It’s been ten weeks since we took Milo in, and he’s starting to feel like “ours.” Now that I have a better sense of his personality and how he’ll respond to situations, I generally trust him. He still looks across the street occasionally to see if his people have come back, but most of the time he follows me from room to room and seems pretty happy here. I move around the house a lot during the day, so he does too, and sometimes the Brown Dog brings up the rear of this little procession. No wonder I’m humming “I Love a Parade.”
Milo’s charm lies in two qualities. First, he has the softest fur of any dog I’ve ever met. Really, it feels more like a rabbit’s and makes humans want to pet him all the time. This fits in nicely with the second thing: his utter disregard for personal space. When I’m sitting, he’s got his head on my leg, offering up his ears for rubbing. He’s equally affectionate with visitors and will lean himself against the new person, presumably to help them feel more at home and also to get more petting. When I lie down on the floor to do back exercises, he’ll join me and plop his head across my chest; or if I’m on my side, he’ll spoon. I can’t move at all with this big lug nestled against me, so not much exercising happens, but he is irresistible.
He’s not as smart as Karma, but he has caught on to a few things since he’s been here. He knows how to use the dog door to let himself in and out, so he’s stopped smearing up the sliding glass door with his dirty paws. Instead of rushing me as I put the food dish down, he has learned to sit and wait for his meals, strings of drool dripping from his mouth in anticipation. He comes when we call him by his new name — except at bedtime. I want him to sleep in the back of the house with the rest of us, but he prefers the rug in the TV room and feigns paralysis when we try to get him to move elsewhere. It’s a minor point, so we let him have it. He’s such a good dog.
Milo, like many Labs, cannot be trusted around people food. Our other dogs do not have this weakness, so we’re having to train ourselves along with Milo. Even if the food is not at dog level, it’s still not safe if he can reach it by standing on his back legs. So far, he has eaten two sticks of butter, snagged some chicken off my plate, and absconded with half a loaf of homemade bread from the kitchen counter. The bag containing the bread proved no obstacle — he just ate through it. I never did find the butter wrappers.
He is particularly powerless to control himself in the presence of cheese. I think he needs a 12-step program. My husband once caught Milo heading for a piece of cheddar on a plate, and even as Mike was saying, “No, bad dog!”, Milo sort of shrugged and munched it down anyway. A few weeks ago, I left an eight-ounce bag of shredded cheese on the counter. I found the remnants of the bag in the living room later but no trace of the contents. Then there was the time he sidled up next to me while I was holding a delicious piece of gruyere and licked it while it was still in my hand.
“Don’t you have any shame?” I asked him. He does. It just doesn’t last long.
And despite my earlier enthusiasm about the new training collar, walks are still a little more exciting than we’d like. It seems that Milo has adapted to the “pinch” of the prong collar. We have much better control with him than before, but a correction doesn’t startle him the way it first did. After four years of living behind a fence and getting all his entertainment from barking at other dogs as they walked by, that adrenalin rush is a hard habit to break.
So, for 40 minutes a day, the snuggly loving dog we know at home turns into Cujo. He’s gotten less reactive to dogs inside houses or behind fences, but those walking quietly past him on the street send him into a barking, drooling frenzy. So do cats sitting on walls and bunnies hopping out from under bushes. And for a couple days, he became absolutely hysterical at the sight of a gas meter in the alley. The third time he started hackling and getting worked up as we passed it, I walked him up to it, where he barked frantically for a few seconds and then looked embarrassed. Oh. Never mind.
But he’s better than he was, and so am I. Now I’m trying to take the long view about this behavior. The great outdoors is still a very new and scary place for Milo, and a four-year long habit will not disappear in a few months. Change is hard for people and dogs alike, and old habits are comfortable even when they don’t make sense anymore. Meanwhile, we try to limit Milo’s walking routes to ones not so heavily trafficked with canines. We praise him when he manages to keep a grip on himself, and when he loses it, we just keep walking, correcting him as we go.
Mike brought him home from a walk the other day. “How’d he do?” I asked.
“Mostly okay. He got upset at a chihuahua.”
Milo took a long drink at the water dish and dripped the rest of it on me as he rested his head in my lap. I kissed him on the nose.
“I bet this is one of Satan’s disguises,” I told Mike. “Big brown eyes, a charming personality, and really soft ears.”