A lot of people, family included, wonder why Joe and I took on a former bait dog with people aggression. If I’m honest, sometimes I wonder about that too. I think part of it is the challenge for me as a trainer. When you take a dog like Smokey or Panzer, and you put the time in and create a wonderful, loving, calm dog, it’s very satisfying. I remember watching Smokey play with both of our puppies and thinking, “Well, that’s just a miracle, it just is.” And seeing Panzer curled up on my friend’s lap is the same way. It’s like when you’ve had a long, exhausting day of work, but you got a lot done. You’re tired and beat up and could use a drink, but you feel this wonderful sense of pride and accomplishment. That’s what we get from Panzer that’s different from any other dog.
Most of why we ended up with Panzer is because we felt sorry for him and wanted to help. Some of why we ended up with Panzer is because he is just a really cool dog underneath the fear, and we could see that. Although, we had no idea he would turn out to be as wonderful and loving as he has, at least to us. We hope he’ll get around to being that way with other people eventually too, but I guess if he doesn’t that doesn’t change much.
Because Panzer can’t share with everyone how special he is, I want to share with you the Panzer we know, who is very different than the Panzer who may have tried to eat your face in the past.
Every night after we’ve taken the dogs out for the final time, we lock the door, shut off the lights and say to Panzer and Shelby, “Night night.” That’s their cue to run up the steps and jump on the bed. This behavior wasn’t purposely trained. It just exists through hundreds of repetitions and has existed since before either Panzer or Shelby were part of our lives.
We follow them upstairs, and I get into my night clothes. Joe takes a shower, and I take my jewelry off and lie on the bed with a dog on each side. I roll over to face one and give him or her a massage and scratch and soft words, then I roll over to the other. Joe comes in and the dogs jump off the bed while I make it. Once Joe and I are settled, we cue the dogs to “hup up.” Shelby lies at the bottom of the bed, using my ankles as a headrest. Panzer does something different.
Panzer sleeps in between us. He puts his head on my pillow and his left paw under my left hand which rests on the pillow. I wrap my right hand around his chest which is filling out, and he heaves a deep, contented sigh into the pillow. His whole body presses against mine, and when I open my eyes, his black ears melt against Joe’s silhouette in the darkness. But for his light breathing and warmth, I wouldn’t even know he was there.
His breathing is different from Shelby’s as well. Shelby’s breathing (possibly because she sleeps with her head elevated on my feet) is louder and quicker, more dog-like. Panzer’s breathing is deeper and slower, so I can match mine to his, which I often do. He sleeps soundly, unlikely Smokey, who was plagued with nightmares which decreased in frequency over time but never fully abated. At night, like this, Panzer seems like a dog completely at peace.
Every night I get excited for our evening ritual. Many nights, I’ll stay up and just listen to my ex-bait dog breathe. There’s an innocence in his desire to be close to us, especially knowing how wronged he was by our species. I am grateful to have him and willing to atone for the acts of others. Normally, his rhythmic breathing puts me to sleep quickly, but last night, I just laid there and contemplated the vastness of the moment.
One day all too soon, Panzer will be gone, and I will need to remember these moments to ease his passing. I lay awake and tried to capture everything – the stillness of the room, Shelby’s light weight on my ankles, Panzer’s warmth, the coarseness of his fur beneath my fingers, the velvet tip of his ear tickling my cheek, the wetness of his breath on my fingertips. I want to remember too, where he came from. I want to remember the confusion, the fear, the bursts of rage and the trauma. Because I know one day he will be different, and when he is, this moment of peace won’t be quite as special, because it will only be one among the many instead of one among the few.
I thought about how far he’d come and how far he’d yet to go, but I focused on the now. Then I kissed his forehead and whispered, “I love you dizzy dog,” and drifted off to sleep.