This past Wednesday was Finn’s 2nd birthday and the one year anniversary of his adoption.
He celebrated by rolling in very liquidy poop on his morning walk. It was super gross and he was so satisfied with himself. Ew. (Don’t worry- he got a birthday bath.)
Over the course of the day Mike and I were talking about how far he’s come since we first brought him home and he is SO much better now. Like the Finn of today is almost a different dog than the Finn of a year ago. I’m sure some of that has to do with his age, he’s hit the time where he is really leaving puppyhood behind. He’s on the very tail end of being a doggie teenager. But he has required a lot of love, work, and patience to get to this point.
So we adopted Finn from the biggest shelter near us (on the other side of Orlando) 2 months after my very beloved Miniature Schnauzer died. Muttley was a great dog and he was old- we found out he was about 16 after he died and I had thought he was only 11- and he had a number of health issues but was overall healthy until a previously undiscovered tumor at the base of his heart started pumping blood into the sac that surrounds the heart and we had to have him put to sleep. It was devastating. I don’t think I have ever cried so hard in my life, I still cry when I think about him. He had been with me for 7 years and we had bonded instantly.
Mike and I began to think about adopting another dog. I consider myself to be a pretty good dog mama and Mike is a great dog papa. We began looking at the dogs up for adoption through our local shelters. I had considered adopting another schnauzer from a schnauzer rescue but they are quite pricey. We had also considered getting a puppy from a breeder but that was even more expensive and there are so many animals out there that need a home that we felt adopting was ultimately the right thing for us to do. I had been perusing the online listings (I guess that’s what to call them?) and there was this Schnauzer who was about 6 that had just been found, he had heartworms, and he looked just like Muttley.
So we go to the shelter and that dog just could not have cared less about us. Total disinterest. But right next door there was this little white, energetic dog just begging for our attention. He was so animated and excited and I think Mike fell in love with him then. We got to take him outside and interact a little bit and he was super friendly so we decided to adopt him, he got an appointment to get neutered and we were set to bring him home a few days later.
Muttley was, I thought, about 4 when I adopted him (from a friend of the family going through a rough divorce) and while he was energetic he was manageable. I figured, if that was adult terrier energy then I could handle a year or so of puppy terrier energy. Oh no. I was so wrong. As it turns out, Muttley was about 9 when I adopted him and that was old man terrier energy. Finn was OH MY GOD SO ENERGETIC.
It took him about 2 weeks to start to feel comfortable at our home before the crazy came out. He was house trained but that was just about it. He would be ok in the morning after about 4 walks. And then evening would hit and the crazy eyes would come out. I mean, literal crazy eyes, they would start drifting away from each other (think Igor’s eyes looking in 2 directions), become really bloodshot, and glaze over and then it would be total insanity for a good 3 hours. Running all over the place, barking, whining, jumping all over you no matter what you were doing, biting, scratching, intense guarding behaviors. I was a walking chew toy. He would not leave me alone. We couldn’t have people because he harassed them and no likes being nipped at constantly. He was beyond our control and he was beyond his own control. It’s like he would whip himself into a complete frenzy. We had to crate him just to get a break.
I remember at one point, I had a complete break down and just starting ugly sobbing. I hated him. I missed Muttley. Mike said he had never seen me like that before.
Finn’s saving grace at that point was how loving and cuddly he was when he was not in a manic period. He is, hands down, the best snuggler. And he had Mike pulling for him.
We got him even more toys, different things to chew on (raw hides, antlers, nylabones, you name it we got it), and started working on the constant nipping which was the most immediate problem. We tried positive reinforcement where you give them something they can chew on instead when they start chewing on you. He thought the whole thing was a game “so you mean I can chew on you and then get a toy? sweet!”. After a few weeks of that failing, I moved on to the ignoring method. I figured he wanted attention but this constant nipping couldn’t be the way that I taught him to interact with me. I started hosing myself down with a bitter apple spray and every time his teeth touched me I acted like he didn’t exist. I just stopped everything and sat still and quiet (with my hands and feet tucked away from his little chompers) and would not look at him. If he persisted, I’d get up and go to the bedroom and shut the door and stay in the room for a few minutes. That worked remarkably well. Once he figured out that biting got him the exact opposite of what he wanted he stopped.
We started making some progress with him but not an awful lot. The nighttime crazy period was still in full swing. Mike was working from home and Finn was such a nuisance that he was barely getting anything done unless he crated him or managed to time his work during Finn’s morning nap which was never consistent.
5 months passed and Mike and I began to realize that we were so far out of our depth with him that we needed professional help. Muttley had been (mostly) fully trained when I adopted him and trusted me so totally that he let me do whatever I wanted to him unless it involved eye drops. I was not prepared for the challenges that Finn presented. We weren’t sure if we were making things better or worse. There is so much information, much of it conflicting, on what to do to correct unwanted behaviors in dogs on the internet that we were totally overwhelmed. We started to look into training classes for him.
Right around this time, my boss and one of my coworkers at the library had also recently adopted dogs that turned out to be little hellions. My boss ended up sending her dog to a 30 day training school in St.Could, FL. When her dog came home, she only had good things to say, it was like having a whole new dog and her and husband also got training on what they were doing wrong and what they needed to do for their dog. Mike and I starting considering sending Finn there too.
That was a tough decision. It was really expensive and we didn’t have a lot of money, we had just bought the bus, there was no guarantee it would work in the end, and a lot of our family was surprisingly against it (mostly the dudes, the ladies seemed to be all for it). But we had reached our limit, I had reached my limit, and we decided to send him to The Canine Center in March/April. He was gone for a month. They were fantastic with him. Norma, the lady that runs the center, trains service dogs as her main business and accepts about 4 “campers” at a time for training. She gave us so many tips on what to do with him. She answered my random text messages asking for advice on certain behaviors. We went in, and I went to 2 extra sessions by myself, to get people training and she walked us through what to do when he misbehaved and how to follow through with the training he was receiving there. That was so important for me. I desperately needed someone that knew their shit to tell me what to do and that I was being a good dog mama because Finn made me feel like a failure.
He wasn’t a totally changed dog but he was leagues away from where he had been when we dropped him off. (Funny story, the first time we visited him, about 2 weeks in to his training, when we got there she told her assistant to “go get the little tyrant”. He really was bad.) We were warned that he’d start acting up again a few days after being home because, well, he’d been allowed to behave a certain way there before so it’d take a little time and effort to retrain him for home behavior (it’s all clicker and treat training). But the big thing was that we had to stop him from ramping himself up and he usually did that by starting to sprint around the house.
So we started physically stopping him when he started racing around like a madman. It was a lot like catching a greased pig. But I’d grab him as he ran past me, hold him still, and soothingly pet him while talking to him in a calm, sort of sing song voice. As soon as he stopped panting and his eyes went back to normal, I’d release him and that’d be it. He’d be like “okay, I’ll go chew on my alligator then” and seem totally content. For while, there was a lot of Finn catching but he started to figure out that it wasn’t ok to sprint around like that anymore (he did get to go to the dog park to run off some energy and we made sure he got good long walks and ample play time) and it tapered off. As long as we could stop the ramp up to crazy eyes he was ok. He was lovable and fun to be around, liked the training games we played, and seemed like a much calmer, happier, and in control of himself dog.
He was still having a hard time being around people (so much excitement that he quickly got the crazy eyes) that weren’t me and Mike so I enlisted my sister to help out. Finn LOVES my sister. She’d come over and hang out and help train him. He started making some progress. The biggest step in that direction was when my mom offered to let us stay with her the last couple of months we were in Florida. Even the crazy dog. Finn also loves my mom, like a LOT. He was her little shadow. She’d do yoga on the porch and he would be out there sitting, watching, and napping with her. With me and Mike, there were 5 adults at the house, plus my sister who came to hang out a lot and, frequently, her husband. Finn got to be around 7 very patient people on a near daily basis who all had different ways of interacting with him and different things that were ok and not ok. He learned to be comfortable with the comings and goings of a lot of people. He learned to be around everyone at once and be calm. He even got the experience of aunts, uncles, and cousins coming to visit and having to behave with even more people who are loud and animated. It was a great learning experience for him.
Today Finn is a great dog. He is full of personality, a manageable amount of energy, and so much love for his people. We’re still working on some of his lingering bad behaviors like guarding but he is worlds better than he was a year ago. He is still so snuggly and I hope he never grows out of that. In the end, he’s the perfect addition to our family. We joke, that in a lot of ways, Finn is like a dog version of me- we both shed a lot, require a lot of attention and snuggles, and are super food motivated. We love him an awful lot.