Ask Tom, the Dogcharmer: Mesa

Anna Morin and Mesa. - Anna Morin

Dear Dogcharmer,

I am writing to you today about my pup Mesa. She is about 5 years old, 40 pounds, and very sweet. I found her at a gas station on a Navajo reservation when she was very young, emancipated and covered in fleas and ear mites. The locals said I could save her, and I promptly brought her home to the vet and training. Now she is a smart, loving, but quirky dog.

The main quirk is her refusal to leave the house for a walk with just me. She much prefers to go for a walk with me and one other person. She even hides behind the second person and herds them to the door to let them know they have to come on the walk. Once we have our “pack,” she loves the walk, she smiles, jumps and runs around. If I can’t find somebody to go for a walk with us, it’s futile to try and get her to go for a walk. She rolls over, belly up, and refuses to move. I’ve tried picking her up and carrying her down the street, and she will begin to shake, I assume with fear. Yummy treats, calming voices, and encouragement do little to motivate her. The only direction she will go is back to the front door.

Sometimes I can get around her homebody habit or pack-dog instincts if we get into the car and drive somewhere before our walk. But on busy summer mornings I opt to let her outside on her own for a while. She stays close to the house and returns after she has done her business. Any advice on getting her out the door and on a walk with just me?

Thank you,


Dear Anna,

When it’s dog-related, I rarely see or hear something I haven’t seen or heard 100 times, but your question has a new twist. I remember the family where the collie named Duke would only go out with the 17-year-old boy, until one day, legs splayed out, digging in, the dog refused to be dragged out the door, but walked out happily with the 14-year-old sister. That lasted a few weeks till the girl was out of favor and Duke would only go out with Mom. That’s when I got called. I remember suggesting that they change Duke’s name to Schemer or Manny (for manipulative).

I’ll probably always have good memories of Bunchy the Doberman and Paco the Lab. Bunchy moved with his family from a rural farm in Arkansas, the only environment he ever knew, to midtown Manhattan, and was so freaked out by the unfamiliar, dissimilar habitat that he became fearfully aggressive when they tried to get him out. Paco was a Lab who lived in Greenwich Village with his owner, a sweet dog who got his feet burned when some jerk spilled something acidic in front of his building. When I crossed the lobby and got near the doors to the street, Paco screamed so loud that I feared for my own life, thinking some “good Samaritan” was going to attack me to save the dog. Filet mignon and drugs couldn’t get these dogs to the elevator, let alone outside. Patience would have worked — if you had a decade.

What worked was “force.” By that I don’t mean dragging them kicking and screaming through the lobby and doors. I ended up carrying Bunchy with the doors being held open while I backed out onto the sidewalk, backed out because I didn’t want Bunchy looking at our direction, and got about a half a block before I put him down. Bunchy weighed about 85 lbs. I muzzled him, which I removed when I put him down. He wasn’t fed that morning, or the previous night. I wanted him hungry as I coaxed him forward with chicken and lifted him slightly by the leash to the harness, which got his back legs moving when he froze. We were out for close to two hours, walking, hanging out, acclimating to the noise and smells of NYC, with lots of chicken. When we got back to the building, as soon as we entered the lobby, I turned around and walked out again with Bunchy. Then I had the owners do it several times, until we were going up to the apartment, turning around and exiting the building. After this successful experience, I basically did the same thing with Paco.

Anna, dogs are pack animals, and are happiest when the whole pack is together. But from your letter, I’m of the impression that it’s not about needing “family” to accompany you and Mesa, it can be anybody, just as long as there’s more than one person. That’s the new twist! I don’t ever remember a dog that was into the number of people who walked with it, as opposed to who walked with it. So here’s what I suggest. No muss, no fuss. Pick her up and and walk out the door. If she shakes, don’t tell her, “It’s OK”; It’s not. Talk to her, tell her in an even voice that she needs to get herself together and enjoy the great outdoors. When she’s not shaking, praise. Go a ways and put her down, and keep her walking with chicken, and lift up on the harness to get her going if necessary. Persevere, and when Mesa realizes that going out with you alone is not optional, she’ll comply. After all, it’s not so bad. She gets to enjoy the great outdoors, sniff for gossip, and it’s the only place she gets people food.

Good luck,

The Dogcharmer

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