“A crisis of confidence is so common that it should be considered a universal part of the adoption process.”
– Patricia McConnell, Love Has No Age Limit

I bought Patricia McConnell’s little booklet Love Has No Age Limit about three weeks after we adopted Gomez. The book is essentially for people preparing to adopt an adult dog. So buying it three weeks after bringing a dog home is like giving a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting to a woman on her son’s first birthday. But buying the book was less of a “let’s get prepared” move and more of an attempt to get reassurance that I wasn’t in over my head. I knew if anybody could do it, Patricia McConnell could. I had read her book The Other End of the Leash about ten years ago and was struck by her emphasis on compassion, patience and understanding. She’s so good at explaining dogs in ways humans can relate without anthropomorphizing them. Not to mention her charming writing style. Ok, fine. I basically have a crush on her. You’re just going to have to deal with it and so will she. (Patricia: call me.)

The above quote jumped out at me, because in all my years working with animals and doing rescue, I’d never heard anybody admit this, let alone address it. I suppose it might be off putting to say to a potential adopter, “Well, congratulations! Enjoy your new family member! Call us when you get to that point where you freak out and think you made a huge mistake. Because you totally will. Don’t worry, we’ll talk you through it!” But something else McConnell says in the book has proven just as true. She essentially says to watch the dog at the 3’s: third day, third week and third month. We are coming up on three months with Mr. Gomez, and I can safely say he’s come incredibly far. Or as I put it to Jamie the other day, “I think Gomez is finally settling in and calming down more! Either that or he’s sick.” She looked at me like I was crazy and said, “He isn’t sick. He is settling in more. Three months, remember?” Thank goodness there’s a level-headed one in this relationship.

Here’s a couple things Gomez has really gotten down in the last three months:

“On Your Bed”

We started training this before his class started. Gomez was such a busybody when he first came home. I remember the tremendous joy I felt the first time I got him to stay on his bed for longer than 20 seconds without popping up and trying to jump on the couch. The first time he stayed contentedly on his bed for a whole Investigation Discovery murder show, it seemed like a miracle. And I specifically picked an Investigation Discovery murder show because, by the time it took us to get this far, I was so frazzled I wanted to watch something where someone was guaranteed to be having a worse time of it than me. My point is, “on your bed” was somewhat hard won, but totally worth it. Even in class, with all the added distractions, Gomez quickly realized that his teachers did not approach him if he wasn’t on his bed. Not one to miss a chance for attention from Tammy or Sarah, he quickly learned to plant his wiggly butt when he saw them looking his way. He knows how to wow ‘em.

Watch/Hand targeting

Hand targeting is something Gomez got very quickly. We recently modified it so he can do an open handed “touch” or a closed hand “fist bump.” I decided to teach him the fist bump mostly for fun, but I quickly realized it was helpful as well. Gomez has some broken teeth as well as poor bite inhibition. The phrase “bite inhibition” makes it sound like I’m worried he’d bite somebody. I am not. It’s just that he’s not very aware of his teeth when he plays or takes treats and his teeth will sometimes make contact with your hands/fingers. By only rewarding the “toothless” nose smooshes, I was able to pretty quickly get consistent fist bumps where his mouth was totally closed. I like teaching him anything where he has to be aware of his teeth in relation to people. But more importantly, it’s bad ass to teach your dog to fist bump.

Puzzle Toys/Wait

The Buster Cube is a common way in which Gomez eats his meals. He took to it right away and gets very excited when he hears the clank of kibble going into the thing. Even better, he’s now able to control himself enough to do a stellar “wait” when I put the cube on the ground. It’s always very impressive to me when I see Gomez display self control since I am fully aware that this is difficult for him! I like momentarily interrupting his play to put a few more pieces of food in it. Then I can make him “wait” again. This makes his dinner time as mentally and physically tiring as possible. With this winter weather madness we’ve been having lately, I am very thankful that Gomez gets into “gleaming the cube.” That’s what we call it. This is in honor of the 1989 movie Gleaming the Cube http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097438/ in which Christian Slater plays a sixteen-year-old skateboarder who tries to solve his adopted brother’s murder. (Spoiler alert: Even ten-year-old me could tell this was a terrible movie when I saw it.)

Gomez primarily (and appropriately) uses the “bulldoze method” of kibble extraction by nosing it along until it hits the wall. Compare this to Asha’s more nuanced “Michael Jackson moonwalk method” and it’s hardly a surprise that I don’t watch altogether that much television. And proof I don’t get out much.

And I don’t really get out much. But that will change. Gomez will continue to become a civilized pit bull American, and the oppressive winter will stop being the worst. Then I can stop fussing so much about this guy. But I recognize that as much as the first few months with a new dog can be time consuming and challenging, handling those challenges the right way and doing the work up front pays off in dividends for the rest of your dog’s life. And Gomez deserves to have a good life, even if that means mine has to be super focused on him for a few months. He’s totally worth it. Dogs always are.