Undaunted, I signed Gia up for agility, but we had to go through their beginner training first. Add another $195 to the list of charges to rehab Gia. There were a few other dogs there and Gia was not having it. She would bark, growl, and try to pick fights with them. We had to go to the back of the classroom. She was also developing a Stranger, Danger attitude towards people, now adding kids to the list of things that made her nervous. These classes were a little “out there” for me. I guess I am a little old school when it comes to training having been through it enough. Sitting there on a mat, massaging my dog’s ears, etc. was a little weird. It is why I do not do yoga myself. And the whole method of this training was treating. I realized I would have to monitor my dog’s feeding to compensate for the treats during class. Yeah, no! My dog is very food motivated but then so am I. However, when we are out on the street and trying to walk, she is over threshold (extremely fired up) and will not take a treat. It is exhausting. I gave up on this training and tried to figure out my next move.
One weekend, I went to pick up my dog food from the farm. It is a ninety-minute drive each way, so we thought we would take the dogs with us. The farm is in the Hudson Valley of New York. Beautiful countryside. The owner of the farm said that his neighbor had a lot of acreage and there are deer trails he allows people to hike on with their dogs. After we got the food, we went up to the trail. Anxiously, we let the dogs off leash to explore. I have never seen THIS Gia before. She was happy, the white tip of her tail up like a flagpole, while she was exploring the brushes around the lake. Then she jumped in the lake and started swimming. We were astounded. She is a true country dog. But like I said, we cannot afford that move yet. When we got home, the old Gia returned. Not wanting to walk–it is like the Push Me-Pull You from Dr. Doolittle. Or having a pet donkey.
One evening, Gia was in the yard and I heard her barking (no surprise there), but the barking seemed like it was coming from the front of the house. I peeked out my front window to see a man walking towards my front door crouched down with his arms open wide like he was going to “scoop” something up. Turns out, he and his wife were walking their dog and spotted Gia, who had escaped from our yard. He was trying to corral her so she wouldn’t run into the street. We never figured out if she jumped the fence (it is a four-foot fence but when your adrenaline kicks in, you do it) or if she scurried under it. Anyway, the next purchase was a breakaway collar. She escaped once more and hid in our neighbor’s driveway. She has not left since knowing the big, bad world waits for her out there.
Last spring, I reached out to one of Gia’s trainers from before…Gia and Clifford love her. Although her boss’s methods are a little out of date, she has been studying up on some positive training and working with therapy dogs, etc. She came over and the dogs went crazy for her. She is good with them too. She knew we were experimenting with other trainers and ideas and she was fine with that. We thought maybe an in-house training session for ten days (drop off in the a.m., pick up in the p.m., Monday through Friday) might help. I trusted them and signed her up. To the tune of $1800 (because I was an old client, I got a discount). The training worked up to a point but I really need Gia to be comfortable in her own surroundings…on this busy county road.
I took a break from trainers. It did not help that I was laid off from my job last year after twelve years. I started a new job in January, but I do not have the extra cash to spend on trainers right now, and I do not want to give her any more drugs. I am in limbo right now. I have been reading up on some different trainers where I can do the work myself. They all say the problem is anxiety and can be alleviated with exercise. How am I supposed to exercise her when she will not go out??? One thing I am planning (after I read my 1000th book on dog training) is to start her walking on my treadmill. Hopefully, we can burn off some of that stress and she’ll be able to walk outside. When we were using the trainer the dogs adore, they would jump on retaining walls, park benches and tables to burn some pent-up energy. Now what Gia does is run from the back door and bee line it to the front window jumping over the couch to bark at someone walking in front of the house. Not sure that is exactly what the trainer had in mind–making my house Gia’s personal obstacle course.
My dogs’ lives prior to being rescued are all mysteries. I used to ask God to give Gia the power of human speech just for five minutes so she can tell me what to do and what not to do. She is such a sweet, smart, and lovable dog. I enjoy watching her figure out toys and puzzles. I can see her mind working. Clifford is lovable and a manipulator. When he is out in the yard and wants to play, he does this little “woof”. Hearing him, Gia will tear through the house to go outside to see “what are we barking at”. I could swear Clifford gives me a wink and a big Pit grin because he got one over on her. Clifford is calm, cool, and collected and he knows that Gia requires more of my attention and he is fine with that. Clifford loves to walk (if we get to chase cats and squirrels it is a huge score). When I look at either of them and they look back at me, my heart is so full of love.
Having Gia has made me more aware of myself. I take better care of myself so I can be around to take care of her (and Clifford, and my husband, too) but I can also understand why some dogs are returned because people don’t want to put in the time to figure out these dogs. I believe I have a special needs dog.
In the end, I made a commitment to Gia. I want to give her the best life possible. And I will…once I figure out how to do that.
—Patricia Sullivan Jimenez
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Walter Stoffel is a substance abuse counselor and GED teacher in correctional facilities. When not behind bars, he likes to read, travel, work out and watch bad movies. Major accomplishment : He entered a 26.2-mile marathon following hip replacement surgery and finished—dead last. The author currently lives with his wife Clara, their dog Buddy (another rescue), and cat Winky (yet another rescue).