Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.


Posted on | October 21, 2015 | 2 Comments

Despite being the smaller and skinnier German Shepherd, Luna is the fierce one. Don’t be fooled.

She stands on the front door, nails scrabbling madly on the window sill, barking at new arrivals.  Which serves in place of a doorbell for us.  She cannot be trusted around small livestock—she salivates through the fence at goat kids, leaves a swath of dead chickens in her path, and feels free to rid the barn of barn cats.  She cannot even be left unsupervised with my mom’s rat terriers because I’m not sure she really believes that they are dogs.  Although, in her defense, none of us are really sure about that.

She dominates her much bigger litter mate, Orion.  She growls at him if he approaches her food bowl.  She growls at him if he tries to beat her to the couch.  She growls at him if visitors dare to pet him instead of her.  Basically, she growls at him if he looks at her sideways.  Like everyone else who grew up with a difficult sibling, Orion just ignores her when she’s being pissy.  And he sighs at her a lot.

I always assumed Luna’s attitude derived from her size.  Smaller and skinnier seems like such an uncomfortable way to live.   Having such a high metabolism must mean always feeling at least slightly hungry.  Hungry.  Ugh.  Visible hipbones and ribs….awkward.  Even France is banning those sorts of things.  And all that competition.  Face it, no matter how hard you try, isn’t there always someone sleeker than you?  Someone who says she loves free range chicken, too, she just does lots of yoga.  (Oh, please, yoga?!)

Since most of Luna’s behavior occurred behind closed doors I treated it like any other family dysfunction.  I vacillated between ignoring it, yelling “Knock it off, Luna!” 100 times a day, and short attempts to address it with proper training before getting distracted by something else and giving up.  Because that’s the proper way to treat dysfunction.  Everybody’s doin’ it that way, people.  Everybody.

And if you’re worried about poor Orion, don’t be.  Like most males living with an overbearing female, Orion plods through life, relaxed and unconcerned.  Because the benefit of living with a crazed, domineering freak is that said freak will make all the decisions.  Should we bark at this stranger or just show our bellies for a good rub?

Do we need to go outside?  Do we need to come back in?

Are the humans eating and are they giving out tidbits?  Is there a squirrel on the bird feeder?  Is that a tennis ball?  OMG, are the kids getting up?  Are the kids getting up?? Are they???  Are they????  As Luna rushes upstairs and downstairs in the house and from the the fence at the top of the driveway to the fence shared with the barn in the yard, assessing and applying her response, Orion calmly waits to be told what to do.  It’s not too stressful.

We know Luna has the family interests at heart because she always puts herself between us and strangers.  And although she’s never really been tested, we’ve run into people who put her on edge and she wasn’t afraid to show it.  (Is there anything creepier than a nice, smiley, normal-looking person that immediately makes your dog defensive?  Like she can smell the dead bodies in his basement on him???)  We know Orion would follow Luna’s example because following Luna is what Orion does, but we’ve wondered if he would rise to fierceness on his own.  I suppose it doesn’t really matter because anyone coming for the kids would have to peel 115 pounds of Orion off them just to get close.

So their disparate personalities would be just fine.  Except for one thing.  Dog walking in public places.

Because even on a dog walk, Luna insists on being in charge, hence, in front of Orion.  And she will whine, bark, or pull like a Luna-tic in order to accomplish the proper walking order.  In addition, if we encounter any other dogs walking along the path, Luna insists on barking at them like a Luna-tic as well.  Because they need to know that she is in charge.

Ordinarily we go off-road, hiking along wilder paths, following rivers and streams, climbing rock hills.

We rarely met other dog walkers on these paths and when we did, they tended to be the rugged type of individuals who weren’t impressed by Luna’s barking.  Or they had a Luna-tic dog of their own that was barking and pulling at the leash and we all nodded with empathy at each other.  When the kids were walking with me, I always had Pretty step off the path with Luna (Luna is officially her dog), make Luna sit in the woods, and let other dog walkers pass while Luna whined or yapped.  If I was on my own hiking with the dogs, I simply shortened the leashes, kept up a quick pace, and swept past the other dog walkers so that Luna didn’t have much time to fuss and only managed a couple quick yips as we went by.  It was annoying but manageable. And, Lord knows, with everything else going on around here, “annoying but manageable” sits on the back burner.  Because “OMG, what the heck are you doing?!!!” is up front.

Then 2 things changed.

First, Luna began fussing at walkers without dogs as well.  Ordinarily, a person without a dog passed without any interest.  Except for the rare and random occasions when he or she smelled like a serial killer.  (Creepy.)  Now I went from having to restrain Luna at the sight of an approaching dog, to tightening up the leash whenever anyone approached.  Which was annoying and embarrassing.  Most people can relate to a dog that barks at another dog.  They are dogs, after all.  But barking like a Luna-tic at a human just passing by in public isn’t socially acceptable.  It really reflects more poorly on the owner than on the dog.  I already have 4 kids that randomly and shockingly make me look bad in public on occasion (Little has a horrible staring-and-pointing-while-gasping-out-loud-in-Walmart problem.  He’s like the shaming People Of Walmart website in real time).  So I don’t need a dog that makes me look bad, too.

Second, the neighboring town built a lovely, amazing, paved walkway along the river.  It’s called the Riverwalk and it meanders along the river banks, through the woods, under railroad trestles, across artistic bridges, and into town.  It’s an easy gradient for those days when your thighs aren’t up for a mountain workout.  It’s a conveniently dry place to walk when all the other local trails are muddy.  And it has multiple access points from the trail to local places of interest like a park with playground equipment and athletic fields for the kids, the farmers market, a little Mexican restaurant, and a local grocery/cafe/coffee shop.  A grocery/cafe/coffee shop that will let you sit at an outside table with your dog. So I can walk the dogs, get my coffee, and reload all the calories I burned off (plus some) with a nice, freshly baked chocolate croissant all in the same place.   I know, right?  Brilliant!

Of course, I wasn’t the only person with that idea.  The trail was always busy in the afternoons and on weekends—families with kids on foot, scooters, and trikes; walkers and joggers; lots and lots of dogs on their daily constitutional.  So there were lots of Luna-tic challenges.  The kids and I spent several afternoons enjoying an iced coffee or Pirate Booty (the new crack for kids) at an outside table after walking the dogs.  Luna used to be content to whine a little bit and stare hard at other dogs on the patio.

Image result for hard stare, meme

But I was worried that her behavior was getting unpredictable.  And I could only enjoy my coffee and chocolate croissant if I was sure my Luna-tic wouldn’t bark at all the other customers or try to pull me out of my chair to get at the other dogs sleeping calmly beneath their owners’ tables.  Again, annoying and embarrassing.  Plus, it could make me spill my iced coffee.

Well, nothing’s going to get between me and a chocolate croissant.  So I decided it was finally time to fix the Luna-tic problem.  I picked up a bag of training dog treats (“Choice of Top Trainers.  Provides Focus, Motivation, Shorter Learning Curve!”) and put some in my pocket on our next walk.  My plan was, best case scenario, to reward Luna with a treat every time she passed a walker or dog without fussing or, worst case scenario, to distract her by giving her treats to hold her attention while anyone passed us.  Too bad that Luna found barking at passersby much more rewarding than Bacon Flavor Plus Vegetables and Fruits.  Despite the exclamation point on the treat package.  Poking her in the eye with the treats would have been more effective than trying to get her to eat them.  And it almost came to that.  Because I had to hold Orion’s leash with one hand (While he stood there idly pretending he didn’t know us.  Just like we do to Little at Walmart.), hold Luna’s collar with the other hand as she barked hysterically, and simultaneously dig in my pocket for treats with my….wait a minute….oh, yeah…out of hands.

It wasn’t exactly a Cesar Millan moment.  After 2 walks without any change in Luna’s behavior, zero interest in the treats, and spilling $19.95 worth of Real Pork Liver and Bacon with Added Botanifits (WTH???) plus Herbal Extracts Loaded with Omegas all over the trail for the local squirrel population, I gave up that plan.  Because 2 walks of that kind is 1 too many.

Next I picked up a Walk ‘n Train! collar/harness/head strap thingy.  It had a loop that went over the dog’s nose and tightened when pulled.  It also had a safety strap that hooked to the dog’s collar for extra control.  According to the website, it could be used to stop leash pulling as well as nuisance barking during walks.  Perfect.  I took it out of the package and was immediately mystified by all the straps and adjustment slides.  There was a diagram illustrating proper wear included in the package, but the dog sitting calmly in the picture didn’t remotely resemble Luna flinging herself around in the kitchen and pawing at her face.  So it was hard to tell if the collar was on right.

“No way she’s going to wear that,” Pretty declared.

“Sure she is, ” I replied.  “If she pulls it off, I’ll just slide it back on.  Eventually she’ll give up on pulling it off and walk with it on.”

Perhaps Pretty was not impressed with my previous example of persistence as demonstrated by the 2-walks-with-treats plan.

“We should bring her regular collar just in case,”  she suggested.

“It’s fine,”  I insisted as Luna hopped in the car, having already freed her snout from the head halter, leaving the entire contraption hanging from her leash and dragging in the driveway.  The safety strap did not appear to be Luna-tic tested.

We parked at the main entrance to the Riverwalk, which was handily located between a playground overflowing with little children and a dogpark loaded with unleashed dogs.  As soon as Luna exited the vehicle I slid the collar back over her snout and tried to move into a quick walking pace on the trail.  I figured if we just kept moving then she didn’t have time to fight the collar.  I figured wrong.

As soon as her paws hit the ground, Luna flailed around madly, pawing at her face while simultaneously barking at the dogs in the dogpark and thrashing in spastic circles towards the kids on the playground.  It was a million times worse than when I just held her pinned to my side with her choke collar, firmly keeping myself between her yapping and any approaching dogs or walkers.  I’m not sure being “embarrassed” properly describes what it’s like to show up in public with one of those zombie dogs from I Am Legend.

Pretty and Orion walked off down the trail without looking back.  Because that’s the kind of loyalty we have in our family.  But it was, ultimately, my salvation.  Because as much as Luna hated that collar, she hated letting Orion lead the way on a walk even more.  So after my 5th time of sliding the collar back over her nose, she gave up fighting and trotted quickly up the trail after Orion.  And all members of the playground and dog park sighed in relief.

Of course, it wasn’t over.  As we went along, Luna often stopped to have a go at the nose strap on the collar.  But I could shorten her fight by telling her “No!” and jogging ahead a few steps so she had to stop messing with it to keep up.  Me.  Jogging.  Ugh.  There was a list of Helpful Hints including in the Walk ‘n Train! package.  None of the hints suggested how to keep from getting shin splints while getting your dog accustomed to the collar.  I was beginning to feel like a company had to have scientific proof of success before being allowed to put exclamation points on the product packaging.

However, about halfway through the walk, Luna decided that barking at passing humans wasn’t worth the effort.  We were back to the days when we could pass anyone without a dog without any trouble.  It was lovely.  People often comment on the size and appearance of the dogs when we are walking them together.  They are just big enough and their coloring is just a bit more distinctive than most German Shepherds so that they are remarkable.

With Luna calmly strolling along, they even got some compliments on their good behavior.

Until another dog approached.  Because, in Luna’s mind, fighting the Walk ‘n Train! was well worth the horrified look on the face of a well-socialized dog or, even better, sending another crazed domineering freak dog into a matching frenzy of barking and pulling.  Bonus!  And here’s where the Walk ‘n Train! failed us.  It was annoying and embarrassing enough to have to occlude my dog’s airway with her choke collar in order to drag her past another dog.  But with the multitude of Walk ‘n Train! straps all over Luna’s face, it looked like I had calmly decided to take Hannibal for a stroll in public.  What?  You don’t have to strap your dog’s mouth closed in order to get a coffee and a chocolate croissant?  Totally normal, people.  Totally normal.

Even more alarming was when Luna managed repeatedly got her nose out of the face strap and was then only controlled by the thin “safety strap”.  Plus my arm thrown around her neck.  Lovely.  We didn’t get any coffee, croissants, or Pirate Booty that day.  Which wasn’t the worst thing that happened.  The worst part was when we gradually approached an elderly woman walking her poodle in the same direction that we were headed.  Luna had noticed the poodle but wasn’t barking or pulling yet.  Still, the woman kept looking back over her shoulder anxiously, eyeing the size of our dogs.  She realized that at our pace, we would soon overtake her.  And I realized she was nervous about that prospect.  So I called out to her, offering to quickly pass by if she held up for a minute.  At which point she yelled back,

“I’m worried about you passing.  And I’ve got pepper spray.”

I wanted to be pissed.  Because my dogs weren’t doing anything worthy of pepper spray.  They were just walking and looking big.  But I couldn’t be pissed since, in all likelihood, Luna was about to act like she deserved to be pepper sprayed when we passed.  Stupid Luna-tic.

We made it by without getting sprayed.  But I was even more determined to fix the whole Luna-tic problem.  Which I figured would require more persistence on my part.   So I took the dogs back to that busy trail several more times with Luna in her new collar.  On one of the trips, she was perfectly behaved the entire time.  She got lots of praise and hugs on the way home.  On the second trip, Little was with me.  I told him how wonderfully Luna was adapting to her new collar.  He walked Orion and watched as I struggled with Luna because she was back to barking and pulling even at walkers without dogs.  To his credit, Little never mentioned that the collar did not appear to be working at all.  We might just break him of pointing out the obvious in public, after all.  The next time we walked her, Luna passed on barking at humans and only barked at 1 out of 3 dogs that went by.  Plus, she didn’t pull her nose out of the collar at all.

I consider that improvement.  We’re still working on it.  But I have hope.  Apparently, persistence tastes like a delicious, fresh chocolate croissant.  I’ll even share a piece with you, Luna.

(A little piece.  ‘Cause you need to finish those expensive Pork, Liver, and Bacon thingys).


2 Responses to “Luna-tic.”

  1. Lisa
    October 21st, 2015 @ 9:19 pm


  2. Lauren
    October 28th, 2015 @ 8:05 am

    Lol that was one of the funniest things I’ve read lately 🙂 I have a Luna also who is a Lunatic (totally stealing that) something in the name maybe??? But she is a chihuahua so not really a dog 🙂

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