Swirling the ice around in my drink and catching up with old friends at a recent party, struck up a funny yet therapeutic conversation about our pet dogs. Anyone who has pets knows that funny moments are inevitable with animals that hold human-like personalities, but this conversation was a little like, “Here let me put my drink down, lie across the psychologist’s couch and vent to you about issues relating to my dog”.
Aza, pronounced just like it looks “A-zah”, a South African name (meaning courageous), given to my South African Lion Hound of a dog also known as Rhodesian Ridgebacks, also known as Razor Backs and also known for their unique marking of a strip of fur along their spine that grows in the opposite direction, let’s just say Aza, is also known as Aza, the Ridgeless Rhodesian Ridgeback, because she lacks this distinct ridge. We’ve never told her about this lacking feature, but somehow I think she’s figured it out.
Not many people may write about their pets (I don’t think), but I had to do this as a therapy session for myself on a better way on how to handle and view this poor Ridgeless creature that has self esteem issues relating from O.C.D. to psychological issues that I am nowhere near educated on to give it a name. Nor do I want to label my dog as anything less then her beautiful self, but for purposes of this blog and my own healing… I’m desperate for help on how to handle her, advice from a pro, Cesar Millan…anything.
As a family we spent 2 years researching and looking for the best dog to enhance our family. Still tossing the idea around of a small, medium or large size dog, we came across Tracy, a gorgeous 2 year old Ridgeback at our local ice cream stand. After speaking with the owner about this breed, I remembered that my good friend owned 2 of these dogs – between this owner, my friend with 2, as well as my husband and excitement in both my girls… all confirmed that this was our breed. We spent months locating a local breeder and on December 26th, welcomed home our 11 week old Ridgeless Rideback… discounted for obvious reasons, with open arms. We spent countless hours training, crate training and professional trained this young, exuberant dog, with high energy.
Fast forward 4 years and a svelt 85 lbs. later, this beautiful dog has become a close member of our family. With still much attention to her needs as if she were a brand new pup, some issues have popped up along the way, that have been needless to say… irritating. I’m not quite sure where to begin but to get a clear picture, it all started with her spaying at the vets office. All dogs go through a series of tests before going under the knife so to speak, and Aza’s test came back with a high white blood cell count. After much testing, her numbers eventually went down, but never “normal” down and in the end doctors brushed it off that her high numbers, were Aza’s “norm”. Not so bad. Moving on…anyone who has a dog, knows that at times a dog will scoot it’s bottom across the floor….. yes, eeewwwww! Well, Aza doesn’t just scoot her bottom, she goes as far as scooting her vulva across the floor. Is this normal? I don’t think so. Back to the vet… “Oh, yes, well you see her vulva is kind of situated low in the back, so she probably doesn’t feel as clean when she pees.” Great. So, we added baby wipes to her cleaning regime. Back to the vet again… okay Doc, now she’s licking herself to death… literally sometimes to the bone. Familiar with hot spots? We’re talking licking on anything her tongue can reach…. between her webbed feet, her forearms, her belly, the infamous offset vulva and anything in between. Topical skin tests ruled out anything likes fleas, ticks or worms. Allergies you say? Well, we never actually checked her medically for allergies, but like any dog, I’m sure she’s allergic to something… aren’t we all? I figured if she was seasonally allergic, there wasn’t much I could do to prevent the change of seasons, so we ruled that out. If she were allergic to something in the house… well I wasn’t about to stress over making my house any cleaner than it was, so we ruled that out too. The only other alternative was food related. You name it, we tried it over a year and half period….. holistic, organic, allergy tested food, expensive food… doctor tested, dog approved…. but the licking continued. We weren’t about to invest in daily or weekly allergy shots, so I guess we’re moving on…. oh, I didn’t even get to the ear infections yet. Yes, poor Aza deals with chronic ear infections. With special creams, cleansers, ointments and q-tips, that we added to her already growing cleaning routine, her ears have to be cleaned regularly…. even when they already look clean. Big floppy ears weighing down the possibility of any air getting in, she ends up with infections that are SO annoying, it’s hard to bear. This is what you hear every night at bed time… “scratch, scratch, scratch…shake, shake, shake, scratch, shake”. The sound of her ears literally slapping like whips against her head are sounds you hear in the night, and ALL day long when she gets infected. Okay so now we’ve got just a few issues, I mentioned… add that to restless nights when she roams the house. If she’s restless, she roams from bedroom to bedroom, but in between the bedrooms she pauses between footsteps…. scoot, scoot… stop, shake the ears, scratch, scratch, scratch… scooooot, stop, repeat, and because she’s O.C. D…. repeat again. We ended up putting her back in the crate at night, so she feels more safe and that works great. Putting aside those annoyances, we have a whole other entity at large. Going potty. We call it “hurry up”. I never liked those words hurry up, it was a phrase that the breeder had already started training her on, so with plans to change it when we got her home, fell through, because as frustrated as we were training her to go potty, you really did just want her to HURRY UP! So I’m going to try to describe this as best I can in words, because at this party surrounded by friends… I felt the need to physically act out this skit for all to get a clear picture. Aza you see, was trained to ring a bell when she needs to go potty. This bell hangs from our back door and when she needs to go, Swipe! She rings the dangling bell. Clever, huh? You’d think, that is until the door opens. So there is my dog, she just rang the bell, you open the door and Aza stares at the open doorway, looks up at you and then stares outside again, sometimes even backing away from the door. I can telepathically hear the thoughts running in her head…. “Oh, gee, did I ring the bell? Umm, no I don’t think I want to got out there.” Okay… close the door. Two seconds later, she rings the bell with more force. “Okay ma, I’m ready to go again, I think I can do it this time.. I’m really gonna try…” door opens, “um, did I say I was going to try?… I mean, try later, yeah, yeah much later.” We shove her out the door and onto the deck while her 85lb. frame is resisting the whole time. “Okay, I made it out here, now what?” Aza, get down and go hurry up we tell her. You can repeat this till you’re blue in the face and she’s just frozen with fear. Now let me back up a tad before I go further. Lot’s of dogs don’t like wet on their feet, I get that, so we decided to make a deluxe peeing/pooping ground that any other dog would be jealous to have. We carved out a very spacious fenced in area, close to the deck and layered it in those pine nugget wood chip thingys. Thinking this would make her trips outside better than if she had to step on wet grass or mud, but noooooooo! Aza, get down! “Oh, no ma, I really can’t go down there today, lemme just turn around and go back inside.” Like her case of O.C. D. you find yourself repeating and repeating the same lines over. After shoving her tail end so hard her hind legs almost flip over her head, she reluctantly gets down. “Hmmm, ewww, maybe if I just stand here and pretend to go, she’ll leave me alone.” Anyone see the movie Happy Feet? “I’ll just squat a little and step my feet from side to side and make it look like I’m going, but oh, I really do have to go… maybe if I just walk a little over here….. um, no a little over there…. squat….maybe here?” Happy feet, step dance back and forth. “I’ll just squat a little, but no here might be better….. but yet over here smells better.” Happy feet continues into the moon walk backwards and after she covers most of the area repeatedly, “ah yes, that’s it, oh that feels Sooooo good to re-leave myself right here, oh my gosh, what was the big deal, I don’t know what I was thinking, this isn’t so bad.” Aza’s look is now that of a depressed dog, with ears looking like they weigh half a ton each, as she glances up at me with sad eyes, like “Uh, I can’t believe you’re watching me, how embarrassing ma.” You have to watch her though, she’s “pretended” to go before, leaving you repeating the same sequence over, like she’s trying to get you in her O.C.D. league of dogs.
So with our daily potty breaks that can last anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes, the all day licking, scooting of the misshapen vulva, the occasional slap of the ears and scratching, I haven’t even touched upon the eating tissues in the garbage, the “No Aza”, “Stop it Aza” and “That’s gross Aza”…. she’s our dog. Sprawled out next to me on her bed as I write this, she’s deep in snore heaven, waking up with the occasional itch, get up to circle, lie down and repeat slumber. Although she’s our dysfunctional dog, the good have always out weighed the bad, but we are curious if anyone has any input whatsoever to give us. With repeats of the Dog Whisperer embedded in our brains, E-Collars, Extensive Training, special diets, daily exercise and good old fashioned love, we long for maybe not a cure, but a creative way to handle such a unique family member as we continue to play this repeated episode for years to come.