On any given day, Pretzel is both a sweetheart and the terror of the neighborhood.
Pretzel is a Cockapoo with two owners.
One of Pretzel’s owners – let’s call her Debbie – adores Pretzel. The dog is in her lap whenever she sits down. Pretzel follows her throughout the house, even when she is in the bathroom. Debbie swears that she and Pretzel have a very special bond, that they communicate with each other without words, that they are soulmates.
Pretzel’s other owner – Dave – treats Pretzel like the little brother he never had. Dave gets on the floor with Pretzel and wrestles with him, getting him “all worked up” as Debbie puts it. Other than an occasional walk, Dave leaves the feeding and care-taking of Pretzel to Debbie.
That’s why Debbie can’t understand the way Pretzel acts with her. Despite all the time she spends with him, he runs in the opposite direction when she calls him to come. He barks at her when she is on the phone. When she takes him for a walk, he strains against the collar so hard that he is leaning sideways, gasping and choking. If he sees anything – a car, a jogger, a child, another dog – he rears up on his hind legs, shrieking and carrying on while Debbie frantically tries to pull him away.
And of course, much to Debbie’s humiliation and frustration, Dave can walk Pretzel just fine, thank you. Plus, Pretzel usually listens to him, especially when Dave is really loud. Since Dave doesn’t spend very much time with Pretzel, Dave insists that the problem is with Debbie, not the dog. So Debbie makes clandestine, whispered calls to trainers, and when she hires me, insists on paying me in advance (hey, no problem!) using her own credit card so that Dave won’t know the cost.
I meet with both owners but get some important details from Pretzel. Here is the list of house rules from Pretzel’s perspective:
Debbie’s Rules Dave’s Rules
Do whatever you want Do whatever you want unless I yell at you
Take care of me; I need you Take care of yourself unless I yell at you
Let me pet and kiss you Let me pretend you’re not a frou frou dog
Be my constant companion Leave me alone unless I call you
Pretzel isn’t sure about any other rules – sometimes he has to sit for his leash, sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes it’s okay to bark, sometimes it’s not. So Pretzel doesn’t sit for his leash and he barks all the time, because 9 times out of 10, no one seems to care either way.
If this sounds a little like parenting, it is. Pretzel gets mixed messages from his owners, and acts accordingly.
Training can be effective with any dog – even ones that seem to have split personalities – provided both owners are on the same page.