I think just writing about this dog is strange. To try to understand the emotional life of a poodle may be just plain weird to some. I write this from a place of hurt. Indulge me here.
Dogs have evolved in lockstep with humans. We have molded them to our liking and usefulness. We use them for many things. They serve us. They depend on us. They charm us, fool us, make us laugh, and cry. They have become in many ways like us. They all have their own personalities, likes and dislikes. Certain breeds behave in particular ways of behaving but each is their own person. Did I say that? Personhood. Yes, I believe whatever it is that gives something a will, and drive, and longing can be wrapped in a hairy skin and given a name. It can be a dog. It has a soul. So what does a soul need?
I write this because if I hadn’t seen and felt what I’m about to explain, I couldn’t have understood it. It’s about Beau, my miniature French Poodle. Bare with me.
I found him online on the Michigan Standard Poodle Rescue site based in Bay City Michigan. Although he isn’t a standard poodle, which is a much bigger dog, this rescue group took him on. I contacted the rescue, and somehow as with many things people can’t come right out and tell you, the details rolled out rather slowly.
The first time I met Beau was in Milford’s Central Park where he barked viciously at me. He stood there in the grass with his owner, a woman, and the woman’s teenage daughter. He was on a leash in attack mode, all 15 pounds of him. He was very disconcerted with the whole situation but in the 15 minutes we spent together, and after being picked up and held by the teen I was finally able to pet him. He was adorable, fluffy and curly, and as white as snow, with tiny dark brown eyes and a black nose. Please note that in 15 minutes he went from trying to attack me to licking me profusely.
The idea was that I would at least foster him for a time with the possibility of adopting him if we felt it would work out in my home. We were willing to try. Swiffer, my other dog, needed a playmate.
His details began to roll out. He was purchased for $1800 from a puppy mill in Midland Michigan with the intention of breeding him with Golden Retrievers to make a mixed breed they are calling a Golden Doodle or something as ridiculous. In other words, he was valued for his size and curly coat. He was kept in a crate in the basement of a ranch style home wearing what is called a pee band and a litter box in the crate for going #2. In other words, they didn’t have to let him outside. This may explain why the park was so upsetting to him. By 2 years of age, he had spent a huge majority of his little life in a pet cage in a basement. When you correlate a dogs age in human years it must have seemed like 14 years to Beau.
I will note here that Beau’s owner seemed overly concerned with his looks. By the time her and the daughter brought him to my house with a large bag of grooming items, that was clear. He had various brushes and combs. Several jars of little pre-moistened pads to clean his eyes. Silvadine spray for his eyes and some kind of chews for his coat, and on and on. Poodles tend to overproduce tears which causes staining under the eyes. The woman was obsessed with this. She sure didn’t spare any cash for this bag of stuff but it was about looks for this so-called breeder. Can’t get top dollar without the look.
Apparently, Beau had been let out of the crate in the home and was sitting on a bed with the woman’s daughters when someone entered the room. He did the viscous barking and tried to attack the person. By their nature, poodles are not the soft fluffy white stuffed animals people tend to think they are. They are as much a guard dog as a German Shepard Hound and Beau was protecting those girls. The supposed breeder did not understand the true nature of the dogs she was trying to get rich off of. Instead, she determined that Beau was going to hurt her children. It was the woman’s sister who contacted the rescue and had determined that the woman was just in over her head with this breeding program and a basement full of dogs.
So upon the second meeting in my home Beau met my dog Swiffer, a 15lb Poma-poo and they ran around my yard and seemed to get along very well. We all went into the house for a few minutes and the teen said her good-byes to Beau. I distracted the dog and they went out the front door.
All was well until Beau realized that he had been left behind. He went to the picture window and looked out whimpering. He paced between the front door and the window a few times and I called him to join us in the family room. He stayed upstairs in the living room, jumped up on the sofa and sadly rested his chin between his front paws and just ignored me. He was obviously devastated. It was a surprise to me that his feelings were so intense.
Years earlier I had been a foster parent to two developmentally challenged, and at the same time, abused children. They had been in many foster homes and showed immediate signs of something called an ‘attachment disorder’. In order to adapt they could put aside their true feelings of loss and abandonment and call the next caretaker person ‘Mom’ as soon as they met them. Mom is a term reserved for someone special, not someone you just met. I mention this because as the days went by it became apparent that I was Beau’s new Mom.
He recognized me as the main caretaker 5 minutes after he quit moping on my couch. He got down and began to play with Swiffer. Sounds normal? No it was not. I thought ‘okay time to go out and do the potty thing’. Nope. He stood at the patio door where Swiffer had already headed out and poked his nose past the threshold and backed into the room. He was NOT going out. At this point I had no idea he had not really been let outside by himself ever, at all. I picked him up and put him outside and he never moved a foot away from the patio door. He paced and walked a few feet in either direction and whined to come back in.
I knew this was an energetic, rambunctious 2 year old dog, but I was not prepared to be pounced upon without a seconds warning continually. I was constantly fending him off. He would suddenly leap from the floor to my face and begin licking me with his whole body wriggling and his front paws digging at my neck. It was crazy. He never stopped or slowed. When I told him no and pushed him down or put him on the floor he would run right over to Swiffer and get domineering with him. He didn’t hurt Swiffer, he was just obviously taking his feelings of rejection from me and transferring it to the other dog. Tom and I would just look at each other in disbelief. Swiffer doesn’t much care and goes along with it. Good ol’boy Swiffer.
I am no expert at dog training. Heck, I may not be good at it at all, but eventually you would think the dog would catch on and approach a person he wants attention from a bit more gently or slowly. Eight months later he has not. I think if he could crawl up under my skin and live there it would not be enough. All of this is so overwhelming to me as I want to play and show affection to him. I would love it if he could just sit in my lap and let me pet him. He cannot be still for 2 seconds. He is impossible to hold onto. He still refuses to go outside and we generally have to trick him into it. He sleeps in his crate all night and will not go out in the morning to pee. Tom carries him out across the grass he refuses to step on. Oh yah, that’s the other thing, grass. He will stand with one paw in the air if the grass is wet at all. He does not like grass or wet feet. He sometimes pees on the wood deck. He likes the deck.
He trails me from room to room and will lay in the various dog beds in each room. He is a poodle. Poodles are in the top 3 breeds for intelligence. Beau understands English and all I have to do is point to the dog bed and he goes right to it. I say one word ‘crate’ and he goes into it. I have taught him to sit for a treat and he has learned not to bite my hand while being given it. He is trainable and is very smart, but why is it that he wants to repel the very thing he seems to need so badly? Me.
The most interesting thing I find about him is that he has a very different relationship with Tom. He plays with Tom. He gets all excited when Tom comes in from work. Normal stuff. Every night Tom picks him up and Beau gently licks the side of Toms face as he is taken upstairs to be put in his crate for the night. If I pick him up he gets so excited he pees on me. LOL Funny, but not. Then there is the self stimulation which is annoying which he also does after he feels I’ve rejected him. It’s a vicious cycle that I fear he may not be able to get out of.
He stares at me from across the room with his sad eyes. I wonder what has made him so screwed up in the head. Here is my best guess; He was taken from his mother before he was able to bond with her. He was too young to be weaned. I’m sure they don’t care about developmental stages in puppy mills but I have heard that between 8-10 weeks is a very important stage for a puppy and they learn some important things from the mother about being a dog. Then he was isolated for a good two years. Like being jailed in a whore house if you’ll pardon the expression. Might be why he licks his junk all day or when he feels bad. He was purchased to be bred and that was all.
I sense a general immaturity about him like he is 2 months old instead of almost 3 years. He is so cute and surprising at times. I love him and am sickened at what this poor soul has been through. It isn’t like I can take him to counseling to get his head examined. He is like a POW with PTSD. He cries.
Does a being with a soul have to be self-aware? I don’t think so. He seems to be in a self-perpetuated emotional mess. He acts badly to get something he desperately needs and goes away hurt and rejected when his own behavior defeats his purpose. It’s nuts.
As humans we have brought dogs into our world and made them adapt to us. I think at a lower mentality they have taken on all of our emotional problems. Dogs were meant to function in the hierarchy of the pack, not in the emotional states of humans. So many of Beau’s behaviors are about the same as those foster children I once cared for. As I write this Beau is never more than 5 feet from me. I try to teach him, be happy with him. I am pretty sure his problems are so primal he may never be any different.
So. Lets think about Beau before we support amateur breeders and puppy mills. Physically there is nothing wrong with Beau. Mentally he is damaged goods. The whole pet industry is just a bit of the worlds insanity. People are greedy. Dogs (and cats) are living beings with a heart that longs for love and acceptance just like us. Please remember that.
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.”