Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pit Bulls in the 41st Millenium?

Rather than talking about my Angels of Absolution I want to take a moment to discuss pets and gaming.

Nerd Night takes place every Monday at my cozy 2 bedroom apartment. I am set up to accommodate three 4'x6' tables in my living and dining room by pushing the couch out of the way. I'm sure if we ever had an increase in turnout I could fit a fourth table in the living room and there's always room for a game in the kitchen! If you haven't guessed, I take gaming seriously and love hosting. One of the hurdles I've had to conquer in the last year and a half was the addition of a stray American Pit Bull Terrier to my home - and then a second one a year later.

My first addition was Ian. Ian is a lovable scamp who had an obsession with hand nibbling and jumping up. He's also the nosiest little guy you'd ever meet. He will root through your bags, he'll sniff at your miniatures, and he'll steal the gloves out of your pockets. If he can get at it or stick his nose in it - he will. So the first challenge was dealing with this behavior. When I got him he was only 7 months and I was living in a 1 bedroom apartment so he was non-stop energy. I followed the recommendations of getting him toys that would keep him busy like putting peanut butter in a Kong, but he'd finish the peanut butter in seconds, rampage through people's stuff some more, and then proceed to eat large chunks out of the Kong toy that he wasn't supposed to be able to destroy. Putting him in the bedroom he'd scratch at the door which isn't a great option in any circumstances but its even worse when one of your gamers is also your landlord! I'd put him in the crate sometimes but he'd whine, cry, bark, and rattle the cage. They say that if you ignore a dog they will learn that their behaviour is failing to get the desired result and they'll stop but Pit Bulls are known for their tenacity, and Ian just wouldn't quit. Eventually we learned that if we put everything up out of his reach and we concentrated on each other, he'd usually curl up on the couch with a Nylabone and alternate between chewing and sleeping. Success!

In June of this year though, I found another stray Pit. He had no tags, no collar, and no chip and I live in the kind of neighborhood where a Pit Bull is a status symbol and a bargaining chip that is used for protection, for fighting, or for a quick $300. In Chicago there is a no adoption policy on Pits that go to animal control so my options were to take him to a rescue, find a home for him myself, or take him in. After a month of trying to find him a home I decided it was wrong to uproot him again and I kept him. Now Harley isn't well adjusted like Ian. Harley seems to have had a rough life so far and he's afraid of everything - strangers, animals, loud noises, everything. When the Nerd Night Crew first came over his tail would go between his legs and sometimes he'd just look at people and give a low growl. A couple of people asked me to lock him up while we were gaming. I went out and bought two gates so I could make a fence to my kitchen 5' high, as these guys can easily clear a single gate.
Unfortunately, there were several problems to this approach. To keep Harley company and to keep Ian out of people's crap I put him behind the gate too. This, of course, drove Ian crazy. He's a very social dog and he loves being around people. He'd whine and cry. He'd shove his feet and nose as far under the gate as possible so he'd look as pitiful as possible while getting as close as he could to the action. When he'd get bored of this he'd bark, howl, push on the gates, and on 1 or 2 occasions he even knocked the lower gate down. He just wanted to be where everyone was that badly. On the other hand, I found that my troubled new Pit Bull was only having his anti-social behaviour reinforced. He'd bark at everyone from behind the gate - whether he knew and trusted them or they were a stranger. He'd be territorial. He was angry and unhappy so he'd reach a point where he'd just bark - without stopping. The Apocalypse game day we had in November was the turning point. After being behind bars for 6 hours (not including the mid game walk) he just started barking as loud as he could, and he did it for the full remaining hour and half we played for. At the next Nerd Night after that, he started with the mega-barking as soon as the gate went up and I walked away. I decided the gate wasn't working.

The anguish here comes from balancing the comfort of my guests and the comfort of my family - who just happen to be two American Pit Bull Terriers. Exacerbating Harley's anti-social tendencies is the last thing I wanted to do and that's exactly what I felt like I was doing. Over the last 6 months I found that once Harley became comfortable around someone the tail went up, the growling stopped, and he's just happy to be around "the pack" and hang out. That isn't to say that my guests shouldn't exercise caution, and if Scott ever brought his son over, Harley would go straight into my bedroom, but otherwise I feel that the best place for the dogs to be is by me and part of the crew. Harley needs to be socialized and he can't be socialized from behind a fence.

Last Nerd Night I found we had a distinct lack of hooks for coats etc so the dogs were back rummaging through people's stuff, so my first order of business was adding another 4 hooks. I'm also clearing shelf space so people have an easier time putting their stuff up high. Expect more renovations in the future to make our gaming as comfortable as possible - for man and beast.

Our pets are part of our families and they feel just the same as we do. The key is finding the best compromise so that we can all co-exist and be happy while we game. Thanks to the Nerd Night Crew for their patience and understanding while I've fumbled my way through trying to find that balance and coming back week after week regardless. It is most appreciated.


RonSaikowski said...

Good job on balancing family and hobby.

I know both sides appreciate the effort, even if the ones on four legs can't express it as well as those on two legs.

I'm very lucky that it only takes a little while for my dog to adjust.

Scott said...

I know we don;t say it enough Nick, but thanks for hosting every week. It's really so nice to have a place to play with like-minded people.

I have noticed that the dogs ae way more chill lately. I think they both slept thought Monday's game.I find that if I ignore them, they ignore me.

I also appreciate you thinking of Max. Clare has already told me several times that she'd afraid of Max being around pit bulls!

Anyway, thanks again.

Ed Youngstrom said...

Hi, just dropping by. Interesting blog.

I love dogs, and have had several English Bulldogs, including a couple "problem" ones.

If I may make a suggestion: leash your boy. Keep him next to you during a game, and discipline (note: not beat or choke, not that I am implying you would) him whenever he acts wrong. Do that for a few outings, then have him sit next to you without the leash.

It has been my experience with dogs that they are social, but need to understand who's the boss.

Anyway, I look forward to watching your site, both for the 40K stuff AND the dog!