Dozer was born nuts.
Not the scary serial killer nuts a la Silence of the Lambs, but the harmless goofy nuts a la Benny and Joon.
Dozer is obsessive-compulsive and anxious. He loves his toy (usually a ball, sometimes a disc). He loves his house. When he has these things, he is the happiest dog alive.
But when he loses either of those things, he starts whining and pacing, and his brain basically shuts off. He is essentially nonresponsive to the environment. His response to training commands slows to a trickle.
It's not that he becomes out of control, because there's really nothing about him that needs controlling. He turns on a very whiny autopilot. He'll go on a walk, but he won't notice the squirrels dancing a jig in front of him or the stray cat peeing on his leg. He won't "sit" without a sharp push on the behind. He just sort of goes into a trance where I guess he might be imagining himself back at home.
This is one of the reasons why loose leash training has never been successful for him. He simply isn't "there." I use a no-pull harness to make walking easier. (I should add that I can definitely walk him on his regular collar if need be. He is so sad that even the pulling is rather wimpy.)
This has been the way of things with Dozer since his early years. He had all the advantages his "sister" Felanie did, including puppy socialization class, obedience classes, and agility classes. Both dogs lived under the same house rules and expectations. Felanie turned into a fine dog without any social anxiety or obsessive behavior.
At first, Dozer did fine, too, though there were some hints that Dozer was not quite normal, even during early years.
During his puppy socialization class, Dozer ignored the other dogs, favoring a tennis ball above all else. When the other puppies started to play-fight, Dozer stood between them (he was the biggest puppy there), chewing on his ball and whining. The instructor called Dozer "The Peacemaker" because it bothered Dozer so much to see other dogs fight, even in play; he would always try to stand in the middle in order to break it up.
When we took Dozer to a very reputable professional trainer because he was so obsessed about his toy ball, the trainer suggested that we put him in a room and dump dozens of tennis balls in there. The idea was to make the balls so common that Dozer would have no reason to worry about where they all were. We tried this idea. Let's just say that that was the happiest day of Dozer's life--and he's still obsessed with toy balls.
The older Dozer got, the less he enjoyed leaving the house. He still likes car rides--as long as they're short, and he can hang his head out the window (which means only in the immediate neighborhood, since I don't allow dog heads out the window over 35 mph).
My husband has panic attacks when he goes out in public. This has only recently been controlled with medication. Byrd feels a bit guilty about Dozer as a result. "I gave him this," he says, as if social anxiety is some sort of contagious disease.
So here's where I get stuck in my thoughts. Some people, like my husband, think that Dozer needs "help." We have a trainer coming over to meet Dozer this weekend, to see what can be done. But can training really "fix" an issue that seems, to me, to be the result of faulty wiring? I'm all for training when it can alter behavior. But I also realize there are some cases where genetics has had the last laugh (this is where responsible management, rather than training, comes in).
I wonder if Dozer's problems haven't been a bit too humanized at this point. Why, exactly, does Dozer really need to learn to enjoy being out in public? People have to overcome social anxiety in order to function and live normal lives. They must be able to go to work, to the grocery store, and so forth.
Dozer is a dog. He can stay home all day and play in the yard with his ball whenever he wants. And if he's perfectly happy doing that, why do people think that he needs "help," or that his anxiety is a "problem"?
I can understand why Byrd keeps pushing for us to "help" Dozer--because he feels guilty and partially responsible for Dozer being this way, and because he can really empathize with the anxiety Dozer feels in public. He sees Dozer as a furry version of himself, and because Byrd sought help and feels better as a result, he wants Dozer to get help as well.
But I don't see it the same. I see Dozer as a senior dog who just wants to enjoy life from the comfort of his home. As long as we don't force him to go anywhere (and it's not like we really need to), he's quite happy, loving, and healthy. And no, he's not overprotective of our house. He actually loves visitors to our house, no matter who they are, especially if they play fetch with him.
So can Dozer be "helped"? Or more to the point, does he really need to be "helped"? I am tempted to choose the negative response to both questions.