by Terri Johnson Florentino
I slowly stood up and backed away, careful not to alarm Buddy. As my friend and I discussed his background, I purposely ignored him, but watched his body language in my peripheral view.
His hackles went down, his lips went down, and the growling stopped. I even saw him glance at me. He seemed to want to approach, but was too afraid. A few other border collies were running about not paying any attention to him, nor he to them. “Let’s put him in the crate in my truck,” I said. “I’ll take him home and see what I can do.” Before I left, I got the name and number of his previous owners.
We arrived to my home with no issues. I pulled into my driveway and opened the back door of my truck. To be safe, I had kept the leash on Buddy and left part dangling outside the crate. I took hold of the leash and slowly opened the crate.
He cowered in the back, trembling, snarling, and bearing his teeth. I gently pulled on the lead and coaxed him out. He cautiously jumped out of the crate and stood motionless, paralyzed with fear.
Without any discussion and very little eye contact, I gently gave him a tug, and he followed me for a short walk around. He began to relax a little. I took him into a large fenced area, leaving the leash attached to his collar. I’m fortunate that my Border Collies are used to me bringing home the occasional “outsider” to the pack and know well enough to keep their distance. I dropped the leash and let him move about on his own. One by one I introduced my dogs. He barely acknowledged them, and therefore they just left him to explore the yard alone. I remembered the first trainer’s warning, “This dog should never be around other animals.” I was not convinced. So far, so good.
The initial introduction with my dogs went well, so we moved inside. My husband was sitting in the living room watching television, and the other dogs were simply going about their business. I followed Buddy as he moved timidly from room to room. Once the tour of the house was complete, I settled in the living room to give all the dogs time to adjust.
Everyone behaved. I decided to take off Buddy’s leash. I slowly approached, leaned down, and reached for the clasp. He swung around and bit me.
Surprised and bleeding, I ran to the sink to rinse my hand. I said nothing to Buddy. I didn’t want to aggravate him further. When I returned, I saw that after he’d bitten me, he’d gone to sit by my husband. He seemed to know that he’d done something wrong.
“We need to teach him how to touch our hands,” I said. “If he learns to come to us on his own terms, maybe he won’t feel so threatened.” My hand was still bleeding, so I wrapped it first, then came back in the living room with liverwurst.
I gave my husband a few pieces of liverwurst. “Hold your palm out flat, and when he touches it with his nose, reward him with a piece.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“I want him to want to touch your hand. Hold still.” I smeared some of the liverwurst directly onto his palm. Fortunately Buddy seemed to have a high food drive. He touched my husband’s hand gently and got rewarded with the yummy food, My husband kept all his fingers.
Buddy learned this technique right away and seemed to enjoy working with my husband. But he’d only been in my home a few hours and had bitten me good. Now what?