My dog Holmes is a Jack Russel Terrier, a breed known for being energetic, smart, with lots of personality. Most of the time he is happy, funny and sweet. He carefully watches every move I make with his chocolate brown eyes and follows me from room to room. My husband calls him my ankle bracelet. I love him dearly. But he has some issues. He is ball possessive and can have a temper. I keep wishing he was lazy, even-keeled and tolerant, more like a lab.
Recently, it hit me. My dog’s a Jack Russel. He acts like one and then I get frustrated. Hmm. Who has the problem here?
We Need to Talk About Your Dog’s Behavior
Last summer on a warm midwestern day with a bright blue sky, I innocently walked into Doggie Day Care to get Holmes. The owner pulled me aside and told me that we needed to talk about my dog’s behavior. My dog? Holmes? Yes. My dog.
She told me that he was causing problems and they feared for his safety. He couldn’t be with the little dogs because he was just too much. With the big dogs, he was so annoying (pulling tails, biting their ears) that they were afraid a large dog would snap and attack him.
She asked me if we had ever done any training with Holmes? Oh yes, lots! I was proud to report that he had been to boot camp for two weeks, we continued with weekly lessons and had practiced daily. We had done more training than most dogs (and owners) ever get to experience. She looked at me skeptically.
We began working with her trainer, a big, stern, former military man with a good sense of humor. We learned some new things, but my dog still had challenges. Holmes was still Holmes.
Around a bunch of dogs, he is life of the party. He is like the freshman football equipment manager at the team’s kegger. The puny freshman wants to show off and starts doing shots, while the older, beefy players sit on the sofa, calmly drinking beer and watch his antics. It starts out as great fun. Until it isn’t.
For somebody who veers toward the Goodie Two Shoes category, my dog’s behavior bothered me. I began taking him to day care less often. When I picked him up, I would slink inside, worried about what I’d hear. Sometimes the reports were okay; sometimes they weren’t.
I’ve seen Holmes’s bad behavior in action too. I like taking him to the dog park, however, this winter I’ve learned that if there’s another dog, my dog and a ball, it’s not good.
Before I knew this deep in my bones, I would watch Holmes and another dog chase the same ball. It started out sweet. Holmes would find a way to get the ball through persistence and focus. He’s so clever! And cute! However, if another Fido got the ball that Holmes wanted, Holmes would eventually go ballistic. A dog fight would erupt and suddenly it was a loud, blurry ruckus with mouths, teeth and fur everywhere.
After one particularly bad fight, the owners held their dogs and comforted them, gingerly turning their dogs’ ears over and looking for blood. It feels horrible when your friends are examining their best friend for blood because of you-know-who.
There’s never been any blood, but it’s scary for everyone, except for the knucklehead who started the fight. He got the ball.
My Problem with Acceptance
Jack Russells are known to be a challenge. They are darn cute, but our vet told me that at one time they were the most surrendered breed at the Humane Society. Somebody else told me that their nickname was “Jack Russel Terrorist.”
We have one of these dogs. He is wonderful 99% of the time, but I get irritated when he’s not perfect. I want him to be something he’s not, which of course, never works. I’m having a problem with accepting who he is.
If I can’t accept my dog for who he is, how else might I fight reality? How often do I wish it was warmer, colder, less cloudy, less windy? Or how often do I want certain people to not act like themselves? And why do I want them to be different from who they are?
Who has the problem here?
I’ve raised teenagers – I should have my Ph.D. in Acceptance. In fact, I should be teaching a class on this! But wait. Thinking I should have acceptance mastered doesn’t sound very accepting. Maybe my first step in becoming more tolerant is to admit that I’m not that great at it. Maybe most of us aren’t.
Perhaps I could do an experiment one day and notice all of the times I fight reality and instead, choose Acceptance. This could be surprising. It might be kind of fun and funny too. If it is, I’ll write about it.
I manage Holmes more carefully now. I take him on plenty of walks for exercise and rely on the dog park less. When a dog arrives at the park with a ball, we leave. My wonderful dog-trainer have some ideas on how to work with him and “the ball” in the future too.
Maybe Holmes’s challenging behavior is a strange kind to gift. Perhaps I can learn to be better at accepting him for who he is. If I can do that, maybe I can extend that to myself and others too.
And if I can’t, hey, that’s okay. I can try and accept that too.