||[May. 14th, 2009|12:22 am]
A community for Catahoulas
I wrote this for my regular journal, but I figure this is as good a community as any to cross post:|
Some time ago, I wrote a bit about how Dante, my wonderful Lab/Shepherd mix changed my life in so many positive ways. But I do have another dog, who by all I've written about her seems like the polar opposite. In many ways, Penny is completely different from Dante. It could be said that the only similarity is that they're dogs.
Penny's arrival in my life came from making sure my best buddy(Dante) had someone to play with, as my work life continued to eat away at my time and I was away for 10-12 hours a day. When I went to the shelter to look at dogs, she caught my eye as a playful dog who wasn't too much younger but would certainly keep him busy. I also saw another dog who was a little older and seemed like a good match as well, but he was adopted by the time I came back and that made the decision that much easier.
The shelter listed Penny(then known as Willa) as a pointer. I didn't know much about the breed, but a little research led me to think this would be fine. If I'd have known then that she was a catahoula, I likely would have reconsidered. After all, when you read anything about adopting this breed and expecting to live in a city, you get a lot of warning signs.
For the uninitiated, a catahoula is a dog native to Louisiana. They are bred for keen intellect, and herding and hunting skills. They are among the highest energy dogs you can find, right up there with border collies and australian shepherds. What sets them apart is their problem solving skills and independent nature. People use them to herd pigs, cattle and sheep and/or for hunting in packs of 3-5, wild boar, deer and in some instances mountain lions and black bears. This might give you a partial idea of what these dogs are like.
Almost immediately, she got off on the wrong foot with me. While visiting the park with Dante and his mother(and his mother's human), we played fetch and the two bitches(in context) went to fetch the stick. They got into a fight over who would retrieve it, and as I tried to separate them, my hand found it's way between Penny's closing teeth. She bit an impressive gash into my finger, ripping the flesh around the joint open. To this day this leaves me with about half the feeling in the finger.
Penny is not unlike her rural cousins. When I first brought her home, her immediate instinct was to escape right out the door almost as soon as she had her leash off. Not knowing what to call her, I tried to corral her again, and she kept exploring her new neighborhood. This became a vicious pattern, as almost anytime she was unwatched and outside, she'd find a way to escape and go exploring. Even if she was being watched, often she'd find a way to fake me out or escape before I could catch her.
Even when not being watched, she proved to be extremely quick. She would figure out ways to slip out of her collar while on a leash, or to open the door and let herself out. Suffice to say, if she wanted to do something, she damn well felt she was going to do it.
My solution, on the advice of some coworkers, was to put in an invisible fence. The reasoning was that a larger fence would simply deter her, but the invisible fence would correct her behaviour. This worked...for a couple days. She soon learned how the fence worked and realized that a simple jump would result in a quick shock and then freedom. And she then learned how to remove and destroy the collar.
I built a larger fence-8 feet tall. She managed to break holes in it and dig underneath. When I fixed these gaps, she'd dig under the fence on the side of the house.
I questioned for awhile what I would do with this dog. She had such a profoundly negative impact on me in such a short span of time. It was while I was not sure what to do with her that I met someone who recognized her true nature. As Penny and another dog were playing at the dog park until dark, she informed me that she may just be a catahoula, like her dog.
I started reading up on this breed, and the more I read, the more it fit. Understanding the dog's breed goes a long way in understanding how to correct problems. It was around this point that I referred to her as a half dog, half force of nature. I started to adapt to her and began to realize how to treat her.
I made sure the exercise regimen for the dogs improved. We started walking 2-3 miles each night, and went to the park for overtime hours. The key, I began to learn, was to get all this boundless energy out of this dog AND make sure she understood the rules.
Friends who met her when I first got her and have seen her a year later have commented on the marked difference in her behaviour. When she's in the back yard, she comes when called and she's eager to please now in exchange for the comforts of home(nonstop treats, affection and bacon) This is not to say that she's not a crazy little shit anymore. She definitely is. I still have a system of barricades that keep the fence together. However, as she got older and I refused to give up on her, she got better. In fact, her boundless energy is the reason I got into running, and that has a clearly positive effect on my life-not to mention a similar effect on her and Dante's life. In a way, learning to adapt to her created a certain harmony where there was once a conflict.
The values I learned from Dante are contentment, responsibility and serenity. The values I learned from Penny are patience, perseverance and compromise. I suspect if I become the canine equivalent of a cat lady I'll become a zen master.