In The Home Stretch - My Rat Terrier's Life In Pictures
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.)
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)
Does your pet bring only love? Or is your relationship a little more...challenging?
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
- Animal Breed Selector
This is a great dog breed selector tool. It asks questions about what type of temperament you are looking for, how much time you can devote to exercise, how much grooming you want to do and more. When I took it, my breed match was the Pembroke Welsh
- How to choose a dog
This link, from Animal Planet goes into more detail on various aspects, from choosing a puppy to an adult dog, choosing a mixed breed or purebred, and even buying from a breeder or shelter. Highly valuable information if you're looking for a dog and
- Tips on adopting a puppy
This article has some great tips and includes information about dog development. We got Nala MUCH too young. She was only 5 weeks old and had we known better, we would have found a breeder that didn't let the puppies go until perhaps 10 weeks or ol
Training Our Dog, Training Ourselves
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?
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!
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
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
Nala Hates Things On Her Head - It makes her seriously depressed.
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?
More Nala! - She's just so cute I had to share a few moreClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Home Stretch - Her last days
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.