Tonto came into our lives in January 2013. He was nine months old and accompanied by his brother Ridley. The foster mom asked me which one I wanted. Two sets of big eyes and wagging tails tugged at my heart. I felt like King Solomon. How could I judge which dog belonged to me?
Of Labrador and German shepherd parents, the two dogs looked and acted differently. Tonto was more Lab. He was golden coated with a German shepherd tail and coarse hair. And he was shy. “Good,” I thought, “he won’t be obnoxious with guests.” His brother was a smaller version of Rin Tin Tin, my childhood obsession. And he was friendly, too friendly, and a little hyper.
I stood to the side and watched them check out the yard, deposit their “gifts,” and chase each other. Then Tonto came to me with a wagging tail. “He chose you,” the foster mom said. How could I possibly turn down such blind adoration? While we were signing the papers, Ridley nuzzled his way into my hand, and I had a brief moment of indecision. But the die was cast, and the foster mother drove off with Ridley in his crate.
Like most marriages, the honeymoon was brief. Tonto and I bonded quickly, but the story was different with my husband Tom. A pattern soon developed. In the morning Tonto was friendly with Tom…until he got dressed. Then Tonto would back up and bark at him. We discovered that our new dog was afraid of men’s shoes. Tonto would not even approach me if I put on a pair of hard-soled wingtips. Maybe it was the clumping way I tottered in Tom’s shoes.
We came to the conclusion that Tonto had been kicked or severely punished for chewing shoes, and our campaign for behavior change began. I suggested that Tom stay in his pajamas during the day, but surprise, that idea was vetoed. The trainer said to put a pair of Tom’s shoes in the family room and fill them with treats, but Tonto wouldn’t then venture out of the kitchen. I tried spraying him with water when he barked. That worked some, but where was the water bottle most of the time? Our older minds could hardly keep track of car keys let alone a sprayer. The trainer suggested Prozac. Was it for me or the dog?
We’ve had Tonto for a few months now, and the barking-at-shoes dilemma has not been solved. Friends at the dog park have many recommendations, and we’re trying them all–except the one to give Tonto back to the rescue home. The soulful eyes, the silky ears, and the bounding-because I’m glad-to-see-you behavior overrides any repercussions from the trauma Tonto experienced before he came into our home. Tom frequently goes barefoot, and I’m constantly misplacing the spray bottle. We decided that PTSD really means “Present Tonto Seems Divine.”