Bad Doggy Influences


I’ve fostered a dog or puppy from the shelter six or seven times since I’ve had Otto – and he’s been a huge help in the fostering process. He models good behavior. He responds immediately to cues and in the process, shows the other dogs how to earn rewards. He comes immediately when called, in such an enthusiastic manner, that the other dog comes running toward me, too, just to see what the excitement is all about (and then of course everyone gets treats, which helps install the roots of a nice recall in the foster dog, too). Otto puts up with their playful behavior, plays a bit with them himself, but also enforces polite canine behavior.  He won’t, for example, tolerate a puppy climbing all over him, jumping on him – or even picking on Tito the Chihuahua. He steps in with authority and firmness and says (with an audible growl and some impressive snarling), “No way, Jose. Not on my watch.” And yet, he’s never hurt a single errant pup.

However, something’s gone wrong with my currant foster, a formerly feral pup, an Australian Cattle Dog-mix about 10 to 12 months old. He was brought into my local shelter by county animal control officers on the end of a catch pole, writhing and snapping like the scared-to-death wild animal that he was, along with a human-friendly mother (he looks just like her) and a pup who looked to be about 4 months old who was just as wild as the older pup but still young enough to more quickly accept a human touch. All three had been left abandoned on a ranch owned by a senior gentleman who had passed away. Neighbors called animal control because they saw that no one was feeding the animals; an investigation revealed that the deceased had no relatives.

Consensus at the shelter was that the friendly mom and the young pup were good candidates for adoption. This guy was not, so I took him on as a project. Another volunteer and I spent time with him in a kennel at the shelter every day for a week, until we were able to get a collar on him and get him to accept treats. Then I brought him home, and started socializing him in earnest. He attached himself like glue to Otto’s side, which was pretty much the only way I was able to catch him and put a leash on him every day to pet him and bring him in the house, get him in and out of my car, walk around the neighborhood, and introduce him to friends. The relationship was all good for him, but it’s weird: it’s had the opposite effect on Otto. He’s started doing some naughty things he hasn’t done for years.

For example: Otto doesn’t chase my cats. The foster dog does. When I’m outside with all the animals, I’m able to say, Hey! – interrupting the behavior and diverting his attention with something else (Look! Here’s a ball!) Same thing with my chickens – although it took a squirt of a hose when he was rushing the fence and barking at them in their pen to get him to break off the behavior and “hear” me when I was saying Hey! No! But when I’m in the house, he’ll still take a run at one of the cats; I can see him doing it through the kitchen windows. And here’s the thing: Otto is joining in! I saw the two of them merrily chase one of the cats across the yard (she ran under a shed), and Otto was in the lead.

In the past few days, Otto has also dug a huge hole under one of our orange trees (pup was in the house at the time, he has an alibi!). It used to be that Otto would dig in hot weather, to find a cool place to take a nap, but it’s cold and wet and muddy right now! I also caught Otto chewing one of my shoes out on the deck! He may not have been the one that dragged it outside, but it was in his teeth when I spotted him – and when he saw me, he immediately let it fall out of his mouth like he had just been told it was poison.

My husband’s explanation: “Otto has let having a minion go to his head. It’s turned him evil!”

The good news is, someone who saw a picture of the pup on the shelter website came to meet him yesterday, and is going to the shelter today to apply to adopt him. I think it’s a good home, and he will be leaving my house in a day or so. I’m happy for him – but am curious to see how Otto will respond without his “minion.” Will he go back to being Mr. Perfect? Or will I be taking him back to behavior reform school?

Have you ever had a canine “bad influence” in your home? What happened? What did you do?