Our dog Hoss, despite being given the somewhat un-lofty title of Official Ranch Douchebag, is an incredible boy with a huge heart and an incredibly funny personality.
His trademark 'WOO WOO, AROOOOOO' howl that he gives out when he's happy, excited, sees someone he likes, gets all jiggy with Steve Miller, our smallest, just makes me want to take his face in my hands and smoosh him all over with kisses.
He's bloody gorgeous, was the pin up at Gwinnett County Jail Dogs Program where he came from, and has enriched our lives so much I thank God every day that he's alive.
Hoss was a difficult dog to place which is actually why we met him in the first place; his foster mum Jen Wagner couldn't continue to foster him because his fear of men meant he couldn't live in the same house as her husband Marty. Marty did everything in his power to befriend him, yet Hoss would bolt from him, pee and defecate in fear. It was too sad, and it broke Jens heart.
As many of you will know, he came to us as a rehab case, the Jail Dogs Program hoped that we might be able to change his story.
Sure enough, our incredible Lab/ Bernese mix, Levi, worked his magic with him (we use our kindly dogs as mentors to help mold and shape the dogs we work with) and this, in conjunction with the way we handle dogs, effected great change very quickly. After a matter of weeks, we were ready to adopt him out and sought a new home for Hoss, unfortunately however, no-one was the perfect fit.
With a shy, fearful dog, everyone thought that they knew best, you see.
When he went into homes for his meet and greets, despite us asking each applicant to just let him be, ignore him completely and give him space to come to them in his own time, people would ignore the advice completely.
They would offer their hand to sniff (thats right, very effective, shove your balled up fist into the shy dogs face, that's gonna work wonders and solve every problem he ever had!) or try and give him treats (great job genius, like you'd ever accept an offer of candy from a total stranger yourself?) and of course he would bolt, pee himself or even worse, defecate.
Many people would ask me why he would still sometimes do this if he had been 'supposedly' rehabilitated at the Ranch. Clearly we hadn't done a very good job if he still had residual problems, right?
I'm always at great pains to explain that any kind of rehabilitation requires ongoing management for life. We had gotten him to the best that he could be at that stage, and, with the right handling, he was quick to warm to new people, he just had to be given time and space..... as do all fearful dogs.
Shy people don't suddenly become gregarious extroverts through behavior modification. They are still shy, they just use distinct tools to help them manage their shyness and when they do, can form relationships more easily.
With a dog, though, WE have to provide the tools. We have to look for the key that unlocks the door and we have to carry that key with us at all times.
We can't say 'Now listen Hoss, you're going to meet a couple guys this afternoon, they're okay....well, one might look like a mass murderer but he's never actually murdered anyone yet to my knowledge so I want you to know you can be the funny, goofy Hoss that we all know and love and it's going to be fine'.
No, of course we don't. Instead, we talk to the humans and say 'Ignore Hoss, just pretend he's not even there, if he comes up to you to sniff you, please don't jump all over him and make a fuss, let him know it's fine to explore you, that there will be no consequences that would startle him, and DO NOT force the relationship. Less is more, allow it to happen on his time and then it will happen pretty quickly. He will trust it much faster.'
It pretty much always works...when people do as we ask. Well, unless someone is a total dick...our Hoss has the best 'asshole radar' imaginable.
Visitors to our house that ignore our advice and dive right in saying 'It's okay Hoss, it's alright sweetie" are always perplexed when their brand of love isn't the one that does the trick for him. I try and tell them to just shut the f*ck up and leave him alone, but in the end, some people don't want to abide by the rules we have for managing our family member, they just want to do what they want to do, so of course they don't get invited back.
It's hard though, when it's a family member....... like our sons who live in England and come to visit for a couple of months at a time once a year.
They adore him, they appreciate the love and joy this dog brings to us, but they forget the protocol sometimes and try too hard, too soon.
They are strapping big lads of 6 foot 4 and 5, and have deep voices and booming laughs that they use often. We are a noisy family who enjoy each other's company so much, it's a bit of a party when we are all together.
A few weeks ago, Pete and I went to Asheville for a couple of days and our son Jake and his 'intended', Maegan, stayed home and looked after the dogs for us.
Jake adores Hoss and wants so much to be his friend, it's very sweet to see. He abides by almost all of the protocols we have in place and it's been pretty effective most of the time.
When we were away, there was obviously the chance for disaster, so Jake took it upon himself to try something different.
In our absence, he slept in our bed as that's where Hoss likes to sleep, right next to his Daddy. Hoss grudgingly stayed in the bedroom- it was after all, his comfort zone-and settled on the floor, eyes darting up at Jake every time he sniffed or moved. But the total game changer happened when Jake put on Pete's smelly bathrobe, got into bed and rested quietly for a minute. The change was instantaneous.
I swear to God, Pete is getting zero action when he wears that smelly bloody thing, it's twenty years old, he rarely lets it go long enough for me to wash it and he looks like a very weird Noel Coward whenever he slips it on over his jammies.
But to Hoss? That thing is like Belgian chocolate clothing!
Hoss got straight up on the bed of his own volition, settled right next to Jake, went straight to sleep and stayed there all night. Jake said he was so uncomfortable because half of his ass was hanging off the mattress when Hoss jumped up there, but he was so thrilled with the connection he had made with this amazing dog, he just stayed there and enjoyed it.
When Hoss had episodes during the days we were away, 'flashbacks' if you like, where he forgot to be confident and trusting of Jake, my clever son simply went to Pete's closet, took out his bathrobe and put it on to instantly calm him. To Hoss, Jake had 'become' Pete.
His amazing Bloodhound nose defied the message his eyes and ears were sending him, and went with the smell of what it found comforting instead. Hundreds of millions of scent receptors outweighed the thing that we humans trust over anything.
'I saw it with my own eyes'
'I'll believe it when I see it'.
Humans are hard wired to trust only what they see, but the noble Hound trusts above all else what he smells.
When we take the time to really know the animal in our home, to understand his drives, his passions, how he lives, we can help him.
I'm ashamed to say, I never thought to tell my son that we have rehabilitated hundreds of dogs using scent to calm, to 'change their identity', even to confuse at times.
We drench a washcloth in the scent of another dogs genito urinary area if we want to introduce two dogs and foresee the possibility of problems. This scent introduction is super useful as it dissipates the need for the perfunctory often overly prolonged 'asshole sniff' performed by most dogs.
We cook casseroles all day in the crock pot to inveigle the dogs into a cocoon of 'home like' smells that delight, arouse and always settle.
We blow lavender oil during storms, peppermint oil during times of high pollen to clear the tubes, we choose non toxic cleaners with eucalyptus or lavender scent.
For the anxious dog, we carry a bottle of Doterra's 'cheer' essential oil blend. A few drops on the dogs sofa really lifts the spirit.
For our blind clients, we have the parents rub a piece of fabric on their neck and under arms and give it to us in a ziplock bag. We tie the fabric around our shins when walking blind dogs in the field so that they follow the familiar scent of their owner.
All these things we know and do, and yet I totally missed the 800 pound gorilla suit hanging on the back of my husbands closet door. Okay, Okay, Pete doesn't really look like a gorilla, maybe more a loveable chimp.......
I feel like a Dick, but at least my son got there. He's not a dog trainer, but he is an empath. Very much so......
I'm proud of him.