I blame my dogs’ bad behavior on my husband. At least, that’s the running joke in our family. My husband was the original owner of our now 12-year-old Chihuahua that gets his thrills out of biting strangers, so I’d say he shoulders some of the blame for our dog’s less-than-friendly attitude.
Let’s start with Chihuahua No. 1 and work our way back from there. Frankie, the 12-year-old bitey Chihuahua I just mentioned, spends most of his time in his crate when we have company over. Unless he meets you two, three or even 10 times, he’s probably going to nip an ankle, growl and most definitely bark like a banshee when you come into the house.
Funnily enough, he’s not a total monster. Once he establishes trust (after multiple meetings), he’s as sweet as can be. Out of our two Chihuahuas, he’s the most affectionate and absolutely loves his cuddles — so much so that I often have to pry him off my lap.
In the world of professional dog training, he appears to be damaged goods. Circling back to the blame I place on my husband, he owned Frankie with three other dogs during his first marriage. Since my husband was a young 20-something guy back then (and I must admit that I was a pretty bad dog owner in my early 20s too), he now sees that he didn’t socialize Frankie nearly enough, making him quite hostile with other dogs, children and all humankind.
But I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet: Chihuahua No. 2, Charlie. Charlie came into our home by way of adoption, and she still shows plenty of cracks in her furry facade. Charlie was owned by friends who were forced to give her up after having their first baby. When we got Charlie at 3 years old, she was hardly housebroken, since she’d been living in an apartment until that time. She also had countless bad habits that we have yet to break, like incessant barking, begging for food and still peeing a little on the carpet whenever she’s in the mood.
Throw all the rotten tomatoes you like, but I promise that we aren’t the worst. Once my husband recognized his errors with Chihuahua No. 1, he spent months trying to correct his mistakes: clicker training, reward-based training, daily exercise, more failed attempts at dog park socialization, Cesar Millan-style dog whispering — you name it. Nothing worked. Granted, Frankie has benefited some from these myriad training methods, but his angry little attitude deep inside that makes him snap at every stranger he meets seems impossible to fix.
We, of course, tried the same rigorous training regimen with Chihuahua No. 2, to no avail. This little stubborn dog, as cute as she might be, should get an award for her ability to resist any type of instruction, if such an award existed. Like Frankie, Charlie comes from a notoriously unfriendly breed and also was not socialized as a pup. She didn’t receive any formal training until she was 3, and still doesn’t bat an eye at our house rules (and we have the pee stains on our carpet to prove it).
As we’re closing in on a decade spent chasing our own tails, I’m more than ready to run up the white flag. I can confidently say that we have tried almost everything with our yappy little dogs, and nothing has yet to stick. Considering that my pooches are entering the last chapters of their lives, at 12 years old and 10 years old respectively, the writing’s on the wall.
I’m also willing to cut them (and me) a break.
My dogs’ behavior isn’t going to get any better, as much as I’d like to pretend that the next hot-cool-new training method will finally be the one that works. As much as I love their scruffy little faces and smelly little bodies, my dogs are never going to be the kind of dogs you take out in public — or even around your friends. It isn’t an ideal situation, but it is our reality and it doesn’t mean I love them any less.
It’s been too long, we’ve made too many mistakes and I will accept my fate. I can’t teach my old dogs new tricks, but I can try to manage their bad habits, enjoy the years we have left and encourage any new pet owners to begin training at an early age. At the very least, I’ll try to keep my ankle-biters contained when you come over to my house.