Dixie and I met three years ago when she was two years old; it was not love at first sight, but she needed a home and I had plenty of room. At the time I was still grieving the loss of my last German shepherd, Madison, who was beautiful, intelligent and affectionate. Although I knew no other dog could ever replace her, the house was just too empty.
Training a new puppy was not something I relished; therefore, I decided I would adopt an adult, one that would walk into my life completely house trained and ready to fill the role of watchdog and loving pet. Thinking back, I know it was unrealistic to expect so much, but I felt entitled. After all, I was rescuing this dog from homelessness or death; the least she could do to return the favor was to be perfect. Right?
I wanted a German shepherd because I have always had a German shepherd; I love the breed. Dixie certainly filled that basic requirement; she is a pure bred shepherd. I also wanted a big, intelligent and eager-to-please companion. Well, at this point the disappointments started adding up.
Dixie was small, muscular and squat, nothing at all like my elegant Madison, who attracted admiring stares everywhere we went. In addition, Dixie was not at all eager to please me. Lastly, because of her poor behavior, I wasn’t even sure about the level of her intelligence. The only thing about her immediately apparent was that this small, underweight, steely-eyed canine was, in fact, defiant. From the tilt of her head and the cold glint in her dark, dark eyes, hers was the attitude of one accustomed to being obeyed. What I did not realize at first is that I had adopted a dominant bitch.
I knew nothing about dominant bitches. As soon as I understood the problem, I read every thing I could find on the subject, but much of it was less than helpful. Mostly people used the word dominant as a synonym for aggressive.
Dixie was never aggressive or threatening. She merely wanted to do what she wanted when she wanted. Even worse, Dixie expected me to obey her and once or twice she pushed me out of the way when I was blocking her path. When we went for a walk, she always had to lead. If Dixie did not like the food I gave her, she would tip the bowl and the water bowl, too, for good measure.
The one important thing I learned from watching the Dog Whisperer was that in this small pack of ours, I needed to be the one in charge. I had to convince Dixie that I was the dominant bitch. When I explained that to my friends, they raised their eyebrows and snickered.
Our first physical struggle was over who owned and would sleep in my bed; I have never allowed any of my dogs in my bed. It was not easy, but I won that argument. After dragging her from my bedroom, I led Dixie to her bed in the kitchen and barricaded the door.
That night while I slept secure in the knowledge that I had won that battle, Dixie took revenge on the contents of my pantry. I discovered my foodstuffs, packages and cans, strewn over the floor the next morning. Proudly, Dixie posed in front of the remains of a five-pound bag of soy flour, with a look of total innocence, her black muzzle and her ears all covered in white. She ignored my “bad dog” pronouncements and my obvious sour mood and temper. To make matters worse, I thought I saw a twisted little smile on her lips, which is crazy because everyone knows that dogs can’t smile.
During the next few days we had a few other disagreements, but eventually we settled down into a domestic pattern of me meeting her needs of exercise, food and drink and Dixie coldly rebuffing my attempts to win her over. I tried every suggestion I read. I consulted with experts: veterinarians and trainers, but nothing changed in either her attitude or behavior.
Now, I understood why the previous owner had given her up. I also suspect from Dixie’s violent response to the appearance of an innocent broom that the owner had tried to beat Dixie into submission and had failed in the attempt.
There was no doubt that Dixie had suffered. She spent the first two years of her life in an outdoor cage, isolated from humans and other dogs, a terrible fate for a pack animal. Her previous owner had not even given her a name, calling her ‘dog’ —a name she still answers to. In my opinion, the only good thing the last owner really did was to give her up to Stepping Stone German Shepherd Rescue in Paris, KY. There, they gave her a name, some training and a new chance at life.
After two weeks with no progress, I was becoming discouraged; I began to question whether this adoption was really a good idea. Dixie was not the warm, affectionate pet I wanted and she was a terrible watch dog; moreover, she was a churlish, unwelcome house guest. Then one early afternoon, everything changed.
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