We’ve had a lot of snow and snow means shovelling and shovelling means being outside with your neighbours and people passing by and stopping to say hello and talk about how we don’t need any more snow in the city.
When enough snow is on the ground, I suit up and head out with Parker. He might look like a standard poodle but he is oh, so much more than that. In fact, he is a prime example of the genus, Pig in a Poodle Suit particularly when it snows because for him, snow is a thing to be eaten and when it snows he wants to be outside eating snow. If I was more patient and the city had different laws about how soon after a snowfall you have to clear the snow I would not actually shovel: he’d eat it all.
Parker poodle is also a wrestler who likes to indulge in Ultimate Dog Wrestling with his dog buddies who live on the street.
One of those dog buddies is a monster of a dog at about 90 pounds, all muscle. Together they grrr and snap, body slam and wrestle and after about an hour of full on extreme wrestling with complicated poodle moves and lab strength, they collapse on the ground near each other, panting and sated.
The dog, Rudder, belongs to a young family: Mom, Dad and a few children of various ages. Mom works. Dad — William — does stuff. Doesn’t matter the time of day or night: there is a light on in the garage and the pungent smell of marijuana hangs in the air, as it has every day for the 11 years that they have lived here except for the two weeks he tried to quit.
Jack believes that the only way to train Rudder is to dominate him, to overpower him, to show him who’s boss. “I’ll win, eventually,” said William. “I’m stronger than him.”
I felt something chill inside me when he described his dog training approach: this man expected to cow his dog into obedience, prove he was more powerful, more dominant than his dog and he was going to prove it.
Perhaps I ought not to have been surprised. William also believes that immigrants are ruining the country, that all government employees are lazy and dumb, that he should be able to do what he wants how he wants and when he wants while everyone else should follow the rules. So maybe I ought not to have been surprised that he was telling me he’s stronger than his dog. It occurred to me as I looked at William and then at Rudder, that his dog might be smarter in the ways that matter most.
Cause and effect
Rudder has done some damage to William’s shoulder, hand and forearm muscles. Wait: Rewind. Let me rephrase that: In the journey to make his dog obedient, William’s decision to use brute force dominance training has resulted in bodily injuries to himself because everything between William and Rudder is a contest of will and strength. Everything. Rudder doesn’t fight. He just anchors himself and doesn’t move, or, he loses his ability to hear and he behaves like a dog. And that makes William insane.
William has screamed at Rudder on the street and in the park; his screaming exerting the kind of physical force that pushes blood into veins like some sort of thick goo that causes the veins in his head to swell and pop up, creating a raised topographical map on his forehead that says: this is the geography of my rage. This is the map of me losing my humanity just trying to get a dog to move, or sit, or go inside the house. Jack’s wife, a wee slip of a thing, never yells at Rudder and he listens to all of her commands.
He and his wife have gone to many dog training sessions and have had dog trainers over, and they watch The Dog Whisperer and Canada’s own Brad Pattison. His wife is getting good traction and Rudder listens and is little trouble with her.
Rudder is an exuberant, cheerful, happy dog. In the past six months, he’s shown William the effectiveness of the training method to which he has been subjected. He has twice viciously attacked a dog who was walking by with its owner. The dog is a rescue and is quite submissive. The dog’s owner, a fragile woman on mental stress leave, now no longer walks down my street. And because of her fragile mental state, decided that she could not face the repercussions of reporting the incidents. While entirely new behaviour, this is not an isolated incident. William has mentioned Rudder attacking dogs in the park.
Because Parker is one of the best-behaved dogs on the planet, other dog owners want to know the secret of success. No secret: get a standard poodle and work hard every single day for three years, have a healthy relationship and provide a positive environment and voila! Parker’s a perfectly behaved dog most days, except for when he isn’t. And it is slowly working for Gia, who I rescued last Spring.
William and I have talked about different ways to help Rudder obey commands. I’m careful about what I say because it’s increasingly clear that William has a particular world view that I do not share. Although I have yet to find common ground with him, I’ve been able to tease him, and he laughs at himself on occasion.
I gave William links — because he asked — to some of the more recent research about dogs: findings that suggest dominance training can be harmful and findings that suggest dogs have an inherent sense of fairness. It is for naught. William has a virulent variation of Know it all syndrome known as the I know everything better than anyone else disease.
Cause and effect, #2
So there I was, outside shovelling with Parker chomping his way through a pile of clean snow. William had taken his kids to school and decided to park on the street instead of his garage.
“Guess I should shovel too,” he said.
I just smiled in his general direction.
A few minutes later he was out with his shovel and his dog. Parker and Rudder ran around the yards spreading snow in all directions. Both William and I stopped shovelling to watch them. Parker launched forward like a boxer taking a jab, nipping at Rudder’s haunches to get him moving. Typical Standard Poodle playfare. Rudder fell for it and launched forward. Parker bounced backward, landing JUST out of reach of Rudder’s mouth. The chase was on. William and I just smiled at one another, then he started talking about how much he hates shovelling.
The dogs were wrestling in the snow on the boulevard when Rudder dropped to the ground and froze. I looked where he was looking and saw a long-haired golden retriever coming down the street with his owner. I knew this duo: sweet dog, standoffish short man, who has once or twice commented on Parker being off lead, an offence; contravention of a city bylaw. Each time he told me, I smiled at him and said, yes, I know, thank you. The third time he said it to me, I wondered if he inserted his own pickle or if he had help.
Anyway, here he was again. No big deal. I had snow to shovel which I went back to doing when suddenly, snarling and growling exploded to my left and I turned to see Rudder attacking the golden dog. The dog’s owner kicked Rudder in the nose. I stepped in to put my shovel between Rudder and the retriever, ordering Parker to sit at the same time. Rudder backed up and William grabbed him, pulling him further away. It ended as quickly as it started. No damage done. Or so I thought.
The guy who owned the golden walked a few steps away then turned around and said to Jack, “If you know your dog does that, keep him on a lead or muzzle him.”
William must not have heard, because he said, “Whaddid you say?”
The guy didn’t repeat it. This time he said, “At least I’ll know where to send the muzzle order.”
I was positive I heard a sword swoosh over my head: the air around William became very dark.
“Try it, asshole!” he yelled at the guy who was now halfway down the street.
Why oh why do men do this? What EXACTLY does it achieve?
The guy yelled something back and as I lifted the shovel to drop the snow, I caught sight of William’s face. It had twisted into something ugly, the kind of ugly that forms when primitive brain and childhood beatings and humiliation and too many drugs and lack of sleep and a deep need to have control of something, feel in control of something, swarms and smothers the brain’s prefrontal cortex area and makes rational thought impossible: the kind of ugly that signals nothing good.
“I’ll tell ya this: people who tell me to fuck off are gonna die,” he said. “Nobody tells me to fuck off.”
The blood in my body fell to my feet with a thud. It took a minute, a full minute for me to take in, comprehend, grokk, understand, what he had just said, what had come in through my earlobes and scorched my ear canals, burning a path in my brain to reach my processing centre and get his meaning. It was like a completely foreign statement had suddenly been translated. My reaction was visceral: I wanted my mother. My father. I wanted an adult to take this boogie man away. All of a sudden the Arizona shooter lived a few houses down from me.
Many years ago, when I learned that people rarely transform, they just become more of who they truly are, a therapist friend explained it to me this way, knowing I don’t like things to be explained in such binary fashion, but knowing I would listen. She said there are two kinds of people:
- the person who blames themself.
- the person who blames everyone else.
People who fall into the first category often find ways to change how they view the world and their place in it, which often brings changes to their life for the better. People who fall into the second category, rarely ever do. None are so blind as he who will not see.
I had to be my own adult. I had to deal with brain freeze. Mustering the most compassionate, calm voice I could find and willing my throat not to tighten in reaction to such overpowering rage I responded, even though a response wasn’t necessary. I wanted him to know there was another way: there is ALWAYS another way, even if he couldn’t see it just then.
“He’s just trying to get to you William, don’t let him. There are better ways to start your day than fighting with a jerk.”
He said nothing. Rudder was sitting in a snow pile, watching and listening. He was not smiling.
William can quote Monty Python, Nietzsche and anything about music you can think of. He is a major wizard with most things. He’s quiet and patient with his kids and does not believe in corporal punishment. He does not drink: he came from that sort of violent family and says he won’t repeat it. He drives a BMW wagon, has a nice house, a nice family and a warped view of the world. I wonder what his kids think about his treatment of the dog and rages at neighbours and I wonder how it affects them. And his wife. Does she know? He is still in some sort of emotional survival mode our William and everything around him seems to threaten his existence; his rage button is stuck in the On position.
Many of us on the street try desperately not to judge. We shake our heads when William screams at his dog, wondering how he can’t see that what he is doing to his dog, his dog is simply passing along to other dogs: dogs that he senses are submissive.
I hoped that the guy with the golden retriever never walks down this street again. I hoped that William would see that his own reaction was a symptom and that the issue — his dog is becoming dangerous — is a direct result of his own beliefs and actions. I doubted that would happen.
William shouldn’t have a dog: some of us are thinking about staging a midnight rescue — get Rudder to a safe house because beautiful, playful, happy Rudder is not safe. Screaming at a dog apparently is not enough to get a dog taken away. The reality is that the situation is not going to get better. Not only that, it is not going to end well for someone, even if that someone is a dog.