Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Update: Our awesomely dumb acquisition

Ruthie in the wildflowers

You may remember that just about a month ago our family made the awesomely dumb decision to acquire Miss Ruthie Millicent, canine wondergirl. You may be asking yourself "Hey--I wonder how that is going?"--unless you are my friend on faceplace, in which case you are asking yourself "Another picture of that dog???? This lady needs to get a life."

The answer to the first question is: it is going (mostly) well.  I think we have finally reached a place where having Miss Ruthie in our lives feels like part of our normal. Certainly during our first few days together I had many a moment of panic: wondering if we had made a terrible mistake, wondering if the cat would ever forgive me, wondering if we could handle the needs of a young energetic dog AND two-soon-to-be-three kids.

Part of my panic came down to Ruthie being under 2 years old. She's a big goofy teenage dog--with lots of love and energy to spare. For the last FOREVER Sean and I have had old crotchety dogs. Even Archie (the three legged beagle) came to us as a late-middle-aged fellow, and now he is firmly entrenched in the pursuits of old-mandom (namely: eating, sleeping, eating, barking, sleeping). Whereas our-pups-now-passed were essentially furry paperweights, Ruthie is a whirligig. She can't be expected to spend all day napping with an occasional pee break.

And so we walk her four to five times a day. Some walks are short and business oriented, others are long and leisurely. As a result the whole family is out enjoying the neighborhood more. Ruthie is by far the least leash reactive dog we've ever owned. Her normal pace is a "loose leash" walk, and when she spots another pup she wags her tail and waits for the chance to pleasantly greet a potential new friend. This applies to dogs of all sizes: she has shown equal enthusiasm and deference to a 170lb mastiff and a 13 pound chihuahua.

In fact, if we spent all our time together walking around the neighborhood life with Ruthie would be idyllic.

But we do spend a good bit of time indoors. And that is where we have some more work to do.

Miss Ruthie's back story is that she was brought in as a stray--and it shows. In her first days with us she had no idea what to do with a dog biscuit, but would eagerly snatch any scrap of paper with food residue on it. It took about two weeks for her to become more food motivated. Now she loves her training treats.

Her response to dog toys was similar--they were completely foreign to her and she had little interest (no matter how exciting I tried to make them seem). But slippers? And chair legs? And raised garden beds? ALL DELICIOUS. NOM NOM NOM. It took a lot of redirection and training diligence to get her to learn to love the kong instead of slobbering all over my boots. She still is freaked out by frisbees and only yesterday did I convince her that sticks can be fun to crunch on.

In all of her attempts to nom on verboten items it has become clear that this dog has no idea of her breed. She comes from a bone-crushing pedigree (as an aside: my mom would be happy to email you articles about Ruthie's potential to rip all of our throats out!) and is all muscle and yet manages to barely nibble the object of her desire. She mouths them and gums them and gives them delicate nibbles (the way a mom dog would nibble her pups)--but does not destroy or damage them. The beagle can eat through a door in a matter of minutes (he actually did this once at our former doggy daycare center), but Ruthie can barely pulverize a milkbone.

We are now at the point where we leave her uncrated in the house for brief periods when we are out. This works well, and the biggest casualty to date has been a tipped over rocking chair that she stood on to to look out a window. Oh, and a soggy doormat that she nommed on. When we are gone and the dogs are uncrated the cat is put in her safe zone in the back of the house. The critters are separated by a door in the interest of everyone's safety.

Ruthie has come a long way in learning to live with our cat. At first she didn't acknowledge the cat. Then she went through a period of barking at the cat. So in an effort to desensitize her to kitty, we started "jackpotting" her. It worked like this: Ruthie was on a lead in the house while kitty roamed free. Whenever the cat got near her I would make her sit and started giving her a steady stream of treats until kitty left the space. We repeated this for a few days and eventually Ruthie learned that sitting quietly when kitty was around earned her rewards. Now everyone can roam free when Sean or I are there to supervise.

We have started attending an obedience class with Ruthie and hope that we can help her reach her doggy potential.

Challenges left to overcome: jumping on people and an aversion to getting in the back of the car.

Overall I'm very happy she's in our lives. We're not so dumb after all.


  1. I wish we lived closer so Ruthie could play with Ludo, who I just realized today is 3!

  2. This should be renamed your Awesome Aquisition! It's great she's good on a leash. Maude is an essential part of our family, but her leash aggression makes it hard sometimes.

    1. Liv, It is *so* great to finally have a pup who is well behaved on the leash! It's funny to see people react apprehensively to the sight of her (ack! a pitbull!)and then to turn all mushy when they see Ruthie doing her happy dance.

  3. It is really nice to read that you have put so much effort into your dog. It really makes me mad when many people blame the dog for being naughty and disobediant when really it is their lack of training and patience with the dog to teach it the right way. I have had many friends get rid of their dogs because they needed more work then they were willing to give. Good on you for doing so well! Vicky (sorry wordpress isn't letting me comment: )