Posted by: drrozkaplan | February 3, 2010

My Wolf

I always love reading ‘Lives’ at the end of the New York Times Magazine on Sundays.  Well, actually on Saturdays, because we get that part of the Sunday Times delivered on Saturday.  So of course I go right to the fun parts.  This week it was entitled ‘The Dog Who Hates Me”, by John Moe.  Mr. Moe got a dog for his family, an innocent-looking little Yorkie, who loves his kids and wife, but who has a terrible fit of temper every time Moe walks into the room.  A male dog, so the conjecture is that perhaps it’s a testosterone thing, but neutering doesn’t help, so maybe the dog just has a thing about men in general…  Anyway, this poor man is resigned to living with a dog who appears to seriously take issue with him, and is greeted with a growl each evening.

I, too, live with a dog with whom I have made an uneasy peace.  It is not the same story as John Moe’s.  Ziggy doesn’t hate me.  He just has issues.  Like right now, he is howling like a coyote for no apparent reason, and I have threatened to murder him with a shishkabob skewer three times, which has made no impact on him at all.  He will stop howling when he’s good and ready, and I will just have to live with that.  I used to get very upset about his behavior and actually try to discipline him.  When that didn’t work, I would threaten him in earnest.  Now my murder threats are good-natured, empty threats, just a way I blow off a little steam.  I wouldn’t even bother going downstairs to get a skewer to show to him.

We adopted Ziggy from a no-kill animal rescue about 8 years ago.  He’d been living there for 10 months of his year-long life when we took him home.  He was, and still is, an exceptionally handsome animal, all 17 pounds of him- white wispy fur with some brown and black markings on his small, collie-like face, enough shagginess around the head to appear a bit regal, like a mane, and a beautiful plume of a tail.  He remains to this day skin and bones under his thick coat, despite a very good appetite, probably because of a combination of an extremely high activity level, and an extremely sensitive stomach.  Ziggy is half Pappillon (a lap dog known for its butterfly-like facial markings) and half Border Collie, both very high-strung breeds. He was the product of shenanigans between a purebred Pappillon who got loose from a breeder and encountered the local Border Collie. The breeder passed the puppies off as pure Pappillon, and this one went to an elderly lady, complete with AKC papers.  The problem came when he started growing and exceeded the length that a Papillon should be.  The lady, who wanted a little lap dog, dumped him at rescue.

We noticed how hyper he was when we visited the animal rescue, but my son, at age 10, was all ready for a rough and tumble pet.  Despite Ziggy’s unruly nature, we brought him home. Having lived without much human contact for most of his life, Ziggy was much like a wild wolf.  He hid in corners, and took food into his crate to eat it.  He grabbed everything he could get his paws on, and there was no getting it back.  Anyone who came too close in his space got a growl and a snap.  We took him to puppy kindergarten, which he promptly failed and was expelled from for distracting the other dogs with his barking.  We called the rescue people in despair.  We’d rescued other dogs.  In fact we had another dog from the same rescue at that time.  We didn’t want to bring a dog back.  But we weren’t sure what to do.

They sent the animal behaviorist, otherwise known as doggie shrink,  to our house.  He was, well, unusual. My husband and I sat through a 90 minute lecture reminiscent of the driest psych 201 lecture I ever had in college, discussing “vectors of conflict” and “nodes of attachment” and all kinds of other concepts.  I couldn’t concentrate.  How was this going to make the feral animal living in my house into a pet?  After the lecture, Dr. Behaviorist picked up a tennis ball and started throwing it for Ziggy.  They PLAYED.  Then he got a leash, and they TOOK A WALK.  No growling, no biting, no cowering in the corner.  We have no idea what he did to the dog, but we did the same things thereafter, and we suddenly had a much better dog.

Don’t get the idea that he was totally transformed, though.  He still barked and growled at people who came to the door.  Not everyone, but it was unpredictable.  And he jumped like crazy.  And climbed up on counters. And ate all kinds of stuff- the mail, napkins, cigarette butts when he walked in the street, any human food he could get near.  And he developed a strange behavior of gulping large amounts of water and then vomiting it.  Delightful.

Many people would have shipped this dog back to animal rescue.  We didn’t really consider it an option, but it wasn’t because we are such amazing, compassionate people.  It was because while we were figuring out that we had to put all food farther back on the counter, and only fill the water bowl halfway, and that he needed extra-long walks, Ziggy was bonding to us, and we were bonding to him.  He was now walking up to all the family members and nuzzling against us, asking to be petted.  He learned to go to the door to ask to go out, and to go to his bowl to ask for food or water.  He began to know commands like ‘wait’, ‘crate’, ‘sit’.  He got excited when he saw his leash.  He played happily with our other dog.  Our son, particularly, loved playing with and petting Ziggy.

I still had my reservations.  But then, I was the one cleaning up vomit and filling his bowl and putting up with him begging at the table (for some reason he only came to my place at the table, though I was the least likely to feed him table food).   I knew Ziggy wasn’t leaving, but I didn’t have to be his best friend.

Time passed, and our old hound dog, Sasha, died.   At first we thought that it might be good for Ziggy to be an ‘only dog’.  Perhaps he’d benefit from the attention, and from being able to have more say in the walk routine.  But no.  Ziggy barked and howled nonstop if there were not people in the room with him.  He was lonely.  He needed another dog.  I called the rescue people again.  No crazy dogs this time, I requested. Something small, if possible.  The next day I brought home Dot, a tiny black Chihauhau mix, who, despite abandonment, had remarkably few ‘issues’, except for a bit of a Napoleon complex.  She let Ziggy know who was in charge right away.  He had a new boss.

I have a terrible secret to tell you.  I love Dot more than Ziggy and so does my daughter.  I adore Dot.  She is the dog of my dreams.  But its okay, because my son and husband definitely prefer Ziggy.  He’s a manly dog. It’s not okay to love one of your children more than the other.  But one of the dogs?  I’m fine with that.  I’m going with it.

It was a little more than 2 years ago that Dot came to live with us.  Then six months ago, my son left for college.  That left us with Ziggy, even though Max always said Ziggy was his dog.  It’s fine.  Teenagers don’t walk dogs anyway.  Trust me.  You ask them to, or tell them to, or fight with them about it, and no matter how the conversation goes, and how much time the conversation takes up, they hardly ever walk the dog.

After Max left, we talked to the vet about the remaining problems with Ziggy.  The excessive jumping and barking, the occasional growling at random people at the door, and the behavioral vomiting.  We decided to give Prozac a try.  And guess what?  Since he’s been taking the Prozac, we’ve seen improvement.

Improvement.  He hasn’t vomited in almost 2 months.  He hasn’t growled or snapped at anyone, either.  But tonight, he is still howling like a coyote.



  1. Sounds like your very own Marley in a miniature body. The Prozac sounds like a good thing—hope it continues to work. Ziggy is lucky to have such devoted “parents” and though he may never be able to say it, I am sure he is grateful and loves you for your patience.


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