From the moment I met Gizzy on November 16, 2002, my life has been about bad boys. Three to be exact, all Golden Retrievers. And who knows how many more there will be in the future. I love them. They’ve been the loves of my life despite all of their foibles, and the very best teachers as a result. 

Prior to adopting Giz, I had Caper for almost 14 years. She was a very typically sweet, smart Golden Retriever. She was perfect. But as my career of working with animals was developing, so was my need to experience first-hand what it was like to live with and try to rehabilitate a dog with behavior problems.  Oh boy, that was Gizzy!  

I hadn’t intended to adopt Gizzy. I was going to be his foster mom. Caper had just passed away and I was depressed and lonely. I needed a dog in my life.  I was told by the rescue group in Quakertown, PA that he was “not good with children” and that I would be the perfect foster home for him because I had no children.  Great, I could definitely deal with that!  I travelled an hour and a half to meet Gizzy (his name was Gizmo at the time). He came bounding out of the grooming room, jumping and kissing in a tornado of blonde fur. He took my breath away, he was so beautiful and friendly – and he looked almost exactly like Caper, except the face. Same coloring, same long white feathering down the legs and tail.  How could I just foster this dog? He was mine forever; I signed the adoption papers on the spot.

Then we got home and I gradually uncovered his true personality. He was not Caper, that’s for sure. (Lesson number one from Gizzy: Never adopt a dog to replace your deceased dog based on looks.  They will be entirely different personalities!)  In addition to being bad with children, I discovered that Gizzy was violently reactive to other dogs. Like a stealth bomber, he would let them approach and as soon as the dog got into his face, he attacked. Ferociously. Wow. They didn’t tell me about this… Okay, I can deal with this. I learned all about working with dog aggression in school and had worked with clients on the issue.

Next came the bones. Gizzy growled at me one night when I tried to take his bone from him. Hmm, they didn’t tell me about this either. And finally, he growled at me when I tried to move him off of the sofa. As it turned out, my new dog had just about every behavior issue imaginable! Oh yes, he was also afraid of thunderstorms, a problem that grew into a full-blown phobia. I guess I got what I wished for when I said I wanted a dog to show me what my clients go through.  Little did I dream that it would be wrapped up in one doggie package!

In our 8 ½ years together, I have learned more from working with him and understand exactly what my clients are dealing with when they call me for help with their dogs. I am completely empathetic. Now that he’s an old man of 13 years, his behavior problems are all but gone.

In 2004, along came Donner, the old stray who had been at the rescue’s shelter for 9 months. Besides being older, he had a limp and a major nipping problem. He was on the verge of getting put down when I stepped in and adopted him. When Donner got excited, he liked to hump you then chomp down hard on your arm, leg, rear end – whatever was in his reach. He was pretty obnoxious. And I still have the scar on my arm to prove it. But I loved him dearly. And I learned a great deal from him about how to deal with his kind of behavior problem, especially the benefits of keeping a dog calm.

Donner only lived for 20 months after I adopted him, succumbing to a tumor on his heart in May, 2006. As he was slipping away from me, I wrote the story, The Old Dog Nobody Wanted, published in the book Pets Across America.

A year later Archie arrived, my joyfully amusing 9-year-old with the stumpy wagging tail. He was a happy, loving dog – until you touched his feet. He turned into the Incredible Hulk, a snarling, snapping changeling. He was inspiration in writing my article, Grappling With Grooming. Archie taught me the benefits of counter-conditioning dogs to tolerate something that they had previously hated. In the 2 ½ years that we were together, he learned that wiping feet and nail trims were not so bad.

My three bad boys. I will love them dearly forever. What they have taught me cannot be underestimated. I admit I often long for a sweet creature like my Caper, a dog without behavior problems who is easy to live with. But for someone like me, with the training and knowledge to help dogs who maybe cannot live with others, I’m the perfect home and will greet more with open arms in the future. Bad dogs are the best teachers!  Thanks boys!