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Mr. January 2023 - Peanut Butter
A shift in perspective

eanut Butter arrived in Oriental in 2022 along with his human, JJ Tolton. The two were testing out a new experience – life on the water.

Both human and pup got more than they expected from Oriental.

Peanut Butter on deck.

TownDock.net met with JJ and Peanut Butter on their Pearson 365 in early 2022. Then, it was on the hard at Zimmerman Marine. A followup interview followed several months later at The Bean. The difference in man and dog was telling; both were more relaxed and social. JJ attributes their changes in demeanor to the people and pace of Oriental.

For Peanut Butter’s ability to adapt to new situations, flourish in a new environment, and be an exemplar of both for his human, Peanut Butter is Mister January, Pet of the Month.

Peanut Butter enjoying scratches in the sun.

After leaving the Navy nearly ten years ago, JJ went looking for a dog. Specifically a Yorkshire Terrier, or Yorkie. He wanted a long-lived companion. A friend. “A PTSD puppy,” says JJ.

Peanut Butter wasn’t having it. “He could care less about my emotional problems,” he laughs.

“You’re having problems? Well here’s a ball. Throw it,” JJ says, giving a voice to Peanut Butter’s inner monologue. “Does wonders for me – it’ll do wonders for you.”

JJ traveled extensively looking for his dog, going to breeders and searching online. What he found was overbred puppies, a common problem with popular breeds.

From the deck to the hatch.

“They looked a little unhealthy,” he said, “didn’t seem to really know what’s going on around them. Their hair was missing, stuff like that.”

Surprisingly, JJ found what he was looking for at a pet shop close his family home in Pennsylvania. The tiny terrier “was healthy and rambunctious.” JJ noticed he loved to tug on things and play with toys.

“He loved soft things and being spoiled, and I was like, ‘this dog is my spirit animal and I’m gonna go ahead and get him.’” JJ looks at Peanut Butter, who keeps him in sight while greeting guests at The Bean. “You fit in the palm of my hand,” he tells him.

“He was just a little peanut butter cup back then.”

JJ tosses a favored toy for Peanut Butter.

As for the name? “I wish I could say it’s not because I love Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but that’s what it comes down to.” That, and as a small pup, the Yorkie had a distinctive mark, “a ring around his nose that looked like a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup.”

Peanut Butter, now 8 years old, grew up on JJ’s family farm with four ‘unusually large’ German Shepherds. He “turned out to be a pretty robust little dog,” JJ says, a good thing for keeping up with dogs six or seven times your size.

“He learned to play and be assertive there. Some of the German Shepherds wouldn’t tolerate other dogs – even the other German Shepherds – but Peanut Butter always got a pass for some reason.”

The little Yorkie picked up one particular pack habit. “He’ll play fetch until he dies,” says JJ. It’s an unusual trait for his breed, and JJ has to moderate the activity, because Peanut Butter won’t quit on his own. “He’s extremely competitive about it. It’s been a great bonding activity.”

JJ and Peanut Butter hang in the cockpit.

It also helped to keep them both sane during last winter on the Pearson. They’d arrived in town with the intent to go sailing for long stretches, and even off-shore. JJ had been training Peanut Butter for a life aboard, but it didn’t take. “He was not a fan of sailing.” Out on the water, Peanut Butter was not comfortable on deck. “He’d get low and still on the deck until we returned to port.”

After a few trips JJ found he too, preferred shorter trips out and about rather than the longer voyages he’d originally planned. Both now spend their time between the boat and the village of Oriental. Which suits the small dog just fine.

On land, Peanut Butter can indulge his other passion: to go out and explore. “He loves to go out on adventures and meet people and bark at their dogs and bark at the children,” saysJJ . “He likes to prance around and let everyone know he’s mayor of the town.”

Peanut Butter alert for treat opportunities inside The Bean.

That wasn’t always the case. When they first arrived, Peanut Butter was standoffish, “and very, very barky.” But as Oriental is a dog-friendly town, Peanut Butter was welcomed in public spaces more than he had before.

“The friendly people around here who love dogs have opened his eyes to the possibility of being nice to people, and that good things can happen to him. A lot of it happened to him over at Frank’s Brewery.” Peanut Butter and JJ are familiar faces at New Village Brewery. “This is his first time to really being able to hang out in public places with other people. And it has had such a huge impact on him.”

The dramatic change in personality has worked out well for the Yorkie. “Not a lot of people know me,” says JJ, “but a lot of people know Peanut Butter.” When out for a walk, people frequently say hello. JJ responds in kind only to be told, albeit kindly, “I wasn’t talking to you.” JJ laughs about Peanut Butter’s recognition over his own. “I couldn’t be happier for him.”

JJ gets a little more than he expected.

The affection is well earned. Peanut Butter “has a really unique little temperament,” says JJ. “He’s good [with people], but not in the same way a Golden Retriever or a Lab is. He demands a little ‘what’s in it for me’,” JJ explains.

Concurrently the terrier roams The Bean, sniffing outstretched hands for treats, accepting or denying pets as he winds through the crowd. “He’s well aware that people want to pet him, and he’ll gladly trade that for a treat if it strikes his mood.”

Though his attention can be traded for food, it’s not a guarantee. “If he’s on a missions scouring the floor for treats, forget it – he may as well be on the clock. You’re not going to get the time of day from him.”

After much leaping about, and a brief discussion about ownership, Peanut Butter reclaims his toy.

As Peanut Butter has adapted, so has JJ. His priorities have changed, he says, and he’s learning to make time for himself. “People here want to talk, to be social, for no reason other than company.” JJ says he, like Peanut Butter, had not been used to that kind of interaction with new people. He expected to be approached with an exchange or request when talking with strangers – that they wanted something from him. Much of that wariness has worn off, he says, and he doesn’t shy away from discussions with strangers.

However, Peanut Butter does retain some of his standoffishness. “He’s still 10% feral,” says JJ. “He loves to show how tough he is when another dog is on a leash and he’s unrestrained. That’s kind of his favorite little power move, so we’re working on correcting that.” JJ has years of experience training German Shepherds, but he took a different tack with Peanut Butter’s education.

“You have to be a lot stricter with [German Shepherds] because they’re going to hurt someone, especially as they get older. For Peanut Butter, it was more about relationship building and positive reinforcement training,” JJ says. “He does super well with clicker training and any play training.”

JJ and his dramatic interpretation of Peanut Butter’s ambivalence.

JJ has used a corrective collar with Peanut Butter. “It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but it saved my relationship with him.” Peanut Butter, as a younger dog, was an incessant barker. When he began barking, the collar would make a noise and vibrate. “They get really bewildered for a second and then just run back to you.” The collar was in use only a few months before Peanut Butter learned to use his inside voice.

However, young Peanut Butter had a few other tricks for dealing with the collar. “He learned to whine at just the level before setting it off,” says JJ. “He also learned, pretty quickly, how to kill these collars. If he just got them wet enough, they would stop working.”

With play time over, ear scratching commences.

Peanut Butter is still vocal and highly “communicative with his emotions.” If he wants your attention, or is displeased about something, he’ll knock over the trash can to let you know. JJ says he can practically narrate for Peanut Butter, and occasionally does. “People have whole conversations with him. Most people just go along with it,” he says, “not even asking why I’m pretending to be him.”

JJ’s newest training mission is keeping Peanut Butter by his side when off-leash. The mischievous terrier knows he can run freely and that he’s hard to catch. But he isn’t as aware of traffic and has darted into the road, barely avoiding a near miss. To help with that training, JJ is again using a corrective collar – a bright orange waterproof one – to keep Peanut Butter safe.

As before, JJ says it wasn’t an easy decision to make. “The trade off is – is this going to save his life?” Though the collars can deliver a shock, JJ won’t use that on Peanut Butter. The breed has a delicate larynx, he says, and the noise and vibration are disorienting enough to interrupt Peanut Butter’s wilder impulses, and bring back his focus.

Napping in the cockpit.

And the trade off is worth it.

“I can’t imagine life without him at this point. He’s been with me nearly every single day of his life,” says JJ. “He’s turned into this non-human friend.”

In recognition of his ability to accept change, be open to new experiences, and help his human along the way, TownDock.net names Peanut Butter the TownDock.net Pet of the Month.

Celebrity Most Resembles: John C. Reilly

John c. Reilly and Peanut Butter

Likes: To play fetch and run with the big dogs
Dislikes: Dogs on a leash
Known for: Having more recognition than his human
Secret Talent: Outwitting electronics
Rule to Live By: Working on your relationship reaps rewards

photos and story by Allison DeWeese

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