Gaslighting the Shih Tzu

Lee Foote
6 min readApr 19, 2022

I fancy myself to be a biologically based dog trainer that is “canine fluent” in a manner of speaking. I have read the books on canid behavior, did a MSc. degree on the behavior and ecology of small canids (gray foxes) and had a series of consistent, well-behaved Labrador retrievers. They get me, I get them and I am not above growling at my dogs and rolling them on their side while I act like I am biting their ear — a classic dog dominance/disapproval action. We jointly scent mark on woodland walks and with a direct stare and a slight hunch of my shoulders I can make them sit and even lie down. We communicate well verbally and non-verbally. I listen to them too and there are different noises they make for “Gotta poop; water bowl is empty; and the tennis ball escaped under the couch!”. My bias is toward working dogs whose role is clear and expectations are almost contractual. I feed them, help finance the Vet’s Tesla and have Resolve (“Resolve” is capitalized because it is a brand of spot remover). For their end of the bargain, they jump in freezing water in the middle of winter, hold down the carpet in front of the fireplace for 18 hours per day, and when awake, maintain a reign of terror on lawn squirrels. It is only natural that I have similar expectations of other people’s dogs. Not that they be remarkable or spectacular but that they exist within the bounds of civility, do something unobtrusive and interesting, and maintain a certain slobbery decorum.

While I may roll my eyes at Pikapoos with ribbons in their ear tufts and Labradoodles with checkered LL Bean overcoats, I can overlook such appurtenances if the dog is cool and has a fetching personality — poor word choice from a retriever-guy I guess. In retirement we should all be beyond judgement on appearances anyway — I have friends who wear odd clothes and sport funny haircuts, yet I love them. I have known some “useless” dogs like Boston terriers and toy poodles that were delightful and a joy to be around, thus, their utility was tremendous as companionship. Ultimately, it is the relationship between the dog and their human for which I am quietly judgmental. Well, via articles like this, maybe not so quietly.

I was recently a guest in a house owned by a fuzzy asshole. I mean, the dog OWNED the house and ran it like a crack-head Putin. It was a small dog, I call it a Shih Tzu because that moniker is easily abbreviated to a shorter, more accurate name. The incessant barking directed at me, the chair, the wall and the door was unnerving and yet, the owners seems oblivious. In truth, they had just given up because they were unwilling to do anything aversive, diversionary or to incentivize behavior changes beyond monologue: Oh Napoleon (names have been changed to prevent friend-loss) you are such a good boy, what is wrong with our visitor? So, it was MY fault he was being a jerk eh? Maybe I was suspect. Nor was I allowed to respond with my base instinct of stomping his guts out or urging him to springboard off the 6th floor of the condo. I was not even allowed to acknowledge the little hate-mop’s activities either. These people were totally cowed by this 6-pound tyrant. I had to think it was God’s way of telling them they had insufficient adversity in their lives. If anyone deserved triplets with cholic it was them.

Still, there were covert things I could do. Things observable by the dog but invisible to the house humans. For example, producing a low low-pitched grumble in my throat that the dog very well hears but people don’t. This seemed to unnerve the Shit and send him backing up and doing some nervous barking circles. Likewise, a high pitched squeak by sucking air between my teeth would have him doing the RCA Victrola routine of head turning and staring. Small pleasures. My hosts started to think I had a connection with this little quadruped that was best suited for a Korean entrée. I didn’t. I was simply trying to question his stranglehold on the household.

Call me old fashioned but I don’t think dogs should sleep on beds, steal clothing, jump up on kitchen counters or eat off coffee tables. Thus, a dog bone placed on the den coffee table and attached to a table leg by a partially cut rubber band meant a stretchy tug-of-war was inevitable for little Feces-zu. Of course he won, as he always does, but it meant a recoiling rubber band snap to the nose –oops! At least he had a paw in his own undoing.

Walks were yet another thing. Heel? What is that? Walking the Tasmanian Devil dog was akin to flying a model airplane without a rudder. Steerage was impossible but I had the sick pleasure of standing perfectly still and holding one end of a leash while he tied himself around a light pole. His self-inflicted tangles could not be pinned on me, yet, in no time, he learned to stay on my side of the light pole. Uh oh! I hadn’t counted on him actually learning anything. The primary axiom of dog training is “You must be smarter than the dog” I was starting to worry that I too may be falling under his mind-control.

My guest room was small so how could I possibly lose one sock daily for three days? It always turned up in the living room and hairball never fessed up but it was clear, this was game-on! Because he was really keen on the salmon-flavored snacks his human subjects randomly provided, it was my goal to place them in inaccessible spots he could smell. Low drawers, toes of cowboy boots, and under heavy carpets. What I planned as psycho torture though, he countered by seemingly liking the game! I may be dealing with a masochistic dog who has started to love me as his sadistic tormentor! This bastige is sick. sick, meta-sick! I noticed he was quick and efficient with his bidness out in the doggy latrine when the weather was nice but if it was cold, rainy and blowing, he would keep me out there for 15 minutes while he dithered, and inspected every square meter of ground for the perfect place then perform a leisurely squat-gloat at me once I was finally saturated and shivering. To make matters worse, there was that of dangling fecal tootsie roll connected by a . . . rubber band . . . that I had to retrieve from his derriere. He was turning my tricks against me with counter-espionage.

On the last day of my visit I was preparing to go nuclear — pull out the big guns — deal in shock and awe in a most passive aggressive way. This involved some entrapment but was worth it. I would take a small mouse-trap, tape the striker bar with a thumb-thickness of terry cloth leaving a slot in the middle for the wire trigger, bait it with a sliver of salmon treat and leave it on top of my socks on the low table beside my futon. If he chose to do the wrong thing (socks, table eating, my room), justice would be delivered swiftly. and blindly. Not damaging but via surprise. I mean, I used this to teach my labs to stay out of the garbage can and had the confounded thing snap on my thumb while trying to set it and though it made me cuss, it didn’t really hurt.

Then, just as I was plotting my tongue guillotine trap, a funny thing happened. He came into the den without a bark, jumped up on the couch beside me and snuggled up in my lap with a contented yawn. OOOOhhhh! Now I had a dilemma; I couldn’t bring myself to hate him sufficiently to deal the final [mousetrap] solution. All my wicked thoughts of a salmon wafer/wasabi sandwich, double-sided tape between his fuzzy toes, and a thin rubber band around his snout just melted away. I was convinced a peace had been reached. As I stroked his back he passively shed dog hair all over my black pants. A niggling little voice in doggy dialect entered my brain saying “He is working you buddy!”. Then I noticed not one but two of my socks stashed under the kitchen table. This little son of a bitch (literal speak) had won and it was he who was gas lighting me! Clearly, not smarter than the dog.



Lee Foote

Southerner by birth, Northerner by choice, Casual person by nature.