I pick things up, I put them dowwwwwwwwwwn…..

Bosco's first holiday photo shoot.

Bosco’s first holiday photo shoot.

Close your eyes. Now open them, and imagine that you’re seeing everything for the first time. That’s what it’s like for Bosco in my house. If he could speak, I’m sure he’d say “what’s with all this crap?”

Bosco’s favorite activity is to walk through the house and examine every single item. He stares at each thing for 5-10 seconds, then places it into one of three categories:

  • scary
  • stupid
  • let’s call that mine now

Scary things are almost always mundane items, and his reactions are unexpected. Closet doors, extension cords, wrapping paper and the VCR (yeah I know, but I like obscure movies) all send him scurrying away. Plastic bags scare him too, which is strange. He was taken out twice a day at the shelter, and anyone who’s ever walked a dog knows that plastic bags are a very important part of that. By my calculations, he has seen at least 1460 bags before he encountered the one that scared the heck out of him.

The photo at the top of my last post was the first time Bosco saw cooking. Clattering pots and pans confused him, and he tore out of the kitchen. I found him pressed in the furthest away corner of the house. Even now, the sight of a skillet sends him slinking off. Then again, the inevitable smoke and cursing that accompanies it probably doesn’t help.

And clothes. I just wish one could sit a dog down and say, “Look, people don’t have fur. People wear fake coverings because they don’t have fur. People take these coverings off. There is no monster coming to peel your fur off. And for Pete’s sake, stop staring at me with abject horror. You’re really screwing with my self esteem.”

Okay, maybe we both have some issues there.

Bosco thinks most of my things are stupid. He makes it clear that I should not be wasting my time with frivolous things like books, phones, cameras and computers. After all, they don’t do anything for him. He likes to push books to the floor, and to put his big nose in the middle of my iPad. He’s a better passer in Madden 2012 than I am.

Christmas trees are stupid too. He was disgusted by the amount of time I spent decorating, and I feared there would be retribution. I had a vision of him grabbing a branch and pulling the whole thing over, getting caught in the tree skirt, or de-decorating it for me.  What I got instead was a very clear message. I was puttering in the basement when I heard the tell-tale poink poink poink sound of a glass ornament hitting the floor. I flew up the steps to find Bosco standing next to the liberated ball, staring at me. I interpreted his expression as “If you want this tree to stay as it is, I suggest you pay more attention to me.”

Duly noted.

I assumed he would be terrified by power tools.  But it turns out that they’re just stupid. I recently retiled the bathroom floor, and spent days with an oscillating tool to pry up old linoleum. Rather than hide from the loud and constant noise (which drove me nuts), Bosco sat in the room and watched. And when I took a break, he took my work shoes and hid them in another part of the house. No shoes, no work. Pet the dog.

Every other household item is fascinating and subject to close up examination. Bosco will stare at something, then press his nose against it. If the item does not prove itself to be scary or stupid, he will stick out his lower lip and slooooooooooowly open his mouth.

I pick things up.

Usually he decides that whatever it is, it isn’t fun, and back it goes. Most days I come home to find some jewelry, a roll of coins, small electronics, etc. about  6″ away from where I left them.

I put them dowwwwwwwwwwwn.

And then there are the things that don’t get put down. Bosco’s not into balls or dog toys right now, but he is collecting his own things. I would come home to see he’d put his collar and leash in the middle of the living room. I’m not sure if he was getting them ready for his next walk, or if he thought that would make me appear, but it was darn cute.

He also gathered my walk-related things. When the weather got colder, Bosco added my hat and gloves to the pile. I thought this was absolutely adorable – I until the day I couldn’t find his collar.  I frantically searched the house while he stood by the front door with his legs crossed. Half an hour later, I found it – he’d put it inside my hat. Now all our walking equipment hangs out of reach, from a hook in the vestibule.

His preference is fabric, especially if I’ve worn it. And when Bosco likes something, he claims it. It winds up in his crate or in his bed upstairs. Or under him. Maybe he’s trying to hide it, maybe it just feels good, or maybe it’s just that he doesn’t have pockets. But I have learned when something is missing, to look under his butt first. I hate when I find my hat there.

Even as I write this, I have his Christmas present, a fleecey toy, stuffed inside my shirt to make it nice and stinky for him. Yeah, that was TMI. Anyway…

This is Bosco's "why did this happen" face.  He really likes the hat - just not on his head. He took it off and sat on it.

This is Bosco’s “why did this happen” face. He really likes the hat – just not on his head. He took it off and sat on it.

I wish all of you a wonderful Christmas. And to those who played a part in bringing Bosco and I together, I thank you for making this one especially joyous.


Changing Minds

Bosco on his second day home, hiding in the corner.

Bosco on his second day home, hiding in the corner.

All Bosco knows of the world is what he saw on his tiny walks around the shelter.  And that scared the heck out of him.

Trucks. Loud music from cars. Stuff blowing in the wind. Lots of people, lots of noise, lots of movement.  And he just wanted to go home.

Now he has.  But now there’s a new challenge – convincing a dog who has known only fear, neglect, and isolation, that the world can be a wonderful place.

Side note – BARC Shelter did everything they could to chip away at Bosco’s fear. They got him a thunder shirt, and used other dogs to help him go outside. But he has a big block o’ fear. Now it’s my turn to start chipping. I have to teach Bosco – and others – what it means to be safe.

Wait – others? What others?

A lot of people were happy to hear I was bringing a new dog home. Until I told them about him. Say the words “pit bull” and you can hear minds slamming closed.

Bosco is a 76 pound American Staffordshire Terrier and American Bulldog mix. To the layman (as a passerby said to me), “that’s a big-ass pit bull.” We had a big-ass public relations campaign on our hands.

One neighbor (who works for the city and could make things difficult) would go on and on about vicious dogs in the neighborhood (and of course, she said, all of them were pit bulls). Another family would freeze like I’d pointed a gun at them. Someone pointed at Bosco and said to a child, “he’ll rip your face off.”

I knew that the only way to change anyone’s mind would be to show them a sweet, well-behaved dog. I knew I needed help. My last dog was an adorable, opinionated character, but he was also a 29 pound monster when he didn’t get his way. There was no way I could let that happen again.

We needed to learn basic training, but we also needed a behaviorist to boost his confidence. I knew I needed to show this dog that I was on his side, without coddling him.

Enter Robyn.

I contacted half a dozen trainers, and told them my needs and goals. The variety of responses was unsettling. Half of the trainers told me to sign up for their program and come to a group class, without even seeing Bosco or addressing my concern that he wasn’t ready.

Robyn was the only one who wanted to meet Bosco in his environment. She explained that like someone getting out after a long jail term, Bosco was institutionalized, and that he would need time and trust to change. Then she told me what she was doing with her own dog who had a similar background.

Pause for commercial endorsement: Tall Tails in Slatington, PA. Worth every penny. Starting out with the basic commands in a one-on-one setting, we worked on trust.

When we started, walking Bosco was like dragging a 76 pound boulder for 8 blocks, twice a day. Well, it wasn’t really like that.  It WAS that. He didn’t know where he was, and he didn’t want to go. EXCEPT if something scared him. Then I was the boulder getting dragged.

But with a firm hand and repetition, he’s getting comfortable. We’ve learned to heel, sit, lay down (well, sort of), walk as a team, etc.  We have a ways to go, but Bosco is starting to understand that I won’t take him somewhere dangerous, and if something scary happens, the best thing to do is sit down and wait it out.

I’ve been taking him to a wooded park. The first time we went, he got out of the car and immediately got a bee sting on his heinie. This was the first time I got his “why did that happen” face. It’s a heartbreaker. But then he walked on grass, and his world changed. Grass is soft and squishy, and smells of all kinds of new things, like Canadian geese. And it’s quiet.

in the park, wishing the mud wasn't dry, 'cuz then it would be fun to roll in.

in the park, wishing the mud wasn’t dry, ‘cuz then it would be fun to roll in.

So now Bosco LOVES to go for a walk. Yes, you read that correctly. LOVES it. When I bring out his leash he leaps and spins and woofs. He pesters me until we go. He can’t wait to see what’s out there. Well, as long as we stick to “his” routes.

Our walks around the neighborhood are changing minds too. The child who was told he’d lose his face sits on his porch every night, waiting to pet Bosco. I overheard my neighbor describe him as “the sweetest pit bull.”

Baby steps……