Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Life Lesson #1: Flexibility (or, Jack Comes Back)

I schedule every minute of my day. It makes me a highly effective worker. It makes me someone you can count on. It also makes me stubborn and inflexible. Flexibility is my not my forte.

We found out late last week that Sable would not be joining us. The vet needs to keep her in West Virginia to work with her some more. As you could imagine, this threw me off a bit. I had a big sticky note with my weekend plans written on it—hour by hour—and picking up Sable was penciled it at 8pm Saturday. But now that wasn’t going to happen. After a few minutes of disappointment, I realized this was probably a positive turn of events. I reasoned that I’d have more time to do the mounds of work I’m currently buried under. Change is good. Be flexible, I told myself, before making a new schedule.

And, within a matter of hours, we got word that the arrangement with Jack and his new family wasn’t working out. So Jack came back to us on Sunday afternoon. What was the first thing I did? I ripped up my schedule into a million pieces.

Huh? Me? What did I do?
To answer your question, yes, I'm disappointed that it didn’t work out. All along we felt like Jack needed a super active family to keep him busy. But it sounds like it might have been too much stimuli for him. The family said he was fixated on chasing squirrels and birds, so much so that he jumped their fence. (This doesn’t surprise me in the least. A dog’s gotta do what a dog’s gotta do, right?) His reactions to dogs were mixed. He got along fine with the family’s other dog, albeit with one or two scuffles over treats, but barked at other dogs in the neighborhood. Again, this is pretty consistent with what we’ve seen at adoption day. His reactions to people completely surprised me, though. The family told us he barked at people on walks and toward visitors in their home. I have not seen anything but love and affection from this dog at adoption day or when we’ve had visitors in to our home. I mean, he can be bossy with us by barking for food or attention or telling us he doesn’t want to do something, but he has never crossed the line to aggression.

So what do you think happened? My trusted dog adviser Amanda thinks these reactions were based out of fear. The new stimuli were too much to take in at once—living with a new dog and family, strange people and dogs approaching him, etc. And that makes sense. It took us several weeks for him to get over his fear of stairs alone. What’s unknown is scary, and when he's scared, he tries to defend himself. Plus, we’ve had him in very structured, predictable environments (save for adoption day) where we’ve kept him on a short leash—figuratively and literally. Maybe this was just overload. 

For those to subscribe to the “pack philosophy,” which trusted dog adviser Amanda says is a bunch of bologna: Was he establishing himself as leader of the pack? (He had nothing but love and kisses for the family members.) Was he trying to find his role and, being that he has a dominant personality, was he showing the family that he would take charge of protecting them?

This experience has served as a reminder that as far as Jack has come, he still has a way to go from being the perfect pet. He needs work, but doesn’t any dog? We’ll try to find some rewarding and less-than-stressful ways to expose him to new experiences. I’ll just have to pencil it into my schedule.


  1. I don't really get the pack stuff, but I agree with the fear thing. If he's anything like Lexi, and he sounds like he is, she does a lot of those things.

    At Petsmart she had mixed reactions to dogs.
    At the park, she can bark at people (but when they approach her, she calms down and gets friendly).
    She's what I call a chow hound with treats, she's demanding for attention, but an all around GREAT dog.

    I told our adoption coordinator at the shelter that someone looking for a border collie will get the most out of Lexi.

    I'm shocked Jack's home couldn't deal with him... since they had a BC already, right??


  2. I'm surprised. I thought that his new owners seemed prepared to deal with him. Onwards. . .

  3. I think it was too difficult for one person to handle—Jack acting like a lunatic plus another dog (even if well behaved.) It's nerve wracking when a dog acts aggressively toward a person, and the handler's anxiety only makes it worse. (I know from non-Jack experience.) So, honestly, I don't think I could have handled the situation on my own either. We're just trying to get at why the heck he acted the way he did so we can work on it.

  4. Awwww. That sucks. But, welcome back, Jack! You know when human children in foster care are getting adopted, they start with short, supervised visits, and then day visits, then weekend visits, and slowly merge into the family. Maybe Jack just needs a slower transition next time?