the floor, a metal door knob... just to name a few.

He did these things until his teeth started falling out.

Akelamalu said...

Mmmmm, I think she likes being chased! She looks adorable I can see why you all love her.

-Ann said...

Nope, Toby is a German Shepherd. (Or, as they're called here because of anti-German bias after WWI, an Alsatian.)

The speed limit is 80 kph (which is something like 45 mph) and people really do tear around the road sometimes. We've a bend to the road just to the east of the house, so i do worry that people wouldn't have enough time to stop, even if they did see him in time.

headless chicken said...

Now I realise that are old dog Eric (r.i.p) was indeed a very good dog. He very rarely ran off, in fact he very rarely ran. He didn't even like walking much. So, not really a particularly 'good' dog....just very very lazy!

Jen said...

I'll chime in (late as ever) to agree with the trainer idea. It certainly couldn't hurt. I've known people who've had Invisible Fence and it worked better for their smaller dogs, but who knows?

TZT said...

I have a rescue pooch that has had myriad problems too - he was actually hit by a car twice (and somehow miraculously sustained only one injury), When we moved into a new house last year, he got a whole new set of destructive habits (has completely destroyed our back door - he is so anxious when my son leaves the house. And is, of course, loving and a dear heart.
So.. not to sound like an ad, but our vet had us put him on the drug Reconcile about 3 weeks ago (which I guess you only do for 2-4 months while you do their suggested training), and he's now extremely amenable to training, just as loving, but not following us desperately around the house. So far, I'm totally sold.