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In The Home Stretch - My Rat Terrier's Life In Pictures

Updated on April 19, 2013

A Life In Pictures - Our Rat Terrier, Nala

Meet Nala. Also known as Shmoopers or shmooper dooper. She's thirteen years old. She's crochety and often cranky. She's also sweet and curious. She does what she wants and is out to please herself. She is after all a terrier. To me, she often seems more like a cat than man's best friend. This life of hers has been all about her. Yet, I love her.

We've had our moments. She's driven me crazy on a daily basis. That probably should have given me some warning of what raising a child would be like. From the first days as a puppy when she made me cry (yes, she made me cry) to her ill-timed barking when I would try to get my infant and toddler sons to sleep, ours hasn't been a puppy dog eyed love story. Yet as she moves into the end of her life (which seems to be stretching much longer than the vet thought almost a year ago), I find myself mellowing and realizing just how much she's wormed her way into my heart.

All Images copyright laurapeterson215 unless otherwise noted

In The Beginning - Puppy Photos

Nala our pet rat terrier puppy
Nala our pet rat terrier puppy

I grew up with a yellow Labrador Retriever, my husband's family had a chihuahua terrier mix that had been abused. He was used to a cantankerous, fickle dog (she had good reason to be cranky and nervous). I was used to a happy-go-lucky dog that fell over backwards to make you happy. Very different temperaments.

I really can't tell you the process we went through choosing a dog of our own, because there really wasn't one. What it came down to, was my husband's aunt, who volunteered at the Humane Society, suggesting we might like Rat Terriers. I believe her words were that rat terriers aren't as hyper as Jack Russell Terriers. Hmmm. In hindsight we could have been much more selective.

We found her on a farm. She had several siblings but was the only one with a brown face. If memory serves, she was also a bit more reserved than her siblings, seeming quiet and calm. In retrospect, I believe that what we took for calm was actually nervousness. She was and always has been a skittish dog, needing to feel comfortable before letting her true nature out. (Funny, both my kids are a bit like that, and my husband as well. Interesting.)

We brought her home, all two pounds of her. And she really was adorably cute.

I wasn't prepared for puppyhood. I was only four years old when my family brought home our lab, so I didn't remember the trials of a young dog. The first night she cried most of the night in her crate. The next night, we put my husband's sweatshirt in with her and she slept all night long. We thought we were brilliant pet owners! Eventually she started sleeping with us, until we realized she thought she was the alpha dog. From then until quite recently, she slept in her kennel. Only in the last month or so has she come back into our bed, mainly because she wakes at odd, wee hours of the morning or night and barks until she's let out of her kennel. For the sake of better sleep, we've moved her back to our bed.

True to her breed, she loves to burrow under covers and blankets. If there is a blanket on the couch, she's under it (as long as we are sitting there with her). If we're in bed reading, she's often under the covers resting against our legs or feet. She does like her comfort.

Puppy Antics

Nala with me
Nala with me

I mentioned she made me cry as a puppy. Mostly because I couldn't catch her! I worked near our home and would come home for lunch, which meant I could let her out for a spell. When it came time to put her back in her kennel, she never wanted to go. And she was fast and wiley. She'd tuck her little behind down and tear around the house while I tried to get her. And she'd hide under our bed. Smack in the middle where I couldn't get her. Smart, this dog is! All leading to a frustrated mama owner.

She also made me laugh. Being such a small dog (she's about eleven pounds fully grown), it was pretty funny to watch her navigate the stairs in our house. When she was first learning, she would try to put her front paws on the step below her but couldn't manage to get her back feet down too. Often, her back end would tip over and she'd tumble down in a heap if we didn't catch her. It didn't take too long for her to grow enough to manage but it did bring quite a bit of laughter in the early days (to help balance out the crazy making).

Great Puppy Accessories - You don't need a lot, but you will need some things

Petmate Kennel Cab Intm Moss Bank Coffee Grnds S
Petmate Kennel Cab Intm Moss Bank Coffee Grnds S

This is the type of kennel we use. We had a smaller one when Nala was first a puppy and then she outgrew that one so we got a slightly larger one. Make sure it's not too big for your dog. They like it to be "den" like. Cozy and comfy with enough room to turn around, but not so much room to get lost. And when they are new to you, wear an article of clothing, then put it in with them. It will help them to smell you near even when you aren't physically close.

 
Flexi Freedom Soft Grip Retractable Cord Dog Leash, Small, 16-Feet Long, Supports up to 26-Pound, Black
Flexi Freedom Soft Grip Retractable Cord Dog Leash, Small, 16-Feet Long, Supports up to 26-Pound, Black

We have used several leashes. The retractable leash was great when we wanted to let her explore more and have a little more room away from us (and not pull as much, pre easy walk harness). Most of the time now we use a very basic 6 foot leash.

 
PetSafe Gentle Leader Head Collar with Training DVD, LARGE 60-130 LBS., BLACK
PetSafe Gentle Leader Head Collar with Training DVD, LARGE 60-130 LBS., BLACK

We tried the gentle leader before the easy walk harness. This headcollar helps avoid pulling and jumping behaviors. Only problem for us was as soon as we put it on Nala, she would lie down in shame. And wouldn't get up. She always seemed so depressed when she wore it! (It was a bit amusing though...and sometimes if we needed her to be calm at home (or if we needed a good laugh), we'd put it on her.)

 
Stewart Freeze Dried Treats 21 oz. Beef Liver
Stewart Freeze Dried Treats 21 oz. Beef Liver

I'm a bit of a health nut and I continued that with the type of food and treats we'd buy for Nala. She LOVES freeze dried liver treats. One of the best training tools for her ever. I love that they don't have additives or chemicals or by-products. A win win.

 

Does your pet drive you crazy or bring you only love? - Here's your chance to brag all about your love (or vent about the animal you love but makes you insane)

Isn't she cute?
Isn't she cute?

Does your pet bring only love? Or is your relationship a little more...challenging?

See results

How can you decide what type of dog you should get? - And how old should a puppy be before leaving mom?

Here are some resources to make the decision easier

Training Our Dog, Training Ourselves

Nala, the Conquerer
Nala, the Conquerer

After a few weeks, we began puppy training classes. We chose the clicker method of training. She was the smallest dog in the class, sharing the space with two great danes and several labs and golden retrievers. But she held her own. And she did begin to learn.

What I have learned about dog training, from the clicker training and Bark Busters training we tried more recently, is it's largely about the trainer (you) and less about the trainee (the dog). As a dog owner, you have to be willing to use the training, ensure that you can continue to use it any time you need to reinforce behaviors or learn new behaviors, and feel good about using it.

We haven't been the best at learning how to train Nala. She is incredibly smart, but chooses when she is willing to work with us. Food serves as her favorite reward with praise and attention coming very low on the list. It's kind of funny to watch her now. There are times when we praise and give her attention and she wants nothing to do with it. Love and attention are tolerated, on her terms only. She's not a snuggly dog.

I don't know if this is true for all terriers or just ours. But keep this in mind if you're in the market for a new dog. Do you want a dog that eats up all the attention you care to lavish on it? Or one with a bit more aloofness, that will allow petting when it is chooses?

Please don't think that Nala never wants to be touched. She is actually a cuddler when we are sitting quietly on the bed or couch. She loves to be touching us, laying against our legs or putting her head on our lap. And in those times, she's perfectly happy to allow us to pet her. Until she's done with it. Then she moves away. Her terms.

Training Devices - What will you actually use?

Big Button Pet Dog Cat Training Clickers, click with wrist bands - 4 Pack, by Downtown Pet Supply
Big Button Pet Dog Cat Training Clickers, click with wrist bands - 4 Pack, by Downtown Pet Supply

Wow have things changed! When we were first introduced to clicker training, our trainer gave us a clicker and it looked nothing like these! Very basic and boring. I would get one of these now because of the wrist band. Much easier to keep it around the wrist than try to find it when you need it at home!

 
Karen Pryor, Getting Started: Clicker Training for Dogs
Karen Pryor, Getting Started: Clicker Training for Dogs

This is the most popular book on clicker training on amazon. If you're trying to train your dog alone, without going to classes and you want to investigate the clicker method, this one comes highly recommended.

 

Life With A Terrier - Ratties can be fun

One of Nala's favorite perches, on the couch cushions.  We tried to keep her off the couch.  She was just more persistent in her efforts to get up there once she was big enough.
One of Nala's favorite perches, on the couch cushions. We tried to keep her off the couch. She was just more persistent in her efforts to get up there once she was big enough.

We were very fortunate that Nala has never been a chewer. At least of shoes or furniture. But chew toys are another story. We haven't bought a stuffed chew toy in years because all she did was hunt for the squeaker and tear it out. And thus destroy the toy. Very quickly. Made the buying of toys not so fun. Kong rubber toys worked much better, she couldn't destroy them. And she does love her bones.

Once we had kids we were in for a new surprise. Apparently their toys were on her menu of chewable items. Not all their toys thankfully. But mouth sized small ones have been up for grabs. She's chewed legos, small figures, larger figures and her favorite thing to chew and eat is crayons. Yep, crayons. We know she's been there when we find a pile of crayon remnants. And then it does make back yard clean up a little easier when we can spot little bits of color here and there...

As for the kids themselves, she tolerates them. She has grown more accepting of them over time. At first, she seemed confused and surprised by our oldest when we brought him home from the hospital. His cries disconcerted her. As he grew and then as we added another boy, she's resigned herself to the fact that they aren't leaving. Ever. And she's less apt to snap at them these days. She's never bitten them but she does warn them if they are bothering her (which is often).

She has however discovered one of the best perks of children being in the house. Since their hands tend to reach closer to mouth height, she will grab food from them. Not a desirable behavior, we know. And she is also quick to pounce on unattended plates or bowls of food. It took about seven years or so before she discovered she was capable of jumping up on our coffee table. The incentive? The buffet of food of course. She knows she's not supposed to be on the table and there are times when she jumps up on the kitchen table (using a chair that hasn't been pushed in) and sometimes, she can't get down on her own. The look on her face is priceless. She sheepishly waits for someone to help her get down, fully aware of her transgression. But also fully aware she'd do it again in a heartbeat. If it weren't for the food she's able to thieve away, I don't think she'd be quite as willing to share her home with the little ones in our family.

Everyone Alseep But Me

Everyone asleep...the dog in the middle of them all
Everyone asleep...the dog in the middle of them all

Nala Hates Things On Her Head - It makes her seriously depressed.

Pet pictures are the best...
Pet pictures are the best...

I have another picture from the same day as this, only she's lying down on the ground, head between her paws. You can just tell she feels humiliated. We're pretty sure she's saying she hates us with her eyes. Is it wrong that it amuses us so?

Do you make up stuff your pet would say if it could talk?

We do all the time. We look at her and put the words to her expressions (and her ears are extremely expressive). From, "You guys are idiots" to "Really. You aren't feeding me first?" it's a little game we like to play. Do you do it too or are we the only strange ones?

Do you put words in your pet's mouth?

See results

More Nala! - She's just so cute I had to share a few more

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Seems that my husband is in the pictures more often than I am.  Same with pictures of the kids.  Guess we know who the photographer is in the family!  Isn't she cute?Ok, so she does love to cuddle.  When she's sleepy.Finally, a shot with me!  Check out her tongue!Once again with daddy.  Such a stately pose for her.I love that face.  Her breath used to smell curiously like cheerios when she was a wee pup.I think she knows how cute she is.  And I'm pretty sure her ears can tune in to radio stations.When she was young, her gums had a habit of sticking to her teeth making her look ferocious.  And the ears...I think she looks a bit like a mule deer in this shot.Notice the crossed paws.  She's so ladylike.  Until recently, she always would cross her paws whether we were holding her in our arms or she was sitting on our lap.  Or near us.  Such a lady.This is Nala the day I published this lens.  More white in the muzzle, but otherwise, not showing the signs of her age.  Still alert.Yes, I know.  Not the dog.  But I had to include a shot of our first pet as a married couple.  Meet Hugo.  The Hamster.  Named after a particularly great busboy on our honeymoon cruise (I know, right?).  We gave him to our neighbors when we moved fro
Seems that my husband is in the pictures more often than I am.  Same with pictures of the kids.  Guess we know who the photographer is in the family!  Isn't she cute?
Seems that my husband is in the pictures more often than I am. Same with pictures of the kids. Guess we know who the photographer is in the family! Isn't she cute?
Ok, so she does love to cuddle.  When she's sleepy.
Ok, so she does love to cuddle. When she's sleepy.
Finally, a shot with me!  Check out her tongue!
Finally, a shot with me! Check out her tongue!
Once again with daddy.  Such a stately pose for her.
Once again with daddy. Such a stately pose for her.
I love that face.  Her breath used to smell curiously like cheerios when she was a wee pup.
I love that face. Her breath used to smell curiously like cheerios when she was a wee pup.
I think she knows how cute she is.  And I'm pretty sure her ears can tune in to radio stations.
I think she knows how cute she is. And I'm pretty sure her ears can tune in to radio stations.
When she was young, her gums had a habit of sticking to her teeth making her look ferocious.  And the ears...I think she looks a bit like a mule deer in this shot.
When she was young, her gums had a habit of sticking to her teeth making her look ferocious. And the ears...I think she looks a bit like a mule deer in this shot.
Notice the crossed paws.  She's so ladylike.  Until recently, she always would cross her paws whether we were holding her in our arms or she was sitting on our lap.  Or near us.  Such a lady.
Notice the crossed paws. She's so ladylike. Until recently, she always would cross her paws whether we were holding her in our arms or she was sitting on our lap. Or near us. Such a lady.
This is Nala the day I published this lens.  More white in the muzzle, but otherwise, not showing the signs of her age.  Still alert.
This is Nala the day I published this lens. More white in the muzzle, but otherwise, not showing the signs of her age. Still alert.
Yes, I know.  Not the dog.  But I had to include a shot of our first pet as a married couple.  Meet Hugo.  The Hamster.  Named after a particularly great busboy on our honeymoon cruise (I know, right?).  We gave him to our neighbors when we moved fro
Yes, I know. Not the dog. But I had to include a shot of our first pet as a married couple. Meet Hugo. The Hamster. Named after a particularly great busboy on our honeymoon cruise (I know, right?). We gave him to our neighbors when we moved fro

The Home Stretch - Her last days

She loves to lie around...
She loves to lie around...

I mentioned earlier that ours has been a relationship colored with frustration and misunderstanding. I was used to a different type of dog, with a different personality. Next time around, I'd like a dog that my kids can really play with, that they can love and appreciate and not worry about being quite so cautious of her fragility (she has tiny little legs and a bum knee). I'd like a dog that's more affectionate and more, well, interested in us.

That being said, we've come a long way, she and I. She's rounding the corner on the end of her life. One morning, a little over a year ago, I let her out in our backyard and she didn't come in. She sat down on our hill and stared at the house for quite a while. When it was time for me to take my youngest to preschool, I called her in and she didn't come. Not seeing her in the yard, I went out to find her and when I finally did, she was sitting in a pile of leaves, shaking. She's a shaky dog in general, always has been. But sitting in a pile of leaves was new. I was pretty sure she had gone out to die.

I started to cry as I petted her head and let her know I loved her. Tearfully, I left our back door open a crack so she could get in if she wanted. I worried what I would find when I came back home.

When I arrived, she was inside and seemed perfectly normal. Maybe she just liked the softness of the leaves. Maybe she saw my tears and decided it wasn't time to go. I don't know. But that day I realized just how much I love her.

Since then, we have noticed a tumor in her mouth. When we took her to the vet, we decided together that we wouldn't try to determine whether the tumor was benign or malignant since it wouldn't change our plans and it would mean putting her under anesthesia. Due to that and a lump in her neck at the time, the vet seemed to think her time left with us was short. While he didn't give a specific time frame, he did seem to think it would be short term, not long term.

And here it is, eleven months later and she's giving no signs of giving up. But we do see that she's slowed down. She sleeps a lot more. She seems to be losing her hearing. She has cataracts on her eyes and her teeth are starting to fall out.

She's an old girl and she's mellowed with age. Though she still barks incessantly when we eat or she wants to go out, still is outraged when we don't immediately fill her needs. She still can run around the house crazy when she's had a bath. And she still jumps up to eat the kids' food.

We have learned some things about life and death as her time with us comes closer to an end. We're not interested in artificially prolonging her life. We're not interested in heroic efforts to remove a tumor, to rid her of cancer (if that is in fact what she has). While we certainly don't want her to be in pain, we also know she's lived a long and full life. When she's ready, she's ready and we will try to make her comfortable and usher her gently to her final sleep.

In the end, I've come to see how much I love her and that there will be a hole in our hearts when she's gone. It will be harder on my older son. The little one wishes she weren't around so she wouldn't steal his food (particularly when she steals dessert!). We welcome that it's part of the process of life. For the time being, I'm a little more attentive, more loving, more likely to tell her I love her. I don't know that it makes a difference to her, but it does to me. She is after all, our Shmoopers.

Tell me about your pets! - Have you been witness to the end stages of life for an animal?

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    • Laurabpeterson profile image
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      Laurabpeterson 3 years ago

      @merrysea: Awww...thank you! I'm learning more and more about this pup of ours as she still hangs in here with us. An affection hog she is not at all! I'm learning (after 14 years!!!) to approach her on her terms and love her for the dog she is, not the dog I wanted her to be. I will be sad when she's gone, I do love her. So much learning from these critters we surround ourselves with...

    • merrysea profile image

      merrysea 3 years ago

      Loved your lens and your Nala. I just lost my little Rattie, Sonny, a few months ago and wrote about it on my lens (Rat Terrier Life Span). He went into a coma the day we were picking him up from the kennel and never recovered. It really broke my heart because he was my boy. Our two cats miss him terribly, especially the stray that I took in because she fell in love with Sonny on our walks. I noticed a few traits in common with your Nala (especially the obsession with food) but Sonny was an attention and affection hog. He was never happier than when you were doting on him, rubbing his tummy or kissing him. Hopefully your time with Nala is long and happy and when her time comes, just let her know how much you love her. It's all we can do until we meet again on the rainbow bridge.

    • Ben Reed profile image

      Ben Reed 4 years ago from Redcar

      A wonderful lens. We have been there at the passing of a few pet dogs now (comes with being an animal lover and dog owner for the last 40 years unfortunately. Each time we swear never to put ourselves through it again...but then as time passes, we find that they leave a gaping hole in our lives and we eventually take on a new pet - just as loved and just as wonderful.

    • Brandi Bush profile image

      Brandi 4 years ago from Maryland

      What a sweet lens...and I love all the photos of Nala (and the hamster!) Sounds like you've given her a loving home and a good life. :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      What a feisty gal. Enjoyed getting to know her!

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 4 years ago

      Such a moving story. Sometimes I think we end up loving the 'challenging' dogs even more than the easy, engaged, attentive ones... I've only known one rat terrier, but those ears always made me laugh - and that's a good thing. Your little Nala is adorable.