The Dog Grumbler
I’M looking after Rufus while his owner’s house is being renovated.
Rufus is a Shih-tzu-cross-something and probably has every reason to be grumpy.
I’m not sure of his past, but I guess he has spent lots of time at home while previous owners went to work, which often accounts for a warped outlook.
The first time I met him he bit me – not nipped – he actually drew blood.
In fact, he reacts with distrust and aggression the first time he meets anybody — people, dogs, cats, farm animals…
It’s a tall order, but I’m determined to help him while he’s here, to show him his distrust is misplaced.
Mostly I don’t leave him alone unless he’s waiting in my car.
I’m sure this horrifies many experts who are convinced that being left in a car is a canine death sentence, but I never met a dog who would rather be at home alone and yes — I leave the windows down.
Also I feed him my leftovers.
I visit lots of dogs and travel Rufus with them as much as possible — by car, on paw.
When he starts to react to strangers with aggression, I chastise him and work to show him his suspicions are unfounded.
Travelling them together always helps, which is how he came to trust our toy poodle.
He is adapting to the new routine.
Being a girl, the poodle rules the roost, but Rufus has carved a place for himself in our day-to-day life.
He likes leftover scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast, while the poodle — who is older — likes to sleep through to morning tea.
And while she hits the hay after dinner, he stays right next to my armchair until I crash.
The greatest challenge is home security – Rufus needs to confront anyone who so much as looks at our house.
I think he sees it as a responsibility.
Being left at home alone has lumbered him with the role of sentry and he expresses his devotion by applying himself wholeheartedly to the gig.
When he sounds the alarm I yawn, blink slowly and tell him to be quiet.
Like most dog training it doesn’t work overnight.
However, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
At first, the sight of another dog caused him to run at the stranger barking, to yap in their face and nip at their fetlocks.
Lately, as his world expands, he tends to run half way, give them a warning from a distance and return.
As his circle of friends grows, his expectations are expanding.
He warms more quickly to company at each meeting or reunion.
He is more heedful of my advance warnings when I see potential triggers for nastiness, and when I tell him to be quiet and come inside he does so immediately.
Rufus came to me as a hard case, but he is softening as I provide consistency and company.
And underneath it all he is a dog.
As my constant companion he is happy.
He accompanies me to the bathroom, in the garden, watching tv, he sits under my chair at dinner and sleeps by my side of the bed each night.
He is faithful and affectionate and only ever bit me the once.
It will be hard to give him back.