Our Crazy Dog Is a Child Whisperer

by Jennifer B. Katz
Originally Published: 

Meet Ginny. My smart, beautiful (seriously, she’s really good-looking), and crazy 21-pound mutt.

One Saturday morning a few years ago I was dozing in bed with her—she was still a little puppy spooning against me. Birds chirped happily outside. Sunlight gently spilled through the curtains. Then … slowly my bedroom door creaked open an inch. My then-boyfriend suddenly burst through, jokingly raising his hand in the air, pretending to hold a knife, doing his best imitation of Anthony Perkins in Psycho.

Ginny jumped up, straddled my neck, faced him head-on and barked ferociously. It was the first time she had ever barked before. She sounded like an adult Doberman. Ginny’s growls subsided once she realized she recognized him.

That’s when the smell hit us. We looked around and there it was: three feet of liquid dog shit sprayed horizontally across the wall.

“You’re fucking cleaning that,” I told him, getting out of bed.

© Jennifer B. Katz

I felt torn about the incident. On the one hand, I was proud of Ginny, who’d shown some serious guard-dog chops. But she’d also been so clearly alarmed by the “attack” she had literally shit herself. After a few days, I didn’t give it more thought. Ginny already had some quirks, like being shy around people she didn’t know well, but it seemed like a personality trait more than a symptom. Besides, she was smart as hell and loved to learn. After she quickly mastered the basic commands, we taught her how to fetch and play Frisbee like a pro. I taught her roll over, dead dog, and how to climb into a large L.L. Bean tote that initially terrified her (another bizarre trait), so I could take her into stores.

Smarts or not, by the time my daughter, Donny, was born nearly two years later, Ginny had a laundry list of crazy. Dumpsters, canopies and flags terrified her. At dog parks, she never played with her brethren, obsessed with her Frisbee instead.

© Jennifer B. Katz

But far worse: Her years of insecurity had developed into a dominant protectiveness, in the form of barking and lunging when greeting people. She barked at people she knew, like our neighbors, friends, and even me and the family. We could take it. But for new visitors and kids, Ginny was intimidating—and seemed like a total asshole. My partner, David, and I tried working with her on this for years, but no matter what techniques we used, our psycho dog would not submit to the simple command of “Quiet!”

While Ginny continued her campaign of harassment, our daughter, now 5, moved into the pain-in-the-ass-scared-of-monsters-and-the-dark period. Years of easy tuck-ins and peaceful parental nocturnal activities (mainly streaming TV, but the occasional hot shag as well) were shot to shit.

We didn’t know what was going on, but now we had two small beings stressing us out.

“Do you know how Donny’s been asking why she has to sleep alone when the rest of us sleep together … even Ginny?” David said one day. She had a great point—it was an obvious injustice. He exhaled. And then he said something brilliant: “I think we should try having Ginny sleep with her.”

The first night we prepared for a struggle. But when we called Ginny in, she climbed right into her dog bed and rolled up into a comfortable ball. It was like she implicitly understood that protecting Donny was her new job. Donny and Ginny slept through the night without a peep. And so peace returned to us after dark for more than six months.

Until a couple of weeks ago. Minutes after we closed Donny’s door one night, Ginny started to whine. And scratch at the door. And emit high-pitched yelps.

“Mommy! Daddy!” Donny called. “Ginny’s keeping me up.” We sighed.

“We know, sweetheart. Ginny’s just going through some … issues.” Translation: We were fucked. Or more truthfully, just whipped. We were tired, working hard to make ends meet and take care of Donny. We felt completely defeated.

© Jennifer B. Katz

It seemed like we were headed back to a period of exhaustion, until, once again, David had an epiphany. Last night at tuck-in he told Donny, “Honey, if Ginny gets out of her bed tonight and scratches at the door, I want you to firmly tell her to go back to bed and stay.”

“But she won’t do what I say,” Donny said.

I chimed in, “She will if you’re firm.”

“Okayyy,” she agreed, sounding unconvinced.

Minutes later, David and I sat in the living room sipping bourbon, watching Daredevil, nervously waiting for Ginny’s shenanigans to begin. When they did, we leaned into the monitor, holding our breath. And then it came. Donny’s voice, cute but strong.

“Ginny, go to your bed. Go to your bed.” A long pause. “Stay.

And Ginny did.

We’re still not sure what set crazy Ginny off on her latest episode. It’s a roller coaster ride of chaos and comfort with her. In the end, all I can come up with is that she was asking us for something too. Ginny had done such a good job making Donny feel safe—who would’ve guessed she needed Donny to reciprocate?

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