STAY BACK! 5 Things I Learned from my Aggressive Dog

It will be fun, we thought. A lifelong playmate for our current dog, Chilly! Someone to take the constant pressure for canine entertainment off us! The perfect addition to our family! Little did we know.

My husband Chad always yearned for an Irish Wolfhound. It was one of his life’s dreams, and it still is. However, when we agreed to get a second dog I was adamant that we rescue. We quickly discovered that these sedate, pricey gentle giants weren’t just sitting around in shelters free for the taking. So, we came up with a compromise: an Irish Wolfhound mix  that we found online.¹

We fell in love with this lanky black dog that had been left on the side of a Fayette County, Ohio road in a cardboard box along with her 4-6 siblings. The rescue organization had dubbed her Eileen. We decided to change her name to Liz Lemon (a big shout out to all my fellow 30 Rock fans) because that was the kind of cool people we were. We also thought it was ridiculously cool that she was being trained by a prison inmate. Russell, a non-violent criminal, was doing all the work for us!

We weren’t cool at all. In fact, we didn’t know crap. Here are some of the lessons we learned from rescuing Liz.

1. Own your shit²

We went to meet our new bundle of joy at a park near the prison from which she had just been extracted. Her handler from the rescue organization introduced the dog as Eileen. The woman asked with far too much enthusiasm if we were fans of Dexy’s Midnight Runners (the band responsible for the one-hit wonder that has plagued patrons of lame bars for several decades: “Come on Eileen”). At first I thought she was joking, but the look on her face was genuinely inquisitive. I answered that, no, I wasn’t a fan of Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Then I added that I was surprised to hear the band had any followers at all.

She was quiet for a moment, during which time I felt like kind of a dick. But what she did next was completely unexpected. She looked at me with pitying eyes, and she shrugged as if to say, I feel sorry for you.

Yes, she had shitty taste in music. But it was pretty badass how she turned it around on me like I was the clueless one. She owned it.

2. Don’t apologize for no reason

Once your dog has drawn blood on a man at the park or knocked over your seven-year-old next-door neighbor, scaring the crap out of her and ripping her coat, you see things differently. It feels silly to apologize to your waiter when asking for more sour cream.

3. If you want to be listened to, project quiet confidence³

Chad was out of town for work, and I was desperate to help Liz expend some energy. She had already eaten a hole in our leather couch and had cracked the storm door. I could tell she was eyeing the floorboards, and it was only a matter of time. I couldn’t walk her because she was one-hundred pounds of determination with enough strength to drag me to Canada if she caught the scent of a deer.
So, I took her to the dog park thinking, All I have to do is park close to the gate and get her into the fenced in area. And I was right—I got her in there, no problem. Everything was going well until she nabbed a tennis ball. She can’t have tennis balls. She ingests them whole, and after several days of lethargy, she expels them in a truly horrific way that I won’t go into here.

The owner of the dog from which Liz stole the ball was adamant that the ball be returned to him. (He was a jerk hole because everyone knows toys are fair game in a dog park, and if you’re so in love with your precious tennis ball, leave it at home.) I had to yell STAY BACK! at the jerk hole while trying to convince Liz to give up the ball. Somehow, I got past her powerful snapping jaw and handed the fifty-cent piece of athletic equipment back to the jerk hole. We left the park.

On the way out, Liz found another ball, and she wasn’t going to let me take it from her this time. This was too much for mw. There was no way I could deal with her “passing” the ball without Chad by my side. I quickly dissolved into a tearful yelling fit. Everyone was staring at me. It was humiliating.

Then, a cute twenty-something pixie girl walked up to us. “Let me try,” she said. “You’ll get bitten,” I replied through my tears. She smiled, and in a soft voice she said something I couldn’t hear to Liz. It’s your funeral, I thought. To my utter astonishment, Liz sat and let the ball drop into the girl’s adorable, elfin hand. That’s when I decided I would have quiet confidence from now on. I also decided to give up on my pursuit of a dog training certification.

4. Listen to your gut

Maybe we should have been concerned when she growled at a toddler at the park where we met Liz, a.k.a. Eileen, for the first time. Or more accurately, I should have been concerned. When I mentioned that little red flag to Chad much later, he said he never heard that telling rumble in her throat. If I’m being honest with myself, I didn’t point out that act of aggression on the spot because she was just so damn cute.

Fast-forward four years, and we’re the pariahs of the neighborhood. Our backyard is an eyesore, graveled over, because Liz ate every bit of vegetation and left a mud-pit. We walk our crazy dog on a big red leash embroidered with the word CAUTION. When our friendly, nice-meaning neighbors approach us, we scream STAY BACK! at the top of our lungs.

5. Sometimes stupidity pays off

Had I listened to my gut when Liz growled at that baby, we would have missed out on so much joy. Sure, our families and friends can’t believe we have this insane beast who would probably climb to the top of the food chain within minutes of being released in the wild.

But she does this thing where she touches noses with me, and I say BEEP! in a really loud, high-pitched voice. She absolutely LIVES for the BEEP. She wriggles her clipped, nubbin tail and runs around our small house breaking things. And we laugh.

Oh, how we laugh.

¹ Liz is probably neither Irish nor a Wolfhound.

² I am no longer embarrassed to admit Katy Perry’s “Firework” is the most inspirational song I’ve ever heard.

³ In my entire life, I’ve projected quiet confidence maybe twice. Both instances occurred when I was on painkillers following a particularly brutal foot surgery.


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