And now Angus has been with us for two years. Imagine! The fat puppy who had to be housebroken when it was 20 below; who barked at every single person he saw; who chewed on my toes and tried to eat rocks and demolished his brand-new bed in a matter of seconds is now a full-grown two-year-old dog.
My husband and I adopted Angus on Dec. 30, 2017, and in those two years he has brought us a lot of trouble and a lot of joy. We learned that he is “reactive” — that is, that he is a sensitive, nervous dog who overreacts to strange situations and people. But he is also the sweetest, most loving dog we’ve ever had.
Here are highlights from 2019, his second year with us. May there be many more.
He developed a taste for bagels. Bagels for breakfast! With one in the toaster and one on the counter, I ran down to the basement to toss in some laundry, and when I returned the bagel on the counter had vanished. I found half of it in the front hallway, on the rug, next to Angus — who looked rather guilty. The other half I never found, but no doubt by then it was safely in Angus’ belly. This was the first time he had counter-surfed since he was just a few months old. But apparently the intoxicating aroma of a toasting bagel proved too hard to resist.
Hopefully he didn’t develop a taste for squirrel. It was quite likely that it was our other dog, Rosie, who committed the murder, not Angus, although both of them would be found guilty in Squirrel Court. I looked out the window one snowy afternoon to see Rosie prancing across the yard with something gray and furry in her mouth. Angus, dashing up behind her, indicated that he wanted to play tug. I am pretty sure that my screams of “Drop it! Drop it!” could be heard all the way down the block.
He learned to play well with (some) other dogs. A dog-to-dog socialization class taught us how to meet strange dogs nicely. We have put this into practice in real life situations, and he has done very well. (The training involves walking past the strange dog with some distance between us and the other dog, and then slowly closing the gap. It takes time and requires the cooperation of the strange dog and its owner, so it is not always convenient to do.) The times we have done this have been reassuring: With enough time and distance, our reactive pup can get used to new situations.
He learned to live without us. We hired two dogs-sitters — one for each week we were gone — when my husband and I went to Ireland in the fall. The sitters reported no problems, except for one evening when Angus broke out of his harness (she had accidentally put him into Rosie’s harness, which is too small) and trotted off down the street. A call of “Angus! Treats!” brought him right back. Over the two weeks we were gone, both sitters texted me cheesecake pictures of Angus lolling on the bed with them. Did he miss us? Who can say?
He is learning to endure the muzzle. He is terrified of the vet (as nice as our vet is!) and so I am training him to wear a muzzle for doctor appointments. It makes him look pathetic. So far, when he wears it, he refuses to walk — not one step. He won’t even raise his head. I smear the inside of the muzzle with peanut butter and stuff his favorite treats through the openings and he eats everything, but sadly. We do not like the muzzle. But I am pretty sure our vet will like it.
He became a steady partner in my owl-stalking. In early winter, Angus and I slipped away in the evenings to track down the great horned owl pair in the park near our house. It is hard for me to walk away from a hooting owl because the sound is so thrilling, and so I stood there, for 10, 15, 20 minutes at a time. Angus stood with me in the chilly, starry cold as long as I wanted, waiting patiently, never whimpering or pulling, until the owls went silent or flew. Perhaps he was as enchanted as I was.
His second year with us saw a lot of progress. He remains a reactive dog, wary with strangers of all kinds, and the training continues and might continue forever. But we are devoted to giving him the best life possible. If we wanted a perfect dog we could always buy a stuffed one at the toy store.
Angus would waste no time, though, in chewing out its squeaker.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune’s senior editor for books. She has been writing about her rescue dog, Angus, since January 2018, when he was 2 months old. She will continue to write about him occasionally through 2020.
Read other Puppy Chronicles installments at startribune.com/puppy