Teaching an old dog new tricks

by - 10:12 PM

Stealing myself against the carnage that could be inside the house, I touched my hand to the doorknob, to my surprise the door flung open by the man who was my nearly 80-year-old Uncle.  He was barely able to control the barking beast that minutes before I was afraid may have ingested his remains. In my worry I had come to check on him as he hadn't answered the numerous phone calls nor the door for the first 10 minutes of my arrival that day.  Standing there in front of me now, my once proud and strong elder relative was crying.

I took one look at these two and knew where this was going.  As if trying to show me his future better self when I stepped inside, Buddy the dog grinned the biggest grin he had, a true dog-smile before going back to his outlandish bad-dog behavior of barking and tearing through the house. 

I followed my Uncle Richard into the living room where, between sobs, he explained how none of the local shelters would take my hospitalized mother’s dog because of his bowel problems and explained further how they had tried to find a vet to euthanize him but was unsuccessful due to the dog's relatively young age.  I shuttered at the thought as Richard handed me the phone, on the other end was a very patient shelter worker who repeated almost word for word what my Uncle had just stated.  

And then, almost as if I had been body snatched I didn’t recognize the words coming out of my mouth.

“Well, maybe I can take him...” my other body mumbled to the woman on the phone.

Her voice brighten on the other end as she exclaimed what a “good person” I would be.  My other body shook her head in agreement.  Then, with my two bodies coming back together, realizing what I had said, and what I had just done I almost started to weasel out of it until my other body took control again.  Asking questions like, “how do you care for bowel issues?” and “he’s so aggressive what about my other dog, how do I do that?  What about my kids?”  The woman patiently gave me some tips on how to manage him and her number and through the phone I felt her pat me on the shoulder and exclaim “you can do it!” 

“Okay” I thought, “I can do it” as I hung up the phone and looked down at this nightmare. To be honest, I never really liked him at all because of his bad behavior and aggression and plus, he had just put my Mother in the hospital with a broken hip by pulling her onto the ground, I wasn’t sure I owed this guy a second chance.  I hurriedly picked up the leash before I changed my mind with my Uncle Richard gratefully trailing after me with a few toys and the dog bowl, as I pulled out of the driveway he came back out waiving me down with Buddy’s dog bed. This beast was officially mine.

Okay, I know that the behavior is not his fault.  He had been picked out at a pound as a puppy by my recently retired father and then left to my depressive mother six months later after my father’s untimely death.  While my mother was unable to reach outside of her darkness to care for Buddy, he grew into a hard to manage wild thing.  She gave him love but no discipline and training and barely any walks due to her arthritic condition which meant no socialization at all. She hung onto Buddy as if clinging to the last vestiges of my father, unable to give him up no matter how much my sister and I tried for five years to get her to do. 

With a lot of deep breathing I endured his barking and snarling at every car we passed on the highway gripping the wheel as I drove and thinking about how I was going to mange this.  I had a dog already, a lovely old lady who is top dog in my life.  Buddy was so aggressive I worried about her safety and my kids safety as he didn’t seem to like kids at all, at least when we visited my Mom he didn’t.  With the manic thoughts swirling in my head as I pulled into the driveway, I had unnerved myself.

I was worried for my little old lady "Ginger", she is my
loyal shaggy basset hound and I did not want her to
feel displaced or challenged by this new unrulely devil!
Dragging the doggy crate into the living room, I put Buddy into it with a sticky note to the family to not open the latch at all costs.  I slipped out with my friend for a glass of wine at a nearby bar to steady my nerves.  When I got home, sure enough, sitting around the crate was my steadfast husband feeding Buddy pizza crust in between barks and snarls.  My husband was winning him over bite by bite with the kids watching wide eyed.

Days turned into weeks which turned into months which has turned into a year plus now.  The dog that was afraid of umbrellas, of people with hoods or hats on, of men and buses, small children and small dogs a quarter of his size and of smoke alarms or anything that buzzed and who could not stay awake past 7 o’clock at night due to his six years of inactivity. The dog that walked into mailboxes and light posts because he was spooked by anything behind him has turned into a regular good old dog.
“The Art of Racing in The Rain
has everything:
love, tragedy, redemption, danger,
and--most especially--
the canine narrator Enzo.
This old soul of a dog has much
to teach us about being human.”
(Sara Gruen, Author of
Water for Elephants )
And, from the beginning I didn’t trust this dog, I repeatedly told the kids one bite or nip to them or our beloved Ginger meant he was out.  We showered this dog with routine, love and training and in return he has showed us his softer side, a rose opening in full bloom.  Petal-by-petal we see his doggy magnificence.  Upon his first entrance he allowed our old girl Ginger her space and we laugh when these two prance around each other flirting and playing, he being half her age at seven.

We have found that we can let him off the leash now when we walk deep in the woods and when he is dreaming I think he is dreaming of those walks and his new found freedom.  We found that he keeps a stash of stuffed toys that he has confiscated from the kids, that beanie babies steal his heart and Angry Bird toys that talk are his favorite.   We were surprised when he recently slept with his head on my youngest sons sleep-over pal all night, the two of them waking up blurry eyed and yawning when we looked in on them.

This is the remarkable
story of one
endearing dog’s search for his
purpose over the course of
several lives. 
There’s been some drawbacks like the $4,000 dollar hole in my wallet due to his health issues.  And, he still scares the crap out of strangers who think he is so cute they just have to pet him, the fact that he barks like crazy at the post man and delivery guy or anyone that comes to the door is maddening.  But, he’s changed my thinking, I didn’t believe you could teach this old dog new tricks but perhaps it’s not Buddy who is the old dog, perhaps that old dog is me.

Believe in Dogs?  Me too, I've read and totally enjoyed these two books recently and highly recommend them.

You May Also Like


  1. What a wonderful and redeming story. You are a saint and your husband also....:)

    1. Thanks so much for reading troutbirder, is that your German Shepard? He is a mighty handsome dog! I very much enjoyed visiting your blog, you've captured some interesting birds, I especially loved the screech owl in his box.

    2. Thats's my six year old GSD Baron. He and I hike, bird and take pictures spring summer and fall. Winter I hibernate and read books for my other blog. He gets annoyed with me cause I dont go out in the cold and ice but were buds nevertheless...

  2. Oh my goodness...what a story, and what a heart you have! I hope you continue to have success, and I hope your mom is okay.

    1. Thank you so much Kelly, she is better although I think her heart is broken but she won't admit it because of her crusty "Yankee" exterior, he's a big dog and no one wants to hear they are too old to take care of something, especially a Mother.