My dog can be vicious. If you see us out and about and decide to approach him, be prepared to get snapped at. At the very least he will bark at you and warn you away, at worst he may actually snag a pant leg or the sleeve of your shirt. He’s two and a half years old and I’ve been working with him on this issue since it sprung up out of nowhere about two years ago. I’m like those people you see on the news saying, “I just don’t understand it! He’s so sweet at home!”
In case you don’t already know me or haven’t seen the gazillions of pictures of him I’ve posted on FaceBook, my boy is not a Pit Bull. He’s not a Rottweiler, Doberman, Presa Canario, Boxer, or a German Shepherd. No, sadly, he’s a yorkie. We sometimes refer to him as our “Yorkshire Terror”. We wanted a big name for a little dog and, after batting around couple of names each of us loved but the other wasn’t too keen on, we settled on Caesar.
Don’t get me wrong, he really is a sweet boy. In fact, he’s such a “mama’s boy” that as I type this I’m sitting on the couch with my MacBook Air in my lap and Caesar stretched out under my chin, spanning the entire width of my chest from one shoulder to the other. He wasn’t always such a little psycho. It happened between two incidents. The first was at obedience school when he was about five months old. He was sitting quietly next to my feet when a two year old doberman walked in and – BAM – in a flash, Caesar was at the end of his leash yelling and screaming like you can’t even imagine. I think he was so upset because even though he had been so well-socialized by his breeder (she had ten adult yorkies and Caesar was one of five puppies), he had never seen another dog so big before and it scared him.
The other incident happened when we were walking through our neighborhood and one of the neighbors was out with her two yorkies, neither of which was on a leash (Caesar was). The two yorkies started chasing him: One was chasing him from behind and he didn’t notice the other one running towards him. He started to turn his head to the front to see where he was going and when he did he collided with the one that had been coming toward him. Their faces hit each other and both dogs flew up and backwards, and Caesar rolled mid-air and landed flat on his face and side, right in the middle of the street. The impact was great enough that it cracked one of his upper canines. Removing it would have caused a lifetime of medical problems and since we don’t have kids to put through college, we opted to take him to a veterinary dental specialist (did you even know those exist?) and have his tooth surgically repaired. Since then he’s had a problem with leash aggression, although he’s getting better the more and more I work with him.
On the flip side, I have a friend who owns a Rottweiler. My friend understands this breed and is up at four in the morning to work with him to train and exercise him daily, running him and working with him on obedience. Rottweilers are herding dogs, so my friend takes him to a place where he is training to herd sheep for competition. Watching him herd is a thing of beauty. This dog is protective of his owners to be sure, but when my last dog died and I happened to run into them one day, this big old scary beast leaned into me and let me hug him and cry all over his shoulder, sitting patiently until I was finished.
Dogs are wonderful, wonderful creatures. It takes very little for them to work their way into our hearts, and it doesn’t matter if they’re puppies or not. However, regardless of how cute they are, they are still dogs and can get themselves into a lot of trouble if they aren’t understood. I am not an expert on dogs, just a dog lover and dog owner. I do know this much, though. One of the most important things about dog ownership is understanding the breed: What was your dog’s breed originally bred for? Protection? Retrieval? Water rescue? Hunting by scent? Hunting rodents and small game? Knowing the answer to this question can give you a better idea of the type of work and exercise your dog needs, as well as what kind of play he will respond to. If it’s a herding breed that’s cooped up all day and you take him somewhere and there are lots of children running around, he may see them as something that needs herding. Without proper training and regular exercise, it could be disastrous. Buying a dog and tossing it out in the backyard doesn’t cut it.
Judging a dog’s temperament and ability based on it’s size is one thing that really gets me worked up. I’ve met more than my fair share of sappy, love bug dogs that are considered a “scary” breed. I’ve also had more than one person reach out to pet Caesar without even asking and when I say, “Please don’t – he’s not friendly and will most likely try to bite you,” nine times out of ten I’m met with, “Oh it’s okay, he won’t bite me. Dogs know I love them.” I also hear, “It’s fine, I’m good with the little guys” and, my least favorite, “Oh he’s got ‘little dog syndrome’! He thinks he’s a big dog and doesn’t know how small he is!” They reach in anyway, after having been warned, and recoil with shock almost immediately when he snaps at them. He’s also very attractive to little kids because he’s so small. Here’s a friendly reminder: Always ask permission to pet another person’s dog and, if that person says ‘no’, there’s usually a reason, so don’t do it!
Where the concepts of judging a dog based on size and of not understanding the breed collided for Caesar and me happened when he was only about seven months old. There was a festival called “Dogtober” at one of the local dog parks here and one of the attractions was something called “lure coursing”. Basically, lure coursing is where there is a string run between spools set up on a battery-powered pneumatic system. The string is low to the ground and has a fake squirrel attached to it. The squirrel looks like roadkill that sat too long and had been annihilated by crows. The guy running it pushes a button to keep the squirrel moving and for a small fee your dog gets to chase the squirrel. So when I took my little guy (he only weighed about five pounds at that time) there were a lot of other dog owners there questioning my sanity. They kept asking if I was sure he’d actually be interested or even know what to do. The people asking me had standard poodles, hounds, and a collie. “He loves to play fetch and chase the birds out of the yard. Since he’s just a puppy I just want to see what he’s interested in,” was my standard reply. I looked at all the other dogs and thought, “Hmm… we’ll see”. I was thinking this because even though I’m not Cesar Millan, a trainer, or a veterinarian, I have a fair idea of what those dogs were bred for originally. Too much Animal Planet and Eukanuba Dog Show, I guess. See, poodles were originally water rescue dogs. It’s why you see the giant, standard poodles all shaved down but with those weird poof balls left on their hips, knees, ankles, heads, and chests. The fur weighs them down in water (not good!) but those poofy spots protect their joints and chest cavity from the icy cold water. Hounds are scent dogs, so I wondered how long they would give chase. I also know that collies are herding dogs and I wasn’t sure how long it would take for them to get bored, too.
Yorkies, however, are a totally different story. They were bred for catching small game and rodents. They were meant to go down into holes after their prey. It’s one reason why their tails are docked: A docked tail won’t get caught up in the bushes and can’t be grabbed by a larger animal. The word “terrier” comes from the root word “terra”, meaning “earth”. Another interesting tidbit is that during the early 1900s ratting contests were held to see how many rats a yorkie could kill in ten minutes or less. Each dog would kill hundreds. I knew that as a Yorkie, Caesar was made for this moment, that there was no way he’d be able to help himself. It’s in his blood.
When the time came, the poodles just stood there confused and decided to play with each other. The hounds put their noses to the ground and when the squirrel took off they just stayed there sniffing the ground, confused. The collie started out just fine but as soon as the lure changed direction the collie got all indignant about the lure not going where he wanted it to and just laid down on the ground in the middle of the course. I’m not saying that all of these breeds would react this way and they probably don’t. Lucky for me, though, they all happened to on this particular day.
Not my boy. Caesar gave chase the second it started to move. He ran so hard people started running over to watch this tiny little dog at work. The man operating the lure course allowed him to go around an extra turn so I could take a video and some pictures. I’ll admit I was a little smug when I picked him up and walked past all those other dog owners who had waited to see my boy fail. It was so beautiful to see a dog do what he was meant to do.
I found out recently that the organization who sponsored this lure course does this roughly once a month at the various dog parks here. For only five dollars the dogs run as long as they can until they just tucker out. My husband and I took Caesar this morning. It’s been two years since the last time but he was just as spectacular. Once again, people came running to watch him in action. He is beautiful to look at: His adult colors are gorgeous, he’s perfectly built, and he’s faster than lightening. Even better was witnessing his brain power while he was running. He was so focused he ran right around other dogs on the course without even missing a single step. On his second trip around he had figured out where the squirrel was going and cut across the corner to get ahead of it. Later, he just stood waiting on it, staring at the line instead of staring at a handler like the other dogs did. The guy running the course let him run longer than he was supposed to. Everybody was cheering. The photographer couldn’t get enough of him. He was brilliant, and he knew it. And yes, I’m a proud “mama”! Below is a twenty second clip of his run for you to enjoy. Listen closely and you’ll hear the operator say “That’s awesome” and call him a speed demon!