A lawsuit waiting to happen.
That’s how I often described Hermès Hugo Dumas, our now 3-year-old pug, when friends would comment on how cute he is. These friends have only seen him on social media.
What they did not know is the extent of the truth when I counter that yes, he is indeed very cute, but he really could get us sued.
Pugs are known for being a sociable, lovable breed, such that pug owners will tell you they’re the perfect dog companions, even for households with small kids. We know this to be true, since we had two pugs before who fit this characterization to a T.
Missy and Spike were both gentle and very well behaved in public, so they were quite popular with strangers.
Hermès, however, threw us for a loop.
He arrived in the midst of the pandemic, in December 2020, 6 months old, already older than most puppies when they’re brought into a home. But I was smitten as soon as I laid eyes on his too-big-for-his-face nose and very fat front paws. His jet-black fur gleamed as he stared nervously at me with his beautiful big brown eyes.
We would soon discover that he was very affectionate. He liked to snuggle—he’d climb on your pillow and his chin would always find the crook of your neck, or your head, to rest on. He liked cuddles and belly rubs, which even our sweet Missy hated.
In this way, he was every inch a lap dog.
But there were also early telltale signs of his issues—he’d sometimes lunge at strangers, which at first we dismissed as a puppy being playful, and would bark his head off when somebody knocked at the door. (Missy and Spike hardly ever barked, you’d never guess a dog, let alone two, lived with us.) He absolutely hated anyone wearing a uniform—security guards, waiters—and we couldn’t figure out how he picked them out from a crowd.
At the vet’s, he would go berserk when the staff went near him. Good thing that during the pandemic, we would only drop him off in his carrier—they said that he was docile when we were not around. It was only when we were present that he went on guard mode.
But he was mostly chill in the beginning—we could still take him to the park with no incident and he loved playing off-leash with the other dogs in the condo where we live. He was also mostly apathetic around some people, especially women. (He was fine around other dogs; it’s humans that drove him nuts.)
But sometime in 2021, when he had been with us for a year, he bit a security guard in the condo. The attack was unprovoked, but Hermès must have sensed the guard’s fear that he went after him when the guard started to flee for no reason. It’s a dog’s (and lion’s and bear’s) predator instinct, experts will tell you—you flee and they chase after you. The guard was bit through his pants.
It was a scratch, but we still brought him to the ER of nearby MakatiMed for his rabies shot. And since he had no health insurance or PhilHealth, we paid the hospital in full—this was pandemic-era ER and there were extra protocols, so it cost a pretty penny. We also volunteered to pay for his lost wages when he would be absent for the succeeding shots.
The incident would earn us a reprimand from the condo admin. Hermès earned notoriety that would quickly spread among the guards, janitors and gardeners in the condo complex—it’s almost comical how they’d steer clear of our path when they see this minuscule, harmless-looking dog. At some point, we made him wear a muzzle.
Two weeks later, at a Christmas lunch, Hermès started to act out—possibly triggered by the nonstop barking of the host’s Pomeranian—not allowing certain family members to go near him. He snapped at a helper—again, a scratch. I wasn’t as lucky. In his anger at somebody, he accidentally bit my arm as we tried to restrain him.
I was back at the MakatiMed ER on Christmas Day, this time to get my shots—I would learn that if the bite area bleeds, they inject you directly where the dog’s teeth sank, which is more painful than the bite itself. And then I went home to a Jekyll-and-Hyde of a pug, who enthusiastically welcomed me like he didn’t just try to literally bite my arm off.
We decided it was time to get him professional help.
On the first consultation with respected canine trainer and behaviorist Jojo Isorena, we asked if it would help if we had Hermès neutered first. Isorena said that in some cases, that works, but not all the time.We took that as the first option and quickly scheduled Hermès’ procedure at the vet. Enrolling him to get trained meant a commitment from us, since under Isorena, you train with your dog, and we reasoned that we didn’t have time.
We knew, however, that boarding him to be trained, which is the method of other trainers, won’t work—we have two sets of friends who boarded their own problem dogs for several weeks of obedience training, and their dogs came home having learned absolutely nil.
A few weeks after his surgery, however, Hermès was the same unpredictable pug. The last straw was during one early morning walk, when he suddenly lunged at a neighbor and bit her on the knees as she stopped to chat with me!
Lucky for us, this neighbor was always fond of Hermès, and he was always okay around her, that she didn’t lodge a complaint; she understood that dogs could be unpredictable, no matter how friendly they might seem. She said this as we tended to her wound. Then, again, we sent her to the MakatiMed ER.
By this time Hermès had cost us in ER fees more than what we would have paid a trainer thrice over—and trainers don’t come cheap.
So we went back to Isorena, determined to do what it takes to shape up our psycho pug. We also consulted with other trainers, but no one else would take Hermès after hearing of his history.
With Isorena, it would take eight hourlong sessions for Level 1 Obedience training. So instead of sleeping in on Sundays, for eight weeks we took Hermes to his morning classes at Isorena’s The Puppy Playcare Center in SM Aura.
In a nutshell, we trained alongside our dog because, as Isorena explained, Hermès needed to believe that we were strong enough to lead the pack and that he didn’t constantly need to guard us. He had to defer to us, not the trainer, or he’ll forget what he learned when we get home.
Isorena’s process isn’t magic; as the dog owner, you have to put in the work, in and out of class.
No lap dog
“Hermès psychological profile is that of a working dog, he’s not a lap dog,” he stressed. On top of that, Hermes is a highly skilled dog, Isorena later observed, which made him act independent of rules.
Familiar with Hermès’ history, even Isorena, who’s trained countless bigger, more ferocious dogs, had to be on guard during training. And for good reason—Hermès tried to attack him on at least two occasions in the beginning.
But little by little, we would see the changes in Hermès’ behavior. Isorena encouraged us to continue his training exercises at home. Hermès is quite motivated by food and treats, which made him easily trainable, the trainer pointed out.
Halfway through his training, we could already leave Hermès off leash and do minuteslong “leave it” exercises, ignoring passersby, in the condo’s common areas. He would no longer pull at his leash during walks—he’s a very strong 9-kg fur ball. He had become less territorial—he had ceased to act like the elevator was his property and anyone else riding on it was an intruder.
At restaurants, he’d only growl briefly when waiters come to our table, but quiets down just as quickly when given a treat. No more thrashing, which is a huge improvement. And, finally, the condo guards can go within 3 ft of him without him going bonkers.
It had taken lots of patience—and lots and lots of treats—but our crazy dog was starting to act as normal as we could hope. He was becoming, well, a good boy.
Isorena had warned us at the start that since it took Hermès three years to develop bad habits, it would take just as long for him to develop new habits. But we think even he was mighty pleased at how much Hermès had improved in such a short period.
On July 30, Hermès donned his sablay—incidentally, it was the same day as the University of the Philippines Diliman university graduation—and graduated from his Level 1 Obedience training. He garnered 193 points out of 200 on his final test—maybe not summa cum laude level, but we’ll take that. Perhaps he’ll do better in his masters, er, Level 2 Obedience.
Meantime, the daily training continues.