For the past few months, I’ve been working at an animal shelter and already I’ve seen a lot of dogs come and go. It’s always a happy day when a dog gets adopted. However, there is one dog in particular that had been at the shelter since before I started. His name is Angelo. He’s a white pitbull and he became our longest resident. He was there for over 250 days (and that’s a long time for one of our dogs).
Being our longest termed dog, Angelo quickly became our most known dog. Everyone would try to promote him so he could get adopted. Volunteers would take him out on walks and field trips. People would donate things just for Angelo (he had a whole tub of personal belongings to go home with him when he got adopted). He definitely had a way of buttering everyone up (I mean, he’s kinda cute, he loves being petted, and he loves being around people and meeting new people. So, of course, everyone is going to love him). Angelo was turning into our shelter’s little prince. He deserves it. As our longest termed dog, he deserves all the spoils. Yet, I have to admit, I was never a big fan of him. Yeah, he deserved all the special treatment and he deserved to be the prince of our shelter, but what grinded my gears the most about him was that he KNEW it. He knew he got special treatment. He expected the special treatment! He had a way of sitting down, wagging his tail and looking at you like: “Now is when you give me the treat.” Every time he entered a room, he acted like he owned it (even peed on many things inside of it). Plus, he is way too smart for his own good.
In my early days at the shelter, I avoided Angelo. I let my co-workers or the volunteers walk him when he needed to get out. He was considered one of our trouble children and would pull on walks or get a little jumpy or demanding for treats. He had a bad habit of not listening to me whenever I took him out and since everyone else loved him so much, I left him to them. My interactions with Angelo was simmered down to feeding him some mornings (he would bark at me when I took too long), and passing out enrichment. To me, Angelo was just a royal butthead.
Couple months later, I was told that I would be required to take a training course at our shelter. A simple: “how to train a dog” course. All new hirers were required to take it. I was looking forward to it. I mean, I always thought I knew how to train a dog, but taking the training course really brought some commands into a new perspective. I was ready to test my skills and see if I could get a dog to learn all sorts of commands in 6 weeks (that’s how long the course was). Everyone was given a dog at random and I was excited to see who mine would be. I had quite a few I was hoping for!
I got Angelo.
Frustration was the first thing I felt with my silent groan. Reasons? Well: 1. I didn’t like him, 2. He’s a royal butt, but mostly: 3. He already knew everything! As our longest termed dog, he got a lot of training from my co-workers, volunteers, and other departments. He knew how to sit, look, wait, lay down, touch, place, and loose-leash walk–all the main requirements for graduating the course! What could I possibly teach him?!
I didn’t complain, though. Everyone wanted Angelo to go through the course so he could get that certificate of graduation because it looks better for him when it comes to potential adopters. Plus, going through the course would give him something to do and it would get him out of the kennel (which dogs can get very stressed in the kennel). I mentioned Angelo’s too smart for his own good. Well, when he gets bored, he starts making bad decisions (he had to be in a jump kennel because he liked to escape). Putting him in training helps avoid those bad decisions, but it also meant that I was stuck with him for 6 weeks.
Angelo has to wear a harness because of his pulling and–sometimes–he could be nice about letting me get it on him. Other times, he was rather impatient and wouldn’t sit still long enough for me to harness him. The routine for class was that I take him outside so he could potty and then we head to the classroom. I’d let him sniff long enough outside so he can determine where he wants to pee (in multiple locations I might add), and when he was done, I tried to encourage him to follow along so we’re not late and we were late quite a few times because he didn’t like to budge from a place he was sniffing. He would even ignore me when I tried to encourage him along with treats.
During class, everyone gets a rug for their dog to learn “place.” Angelo already knew “place,” so he took to that rug right off the bat. I could get him to focus for a good amount of time by just going through all the commands he already knew while everyone else was trying to teach their dogs these commands. Yet, probably thirty minutes into class, Angelo started getting bored. He kept getting distracted by the other dogs. I kept having to up the value of my treats to get him to pay attention and whenever I asked him to lay down on the rug, he wouldn’t get back up again to do anything else. I felt like I had to do a whole song and dance at times just to get him to get up and touch my hand so he could get another treat and keep training. A couple minutes later, he was bored enough that my treats didn’t matter anymore. He was done. He’d lay on the rug and just look around or he’d stare at me like I was going to give him a treat for just laying there. All the while, his whip-like tail is just “thump, thump, thumping,” away on the floor. I tried to get him to get up, but he was comfortable where he was at, and he’d rub it in by stretching out his back legs. I honestly think he was having too much fun making me look like I couldn’t train a dog.
It got to the point where I had to get clever to get Angelo to do what I needed him to do. When we’d leave, I always headed toward a door that in the direction of another dog. Angelo would hope we’d say hi to the other pooch, but I’d divert him out the door. Thankfully, he always got distracted by something else that he didn’t feel bitter about not meeting the other dog. Taking him back to his kennel, I always headed outside so he could potty again if he needed too (if he hadn’t already marked his territory inside the classroom…). I’d be nice and let him sniff around a bit, but I couldn’t let him sniff around too long or else he’d decide that he didn’t want to go the direction I needed him to go. We took this class together in January. It was cold. I hate the cold. When I wanted to go back to the kennel right away, Angelo decided that he didn’t. He’d stop and just stand in place, other times he just laid right down on the cold ground and he wouldn’t budge. I couldn’t even convince him to move for hotdogs! He’d just stare at me like: “We’re not going that way.” Or “I’m not going to follow you, you follow me.” And because I wasn’t about to give into this princely butt, I didn’t budge either. So, we’d both stood there–in the cold–waiting for the other to give in. Thankfully, Angelo would eventually get bored, so he’d always end up following me, but the time it took for him to do that varied.
A couple classes in, I learned that our dogs needed to learn a party trick before they could graduate. It could be “shake,” “speak,” jump through a hoop, etc. And it turns out, Angelo didn’t know a party trick. No one taught him any party tricks, they just taught him the basic requirements. So, imagine my excitement at the thought of teaching my butthead a new trick. I contemplated a few different ones. I could probably get him to learn “speak” pretty easily, but he was already pretty demanding even without barking, I didn’t want to add barking to the mix. Then, I thought he could learn “spin.” Just a simple twirl–a pretty easy thing to teach and it was everyone’s go-to for the party trick. I didn’t want something easy, though. Angelo is an incredibly smart dog! He could learn more than just “spin”. So, I decided on “roll over.” I mean, Angelo already lays down A LOT during our training sessions and he often rolls on his back and rubs against the floor when he’s feeling relaxed, so I thought “roll over” should be easy for him!
The next couple of classes, Angelo and I would warm up with the basic commands and then I get him to lay on the rug and I’d try to guide him into rolling over by bringing the treat up around his shoulder. Safe to say: he didn’t like it. He’d lay down on his side and reach for the treat, sometimes he would get on his back, but he mostly just flopped back the other way in discomfort. I tried to treat him every time he made further progress, but after a couple tries, he would start to get frustrated. I’d switch to a command that he knew to get him back on track, then go back to “roll over,” but he wasn’t having it. He’d gnaw at my hand or start lunging at me. One session, he got so worked up that he jumped up at me and caused bruises up and down my arm because he’d hold my arm in his mouth (no pressure, no aggression, just frustration on his part). We ended up having to leave class early that day. I wasn’t helping him any either since I was getting as frustrated as he was (that day, he was being even more of a butthead than usual). It wasn’t a proud day for either of us.
We started running out of classes. I was training Angelo outside of class, but he wasn’t making progress towards “roll over.” I wanted him to graduate. Everyone wanted him to graduate. So, I decided to focus on teaching him “spin” instead. Honestly, I don’t think I’m the one who taught Angelo to spin. One class, he’s not quite getting it, we’re both getting frustrated, and I had to put him up before he figured it out. Throughout the week, I wasn’t able to work with him. So, next class, I’m expecting him to struggle, when he suddenly spins with no issues. I think someone else worked with him on it. I was thankful, now Angelo can graduate, but…I didn’t teach him anything. I just made him do tricks he knew over and over and over again. I tried working on “roll over” with him, but by now, I’ve determined that he just doesn’t like to do it. He got all the way over once and I gave him a bunch of treats for doing it, but I don’t think it clicked in his mind that he got all those treats for rolling over. We tried again and he was getting bored and frustrated and he started demanding treats rather than working for them. I had to put him up before he got himself in trouble.
The day of graduation arrives. Angelo and the other dogs have three tries to prove they can do all the required commands and their party tricks. Everyone goes one at a time and I wanted Angelo to be one of the first ones to test since he starts getting bored after a while and if he gets too bored, he won’t do the tricks. If he doesn’t do the tricks, he won’t graduate. Well…we ended up going last.
One by one, the other dogs go into a separate room to perform for graduation. In the meantime, I’m trying to keep Angelo occupied and interested while trying to keep enough high value treats to use during the test. We go over all the different commands again and again and again. As long as he focused, he could graduate, but I was very concerned that he would bored by the time our turn came around. As I’m working Angelo and the other dogs are slowly moving out of the room, Angelo starts to lose interest in training. I’d let him take breaks and go sniff around our little corner (and not pee in it like he tried too), but there was only so much he could sniff without getting too close to one of the other dogs. Eventually, we’re the last ones in the room and I’m able to give Angelo free reign. We work on loose-leash walking, and I let him move and sniff and I’d stop him when he tried to mark his scent on everything. I was confident that getting his mind off of training for a few minutes would help him refocus once we got into the room for the test.
Our turn finally comes around. I learned that all the other dogs graduated and most of those other dogs started the class only knowing “sit.” Angelo started the class already knowing most of the commands. If he failed now…well…shame on both of us. We begin. The instructor asks for the commands one at a time and Angelo is doing fantastic! He places when I point, he sits, he lays down, he actually GETS UP when I needed him too. The only issue was when I was loose-leash walking him around the room. He’s supposed to stay at my side when we walk, but he kept getting distracted by the different things around the room (and he wanted to say “hi” to everyone in the room). He even peed on a chair before I could stop him. Thankfully, the instructor knows him and knows his antics, so she let it slide, she knows he can loose-leash walk. When the instructor asked for his party trick, Angelo spins (it wasn’t the most graceful, but he did it and that’s all that matters). She then asked about “roll over.” She knew I was trying to teach it to him and she wanted to see how it was coming along. I thought: “Why not? Let’s try it.” I get him down and attempt to get him to roll over. Angelo starts mouthing my hand, he gets partly there, then he flops back to the side. I sigh, he gets up, and the instructor says it’s okay, he’s still graduated. We put a cute little cap on Angelo and take a happy picture together with our certificate. I get one to take home and he gets one added to his file for future adopters to marvel at.
After that, I start taking him back to his kennel. The course was over. We passed. It was almost bittersweet that I wouldn’t be working with him again…ALMOST. On the way back to the kennel, Angelo starts being a royal pain-in-the-butt again. We have another stand-off on which direction to go. When we finally get moving, he wants more treats, jumps at my treat pouch, and when I deny it to him, he moves ahead and starts pulling. By the time I got him back to his kennel, I was thankful the class was over!
I didn’t see him for a long while after that. Our Behavior Team wanted him in their building so they could play him with other dogs and help the other dogs relieve built-up stress. Angelo could be a rough, but tolerant player and that’s what they needed up there. He even loved it up there. He had an indoor/outdoor kennel, so on nice days he’d pull all his blankets and toys outside and just chill in the beautiful weather. I never got to see him, but I wasn’t bothered by it. I was busy and he was still a butt in my eyes. The times he did visit our area, I would say hi, but I always found myself shaking my head at the shelter’s little prince.
Last week, we got some pretty exciting news. Angelo went on a slumber party with a potential adopter and last Friday, the adopter finalized everything. After spending close to a year at our shelter, Angelo was finally getting a forever home! I’ll admit, some of us were skeptical about it. We feared that Angelo would show behaviors later down the road that would get him returned to our shelter, but as of that Friday, he was getting adopted, and the whole shelter was excited.
People from every department showed up to say goodbye to Angelo. The adopters were nice enough to bring him in when they finalized, so all of us could see him one last time. The adopters were a little overwhelmed by all the people, but they shouldn’t be surprised since they know how much Angelo means to the shelter. When Angelo arrived, he went around to greet everyone: his favorite volunteers, the adoption staff, the reception desk (he peed on the toy donation bin), and eventually he worked his way back to me and the three other Canine Care Techs that were working that day. He recognized all four of us and when we crouched down to spoil him with pets, Angelo came straight to me. I’ll admit, it made me feel pretty good that his royal buttness came to me out of the four of us. My co-workers teased about our love/hate relationship. That Angelo has all the love for me and I have all the hate for him (which isn’t true. I don’t hate him. He’s just a butt. They just think I hate him because I complained to them about him A LOT during our class). I just let them tease. It had been a while since I’d seen Angelo and now he was going to be going away forever (hopefully). I just wanted to be there with him without having to train him. He and I get so frustrated with each other during training, that I just wanted to be around him without that. There was a lot of people in the adoption area to say goodbye to Angelo, but we hogged him for a while–I mean, we had every right, we took care of him before the Behavior Team took him. We spoiled him with butt-rubs, kisses, everything he enjoyed. We told him to have a happy life, stay out trouble, we’ll miss you, but don’t come back. It’s bittersweet to see our favorite dogs go to their forever homes, but it hurts even more when they come back for any reason. I hope Angelo doesn’t come back.
Eventually, we did have to stop hogging Angelo. We had to get back to walking the dogs we still had at the shelter. As we’re all getting up to leave, one of my co-workers urges me to show off Angelo’s trick. What was the trick he learned in class? Let’s let everyone see it! I had my treat pouch on me, so I figured, why not? I explained that I tried to teach him “roll over,” but he wasn’t getting it so he learned “spin” instead. Well, I’m thinking there’s no way I’m going to get him to roll over in all the excitement of all these people around him, so let’s try a nice and easy spin. I pull out a treat to get his attention, start with an “Angelo, spin!” I do the motion for the trick…
…and he lays down.
All the frustration I was trying to avoid just starts creeping up on me. In front of all these people, all the different departments, my co-workers, the adopters, Angelo just lays down on the floor when I gave him a command. I couldn’t stop myself from saying: “So, you’re going to be a butt to me one last time, huh?” He just looks at me with a smile on his face and his tail “thump, thumping” away on the floor. That’s when I noticed the way he was laying. He was laying on his right shoulder, the shoulder I always tried to get him to lay on when teaching “roll over.” I figure, why not? Let’s try it. I crouched down, showed him the treat, said: “Angelo, roll over,” and I moved the treat back and over his shoulder.
He rolled over.
He rolled right over! First try. One treat. Right shoulder. Back. Left shoulder. Belly. He did it! I couldn’t believe it! I tossed him a ton of treats and then I lost it. The waterworks wouldn’t be denied any longer. I had to leave the room, Angelo brought me to tears and even now as I reflect on it, it’s still making me cry. Yeah, I know. The Behavior Team probably taught him “roll over” while they had him, but I didn’t consider that then. I just knew that I tried to teach him “roll over,” I didn’t feel successful at teaching him anything, and right then and there, like it’s his parting gift, he rolls over. It took quite a bit for me to pull myself back together. Angelo got under my skin time and time again. I was pretty sure he didn’t like me after all the times we had stand-offs in the cold. Yet, he came right to me that day and he rolled over for me.
After I pulled myself together, I went back to Angelo. I hate goodbyes so I made it quick. I thanked him for everything. I told him to be good and I warned him that I would be ticked if he did something that got him returned. Then, I gave him a kiss, told him I loved him, and said goodbye. As I walked away, I prayed he would have a happy life in his new home.
A lot of dogs come and go through the shelter, but Prince Angelo is not one I’m going to forget.