Our Dog is a Jackass

Bella in her first days with us in 2013.

Bella in her first days with us in 2013.

You may remember that I wrote about Bella, our Dachshund, who was with us for a very short time. She was by far the sweetest, kindest, most gently affectionate dog in my memory. I never met a dog who was so insistent on violating the laws of physics by occupying the same physical space as you at the same time for as long as she could. Her untimely passing over a year ago was a huge blow to our family.


His Emmettship, relaxing on the back of the couch.

Several months after Bella’s death, Emmett came to live with us. In appearance, Emmett was a carbon copy (another word for “duplicate” for those who may not know what a carbon copy is) of Bella, but in attitude he was Bella’s antithesis.

Emmett came to us after a month in foster care. His backstory, as I understand it, was that he was discovered abandoned in a single room with no food or water and was found after at least three days living like that. He was unusually aggressive, though good on a leash, but virtually untouchable. Petting him in those early days was not an option.

You could entice him with a treat or two, but any attempt at physical affection was greeted with the baring of sharp Dachshund teeth and vicious snarling. And I can tell you from personal experience that his bark was decidedly less severe than his bite. On more than one occasion, he sank his teeth up to his gums in my extremities demonstrating unequivocally the boundaries of his personal space.

His “personal space” was roughly the size of a football field.

Shortly after his arrival, I took him to the veterinarian for his new pet checkup. I was terrified how he might behave. He allowed me to hitch up his leash with no problem and hopped in the car willingly – he really loved to go for rides.

Once at the clinic, I checked in at the front desk and sat down. He wandered around on the leash for a bit and then came back and hopped up on the bench next to me, a rather panicked look in his eye and shedding profusely. I gather that the smells of the vet clinic were not new to him and his memory of previous visits spooked him badly.

He tried to climb up my chest and started licking my face and whining pitifully. I did my best to calm him and only after a while did he calm down enough to stop leaving scratch marks on my neck and face.

Once in the exam room, he was muzzled and the exam proceeded without incident. He even let me pick him up un-muzzled and behaved more like a dog and less like a feral beast.

He had actually improved a little in the days prior and his submission to the exam and subsequent friendliness was encouraging. So I took him to the pet store chain closest to me on his leash of course, to get food, toys and such. I was careful to keep him close and warned anyone who came close to stay away because he was not a good dog. Everything was going fine until one person who had been successfully feeding and petting him moments before touched his back unexpectedly and he nailed her hand.

Needless to say, I was horrified.

Home we went and we stayed. Emmett rarely left the house except for routine walks and the like. He still exhibited aggressive tendencies with all of us. I had zero faith that Emmett would be able to live in our home. I was afraid of him. Scared to death. Not just for me but particularly for Nate and Garrett who are less conscientious about how to behave around an aggressive household pet.

Emmett2But the lovely and talented Beth, who found Emmett on a pet adoption web site and fell immediately in love with him, was convinced that he could be rehabilitated and that he’d eventually be fine. Frankly, I thought she was nuts.

Of course, she was right.

He’s still aggressive towards people he doesn’t know which limits the places we can take him but with those of us he knows and trusts, he’s a completely different pup.

And he’s a complete slave to his routine.

In the evening, post dinner, he waits until I have finished the dishes, plopped down on the couch, put my feet up on the ottoman and opened my laptop before he approaches me. Then he sits up like a circus-trained dog and asks for his evening walk.

“Emmett, do you want to go potty? Do you want to go outside?”

He jumps up on my lap enthusiastically, licks my face furiously and whines excitedly. I take him downstairs, hitch him up and we go for our walk. Once we’ve returned from the walk, at some point in later the evening, he approaches me again, sits up like a circus-trained dog and demands the second event of the evening’s activities.

I am a diabetic and having a snack pre-bedtime helps regulate my overnight blood sugar, keeping it from getting way out of specification. (It’s still out of spec in the morning, but if I don’t have a snack, it’s WAY out of spec.) I started eating a small bowl of cereal before bed to help with this and it seemed to work well. I know – not the ideal snack, but hey, it works.

“Emmett, is it time for cereals?” (How that word became plural, I am not sure.)

Anyway, I go pour myself a small bowl, return to my seat in the living room and he sits upright and waits for me to feed him bites of cereal. And should I forget to let him lick the bowl, he gets apoplectic, stomps his feet and demands it. This all started as a way for me to establish and enhance my relationship with Emmett but now, of course, it’s a requirement. I have to feed him cereals even if I am not having any. It’s our ritual.

Here’s Emmett today – well, a couple of days ago.

Here’s Emmett today – well, a couple of days ago.

Since last week’s vet visit, he’s been particularly affectionate, hopping up next to me on the couch and snuggling in next to me for a quick nap. Occasionally he will crawl up on my lap and attempt to lick my face for no apparent reason at all. And last night before I went upstairs to bed, I picked him up, wrapped him in my arms and gave him a gentle hug for the first time. He responded with a gentle lick to my chin and actually seemed to welcome it.

I was wrong. Beth was right. (Yes, you have it in writing now, Beth.)

And while I still miss Bella, Emmett is my pal now. And Beth’s. And Nate’s and Garrett’s, too. He’s come a long way since those early days in our home. He’s calmed down, accepted us, learned to trust us and integrated himself into our routine.

He’s still completely untrustworthy around other people, though, and I’m terrified to take him to a dog park, though I know he needs more exercise. He tends to be overprotective of the boys when he’s outside with them, and he guards the house with unnecessary vigor. That’s why he’s still a jackass.

But finally after nearly a year, he’s our jackass.


Our Dog is a Jackass — 19 Comments

  1. Hi Dan,

    Hershey came to us with the same issues, maybe worse, than Emmitt. That was 1/2008, he had just turned 1. He was suppose to be perfect, per the rescue. MANY trials and tribulations later, plus lots of money, he is more social, but his prior life left him with a dislike for children. We had a behaviorist plus some medication. But the biggest thing is building a trust level, which we have. He is about to turn 9 and because of various structural issues he has maybe three years. Bless you and Beth for caring for Emmitt and giving him a better life, love, and patience to build trust. In the end it is worth the work for the love of the animal.

  2. She kills them for you? Geez. All she does for me is play with them…little high-speed chases all over the house. My favorite is when she carries them upstairs and let’s them go in my bedroom. So afraid to go in my closet. 😻🐭

  3. I adopted my Sadie when she was two years old. I didn’t know at the time that she was dog aggressive. After a few years I stopped trying to break her of it. We just stayed home and avoided risky situations. She was the perfect dog in every way, except that one. She lived to be 14. She was a sweetie.

  4. I grew up with a dachshund with much the same attitudes. He was very affectionate with family, but not at all happy with strangers. And it took a lot of visits before someone became “not a stranger.”

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