Tails from the couch: a bad doggie consults a canine shrink.
Does your rottie need reiki? are your chow’s chakras
out of whack? dogs have issues too—here’s how to deal with them.
By Tom Schreck
Riley has issues. Don’t get me wrong; he’s a great dog. He just has some issues.
He eats my shoes. He eats the books I’m reading. He’ll refuse to go in the direction I want to go in on a walk and just lie down. It is difficult to drag an 85-pound basset/bloodhound mix.
Riley chases squirrels and other dogs. He bays when I’m trying to watch the news and he follows me from room to room. He jumps up on me and lands on sensitive body parts. Sometimes he’s mean to our other basset hound, Wilbur.
Riley likes to be petted but, if you do it the wrong way, he’ll growl and, if he’s in a bad mood, he’ll snap at you.
He’s what’s known as a rescue dog. Somebody had him and wasn’t nice to him, and then he went to a few foster homes until we found him on an Internet site.
I want Riley to be happy and adjusted—and I’d like to own a pair of shoes for more than 48 hours before there are bite marks in them. Sometimes, I would like to go in the direction I want to go in on a walk. I’d like to enter a room in my home without having to have the mindset of a ninja to protect the region below my belt from assault.
I decided to get Riley some help.
Psychic and Dog Communicator, Mohegan Lake
It made sense to start at the beginning. Of course, Riley can’t speak so I can’t just ask him why he is the way he is. That’s where psychic Lori MacLean comes in. Lori tells me that her psychic powers are a gift and she hones them through some training now and then with other psychics. I’m not totally sure what all that means, but Lori says she can “read” what a dog is feeling and get an idea about things. She usually charges $30 for a 15-minute psychic reading and says that most readings can be done in that time.
At Lori’s request, Riley, my wife, Sue, and I meet her at the Riverfront Green in Peekskill. I’m not sure why we’re meeting in a park, but then again I’m not really up on today’s psychic procedures. The park is filled with geese and Riley is full of energy. Still, Lori starts to pet Riley’s ample belly. I begin to give Lori a short rundown on our household and how we have cats and another dog when she raises her hand.
“Don’t tell me anymore,” she says. “I’m getting the number eleven. It’s very strong.
What does eleven mean to him?”
Sue and I look at each other.
“Was he born on the eleventh?” Lori asks.
We shake our heads.
We shake our heads. We don’t know much about Riley’s formative years.
“I’m also picking up a cranky old man with a newspaper. He might be whacking Riley with the newspaper.”
That just pisses me off. Let the old bastard try hitting me with a newspaper.
“Is there a big black dog in the neighborhood?” Lori asks. “He’s letting me know about a big black dog.”
“Wilbur is black and weighs about eighty pounds,” Sue says.
“Riley finds him annoying,” Lori says. She’s right; Wilbur is often a pain in the neck.
He’s fat, but he’s only about 10 inches tall. I’m uncertain whether that makes him a big dog.
“I’m picking up that Riley doesn’t like the cats, except for the white one—the one that likes to brush up against him,” Lori says.
Now, I’m getting a little creeped out. We have four cats and Riley likes CC, the white one, who brushes up against him. We mentioned we had cats—but we didn’t say anything about their color.
“I’m picking up August—he likes August. What’s August?”
“We got Riley in August three years ago,” I say.
“The fifteenth?” Lori asks.
We got Riley on August 15. I didn’t mention anything that would’ve tipped Lori off about this either.
Sue cuts to the chase. “Is he happy?” she asks.
“He’s very happy, but his past still lingers.” Riley is sniffing some of what the geese left behind.
“How do I get him to walk where I want to walk?” I ask.
“He needs to feel important,” Lori says. “Just tell him that when you’re walking.”
Hmmm. I hadn’t thought of that.
Reiki Master, Katonah
We left Lori in Peekskill and headed toward the Awakenings bookstore in Katonah for an appointment. On the ride, Riley forced himself over the elbow rest and licked the side of my face while I tried to negotiate the turn at Route 202. I pushed him onto Sue’s lap and told him he was important.
Katonah is a sweet little village and Awakenings is a cute store that sells New Age books and stuff related to alternative medicine and spirituality. Riley is the only dog in the store and everyone loves him. Aromatherapy is big at Awakenings, and there are all sorts of floral essences and stuff. Riley’s pulling me all over the store and I’m afraid he’s going to knock over some expensive crystals or something.
Norma explains to Sue and me that Reiki is the practice of bringing down God’s energy and putting it to use. Norma doesn’t specialize in dogs per se, but she assures me that Reiki works on dogs just as well as it does on humans. I tell her that she should be careful how she pets Riley’s head because sometimes he snaps at people. Norma lovingly pets
Riley while she cradles his head.
Riley lets out a low growl.
“Riley’s a little nervous,” Norma says.
That makes two of us. I would hate for Norma to be permanently disfigured should Riley become even more nervous. I make a mental note to consult the business office at Westchester Magazine about liability issues.
Norma gets some organic chicken treats and Riley perks up. She rewards his attentiveness with a treat, puts them aside, and begins to cradle Riley’s head again.
Riley growls. He gets even more nervous trying to find out what happened to the rest of his organic treats. Norma starts to do long slow strokes down the sides of Riley and he starts to kind of dig that.
“He has low self esteem,” she says.
“How can you tell?” I ask.
“Is that why he won’t walk where I want to walk?”
“Probably. He needs a job to feel good about himself.”
I think for a second and realize I have a job and I don’t feel that good about myself.
“He’s bored and he wants to do more,” Norma says. “What does he do?”
“Excuse me?” I ask.
“How does he spend his day?”
“Oh, he goes for walks, he eats, he tries to avoid Wilbur.”
“Give him a job.”
Norma starts to run her fingers over Riley without actually touching him. She tells me that she is “Reiking” him and that he will feel a little tingly. Riley sits calmly and seems to be quite relaxed. Whether or not he’s tingly, I can’t say. (At $60 per session, your wallet may tingle, however.)
Tellington Touch, Hawthorne
Bobbi Pollack practices something called the Tellington Touch, a system developed by a woman named Linda Tellington-Jones. Initially done on just horses, the process is now available for all companion animals. The touch itself is a circular movement, done on different spots on the animal to “rebalance the system.” Bobbi tells me it’s important that you do a full circle-and-a-quarter with each touch and you only do each spot once. This touch connects with the nerve cells that then pass it along “throughout the system.”
We’re in Bobbi’s basement and Riley is looking a bit uneasy.
“He doesn’t feel good about himself,” Bobbi says. “He has low self esteem. The T-Touch will help put him more in balance. Flower-essence therapy would help as well.”
“Flower essence?” I ask.
“Yes, flower essences are a subdivision of homeopathy. You might put a few drops in his water or on him, but you have to be careful not to touch him with the bottle because that will change the vibration.”
Riley is wandering around sniffing, and I ask Bobbi to demonstrate the touch thing. She calls Riley over and starts to do a series of these circle-and-a-quarter movements starting around Riley’s head and moving down the length of his body. Riley seems to be grooving on it.
“There are three parts to the Tellington Touch,” Bobbi says. “There’s the touch itself, the equipment, and what we call the Playground of Higher Learning, which is a little like an agility course that your dog can master and feel good about himself.”
Unfortunately, Riley and I don’t have time for the playground action, but I do want to see the equipment.
“One of the main things we do is wrap the dog in a big Ace bandage in a cross pattern. It helps balance him, comfort him, and it will help how he feels about himself.”
I’m a little nervous about how Riley is going to feel getting wrapped up by a stranger. I watch Bobbi put the Ace bandage around my dog as if he has a huge toothache, and I have to admit I’m a bit skeptical. I also think my dog looks ridiculous and I can’t imagine that that’s going to help his self-esteem.
Bobbi finishes and Riley sits calmly at her feet and then decides to lie down. His breathing has slowed and, frankly, he looks like he just smoked some really good pot. I can’t really tell if he’s feeling better about himself, but when I leave, I keep the wrap on him and he falls asleep on my front seat, making the drive up the winding Taconic a breeze. (The service costs $90 for a one-hour session.)
Bobbi tells me that, though it’s not expressly part of the T-Touch system, the techniques probably work on opening up Riley’s chakras. Well, if that’s the case, then Riley’s freakin’ chakras must be gaping because he’s snoring like a sawmill all the way home.
Dr. Ellen Lindell
The Katonah Bedford Veterinary Center
Dr. ellen Lindell is a board-certified veterinarian with a sub-specialty in behavior, which kind of makes her the canine equivalent of a psychiatrist. Behavior is a fairly new veterinary specialty and Dr. Lindell is one of less than 50 vets who specialize in canine behavior worldwide.
Before my appointment with Dr. Lindell, I have to fill out a very detailed eight-page form that asks me questions about the circumstances under which we got Riley, his physical health, the other pets we own, any major events in our lives, and a description of his behavior
I fill out the form and send it in with the same level of confidence I had when I finished my SAT exam. Dr. Lindell starts our session by going over the questionnaire.
“If you take away Riley’s food, does he show any sign of aggression?” she asks.
“Definitely. He doesn’t care for that,” I say.
“And does he show that by biting you, snapping, threatening you with a bark, a deep growl, or a minor growl?”
Hmmm, I never realized there were so many degrees of aggression.
“It’s usually just a light growl, but I can tell he’s not happy,” I say.
“And does he let you take it away?”
“Yes, he does.”
I’m beginning to see where Dr. Lindell is going.
“Now, you put down on the questionnaire that he has snapped at people when they lean over his head and rub both his ears. Tell me about that.”
“Yeah, that pisses him off royally.”
“That’s truly dangerous behavior,” Dr. Lindell says.
“The snappee usually thinks so,” I say. “Is it because Riley doesn’t feel good about himself?”
“Is it because he was mistreated as a puppy?” I ask. “Maybe, like an old crotchety guy hit him with a rolled-up newspaper and called him mean names?”
“It is possible, but what’s really important is preventing it from happening.”
“Should I do like Oprah’s Mexican dog guy and grab him by the neck and put him down and let him know I’m the dominant one?”
“No, that will probably make him more aggressive. It will scare him and he might bite you,” she says. “The best thing to do is not let people hover over him and grab his head. When they do, remove him from the situation and don’t punish him because he won’t understand. Try to intervene early.”
“And what about him not doing what I want—like pulling me during the walks and not doing what I say—is that because he doesn’t feel good about himself?”
“No, it has more to do with his temperament. Don’t be obsessed with winning every situation but also know you can’t lose every one.”
Dr. Lindell then maps out a program in which I would give Riley treats for doing good things and ignoring bad things.
Dr. Lindell tells me that she works with far more serious cases of aggressive and dominant dogs and some dogs need lots of work. She works with owners to change how they deal with their problem dogs and even occasionally intervenes with medications like Prozac.
She doesn’t mention anything at all about his energy, his chakras, the number 11, or the month of August. She does give me some solid advice that I can understand and a strategy for implementing it. I plan to reward Riley’s good behavior, discourage his bad behavior, and keep a close eye on how people pet him.
And when we go on long rides, I’m going to wrap him in a big Ace bandage.
* * *
Post Script: Since we set out on this mission, I’m happy to report that we’ve seen some significant improvements. Riley did once kind of bark and snap at me when I tried to take his place in bed, but I see that mostly as my fault. He pulls less on our morning walks, especially when I encourage him and praise him when he’s cruising along like I like. I also keep a piece of chicken jerky with me to encourage him even more during these walks.
When he seems tense, I’ve tried a little of the Tellington Touch and even some Reiki movements over him and, though he seems to dig it, I’m not sure I’m doing either correctly.
Wilbur still gets on all our nerves but that’s just Wilbur.
As I type this, Riley is lying next to me on the floor and he is placidly snoring. I can’t say for sure, but it looks to me that he feels pretty good about himself.
Tom Schreck lives with his wife, two dogs, and four cats, and none of them ever do anything he says. His first mystery, On the Ropes, A Duffy Dombrowski Mystery, debuts this September.