Sunday Column (334)

I am writing this post with a heavy heart. This is not only a post, it is an article I suppose about coping with change, making decisions and being self critical. I am sad, devastated. Yet the decision we made is final and right. This isn’t easy. But who ever said life was.

Whilst last week all looked very well with Rosie and we were hopeful to have new training methods that stopped her from jumping on people and snapping at them, we decided to give her back to her breeder after all. It broke the family’s and my heart. And the questions are asked whether we gave up? Did we fail?

We got Rosie despite knowing that C was scared of dogs. He turned out to be her best friend, and to that extend the person that loves dogs more than anything else. His whole attitude changed towards animals in general. He loves any animals and isn’t scared of dogs anymore. Rosie helped us to transform his life. But also she helped transform R’s life. He loved that dog too, and cuddled beyond acceptability, and she let him do it. True companion and friendship. This dog didn’t have a malicious bone in her, friendly, good with children, yet she needed a lot of attention too.

As you might remember we went a long way to get Rosie. A long journey every weekend. Proving that C would be fine with big dogs. We put a lot of research in which breed to get and settled for the GSP (German Shorthaired Pointer) as this breed is intelligent, good with children and easy to train, willing to run for hours. That was the plan, once Rosie was old enough, we wanted to take her on daily runs.

However, the main problem we had with her was her jumping up. This started from day one. The first dog trainer at early puppy stage said this was a puppy behaviour and you tackle it when they get older. And that is where our inexperience came in, we had to believe that dog trainer. As time progressed and she started jumping up and snapping at our kids, it was time for another trainer. Even at that stage we put it down to puppy behaviour, yet she did jump up on strangers, out of the blue, after excitement, without excitement. The kids learned (!) how to kneel down and seek cover when she ‘attacked’.

The next dog trainer put it down to the dog, saying maybe this GSP in particular wasn’t going to stop jumping and might have to be on a lead all its life. This wasn’t an option or isn’t an option for a GSP. So we soldiered on, always on the look out for strangers, then putting her on the lead if she was off it. We stopped going to the park or the beach as we couldn’t take the dog.

We tried more training. We went from buying a citronella collar, to almost buying an electric collar but couldn’t bring ourselves to do the latter. My wife spend hours training her, any free minute she had, sacrificing a lot. Yet it seems as if Rosie needed more than 3 hours of attention a day, taking the attention away from the kids. Rosie then jumped on R again at a walk a few weeks ago, and shortly thereafter on an elderly woman. There was nothing I could do, I had no control of that dog. For all I know, I could be in jail if that person had pressed charges or had had a heart attack.

Rosie

Don’t get me wrong. There was not a bad bone in that dog. She wasn’t evil, just very excitable and very jumpy. A GSP through and through. And maybe the jumping was normal and will go away as she gets older. But maybe not. The snapping got worse and we continued to solve the problem. Yet, with her ‘attacking’ (playing with) a friend’s child and out of the blue, without any playing involved, coming up to C to snap his face (luckily nothing major happened), we felt we compromised on the safety of our children.

If we cannot trust the dog we love, the one we put so much hard work into, and yet the dog without prior warning comes up and snaps one of our children, a decision must be taken. Whether this is puppy behaviour, wrong training from our part, or whatever, the safety of our family and friends must come first.

We just had got another dog trainer involved who had the best approach yet. We are almost through the first year, her birthday coming up, how much longer can we wait? Will Rosie be ok when we go camping? We cannot put a GSP on the lead, can we? What if she decides to jump on a baby, another older person or seriously (if not deliberately) injures one of our kids?

Again, this dog is far from aggressive. She, and maybe it is just her personality, wants to play and expresses her needs by snapping at people. If she does that with a grown up, this might just be ok, yet not acceptable, but with elderly and children, vulnerable people, this isn’t going to work.

And yes, maybe we had to try it for another few weeks. Another, third, dog school. A gun dog trainer taking her away. And maybe she would have been fine. Maybe she would have hurt a child. We do not know. And giving her away for someone else to train didn’t feel like the right thing to do.

It is devastating. We miss her. It is one of those logical decisions, not emotional ones. I tried explaining it to the kids but one cannot. They will get over it. We re-homed our cat because of the dog. We cut our personal life and visits to friends short to accommodate Rosie and trying to make it work.

Yes she was a hard work, like any dog would be, to be dependent when you go on holidays, travelling in general, taking her for walks in bad weather, making a mess. The inconvenience she caused, not least of her behaviour, that limited us to do things, all that we could and would have and did deal with. She was the greatest joy and transformed our lives for the better. She taught me patience most of all. It is empty in the house without her. No one that greets you in the morning or when you come home from work. And, without a doubt, I would get a new dog tomorrow. But I suppose we wait for a while…before we decide on another pet.

I guess, my honest conclusion, is that we got the dog at the wrong time. A time when our kids still needed most attention and they weren’t in school yet. Also, I believe we got the wrong breed at the wrong time. A smaller breed, or quieter breed might have been better. One that might have needed less constant attention, less energetic. Whilst of course there is hassle, and the dependance, and all the negative things that come with a dog, we were happy to do that. I remember the pain of going to Germany, putting my parents through the experience of a hyper active GSP. This was all fun 🙂 However much inconvenience it caused.

This isn’t about blame. Whether the less experienced breeder had the right limitations with giving us the dog or whether we should have been less determined to get this breed. It is not about whether the breed is bad (which it isn’t, we would get one again), and maybe it was just Rosie’s personality. Maybe we did a mistake from the beginning or should have waited another few years. Hindsight is always easier. The only thing I would do if I could turn back time is to wait another 2-3 years before getting a GSP. So the kids can be more involved and hence the dog got more attention. Then again, more than 3 hours are hard to find…and I still wonder if there was something wrong with ours (Rosie).

But we don’t know and can only speculate. The decision was right. We were not able to judge if the snapping develops into a more malicious biting, and whether you could have friends with children around – and it wasn’t fair on the dog to put her in the crate when all others were playing? Or, we likewise didn’t know whether she might just stop snapping tomorrow. Speculations.

So we are glad the breeder took her back. Matter of fact she managed to re-home her with an experienced dog handler who already has a GSP. We are glad about that. I could have not brought myself to put her into a dog home. I love her too much. We couldn’t risk injury of the kids for the sake of a dog. And that is what the kids will understand over time.

Things in life, I tell them, happen for a reason. Rosie transformed us, tested our patience, was a true companion, a lovely cuddle and great friend. She was a challenge and we loved her. She gave the boys so much confidence in dealing with animals. She made us learn so much. Rosie, you will always have a place in our heart and we will miss you. When we put you in the car to drive you back to the breeder, you knew. Your eyes told me that you knew you were in trouble. Yet you loved being back with your sister and mother.

And we tried a lot to make it work. I hope, for my Karma, and for Rosie’s sake, that Rosie will be able to forgive us. That she understands that she wasn’t the right companion for us in the long term. That she went one step to far, and that we couldn’t bear the thought of her not being controllable. That she understands that we tried, and tried again but at the end of the day, the life and health of our family is more important than her. And I hope she understands that she enriched our lives, and will always be in our hearts. And that we love her. We cherish her and wish her well. And we believe we put her in a place where she will be happy.

Farewell Rosie. You have been amazing!
We lost a true companion.