Prancing Pony's Crimson Wave
June 15, 1991 - Dec 14, 2000
Mako wasn't the dog she was supposed to be. As the successor to my first Doberman, Grendel the lion-hearted, she bore the weight of my expectation that she be both a fearless protector and the successful obedience competitor Grendel could never be. She was supposed to be devoted and daring, the American SuperDobe.
Yet from the very beginning she couldn't be that dog. She didn't follow me (or anyone) the way a socialized puppy should. In fact, she was almost wholly indifferent to any human presence, as if it were largely irrelevent. It was almost impossible to get or keep her attention.
The closest analogy many have offered is that she behaved as if she suffered from a minor form of autism. Her response to strangers was indifference, shyness or outright fear - for the most part she shrank from a stranger's touch and once, as a mere six month old, snapped at someone whose attentions were forced on her. All this in a pup that had been highly socialized, gently handled and begun basic obedience training.
This social indifference made her a challenge to train. She appeared to have no interest in training activities, no craving for social approval and little response to correction. Let's face it; Mako was the hardest dog I ever tried to train. But I'd gotten it into my head that we could prevail whatever the obstacles and so we persevered.
I used be one of those who disdained food as a training reward. You can't bring food into the AKC ring, and besides, I'd think, I want the dog to obey me, not think of me as a treat dispenser. Well, the fact is that if you want to train a dog, you use what motivates the dog, not what you think should motivate the dog! And in this instance it was clear that praise had no motivational value. So I learned to use food properly as a motivator, to pair it with praise so that eventually Mako came to respond to praise as a motivator itself (a secondary one, a trained response.)
The challenge was in breaking any task down into a progression of steps small enough for her to grasp and pattern, pattern, pattern. She was only successfully housebroken when I did it room-by-room. And to her last day if you wanted her to come you had to say "Mako, Come!" in exactly the tone in which she'd learned it or she'd just stand there, staring at you.
But despite her progress and our efforts, we ultimately set aside the idea of competition. A characteristic of the fear-biter's temperament is an inability to correctly assess threats and Mako was always prone to misinterpret a situation as threatening when it was not. So although she had learned to use me (and our other Doberman, Echo) asradar, left on her own, as in a down-stay, she might get into trouble. It wasn't worth the risk.
We found our success in other things. I remember once a woman, watching Mako work beamed at me, saying "You can really tell she loves this!" Indeed - she had learned to. And then there was the time, in an obedience class when she held a stand-stay while a tall man with a clipboard loomed over her and she didn't break - amazing! Or the weekend we participated in an Amy Ammen training seminar and Amy called her a "super red Dobe."
Mako became our "Ranch Dog." She stopped going to dog shows and training classes and hung out in our backyard, digging trenches and hunting pocket gophers. She never let me feed the horses without her company and she learned the hard way to avoid their back legs.
I worried abit when we got Joxer how she'd respond to my attention being diverted. She was something of a social klutz anyway and did not make new dog friends easily. But I needn't have worried. Mako became Joxer's best friend and in the year before her final illness, time stood still for her as she found the energy to play with him for hours at a time.
There is always the temptation to infantalize a pet, particularly one that is "damaged" in some way. I've seen it in rescue dogs that are babied because of the "hard life" they had, and I experienced it to an extreme with Grendel who had congenital megaesophagus. Mako, with her temperament problems, required my protection and advocacy over the years more than she might have otherwise, and even as her muzzle greyed she remained my "little girl". So ironically, in a completely unexpected way, she followed Grendel well, by becoming a dog whose struggles fostered an intense intimacy between us.
In September of 2000, Mako was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a serious heart condition that is endemic to her breed. Almost immediately she wasn't up to playing with Joxer but during the last warm spell she spent a bit of time digging in the yard and nearly to the end she saw to it that I had help with the horses.
That's going to be a lonely job around here for a while.