Tag Archives: dog aggression

“Do Whatever it Takes”

Nala, the Diagnosis

On a hot August day, I went back to Nala’s home. Nearly a month had passed since our first meeting. As  Michele, Mike, and their son Bobby and I greeted one another, I noticed Nala pacing back and forth. I tried to get her to engage with me as she did the first time we met. She stopped the pacing and let me caress her gleaming smooth black side. Then, she turned and growled. I pulled away, and she continued pacing back and forth, back and forth.

“How’s she doing?” I asked. I missed the way she’d once gazed into my eyes. She now seemed unreachable.

“Big Dog’s got me real worried,” Mike said, and I smiled to hear him use Nala’s nickname.

“Mike was recently out of town,” Michelle said.  “While he was gone Nala was so agitated and aggressive I could barely go near her. A few times I saw her wobble and collapse. I wanted so much to help her, but if I touch her, she growls and snaps.” Michele crossed her arms across her chest, hugging herself, her brow knit with worry. “I feel so helpless.” We four stood watching Nala endlessly pace, hypnotizing us with her rhythm, all of us sharing in that helplessness. “Our other dogs have been avoiding her as well,” she added. “Want to meet them?”Nala3

“Yes,” I said, eager to break the spell.

The terriers came out first. They were cute, friendly, small, and curious. They were littermates that had never been separated, and you could tell that they were everlastingly bonded. As they rushed me and then romped in the yard, they purposely avoided Nala. She ignored them as well. A moment later, the sheltie mix blasted out the door and after the terriers. Mac was medium-sized, active, affectionate to his family, and slightly wary of me. However, he seemed especially on guard with Nala, tail tucked, ears back, giving her lots of room. He knew something wasn’t right.

Mike clicked his tongue. “That’s the saddest thing right there,” he said. “Big Dog and Mac were always best buddies. See what I mean? This is definitely not normal.”

Bobby chimed in, “I can’t pet her or take her for a walk. I can barely touch her without the fear of being bitten.”

Mike talked about the most recent visit to a veterinarian in Pennsylvania. She had been previously examined by a veterinarian while living in Boston with his son Biff. “She tested positive for Lyme disease so we’re treating her for the Lyme disease and pain.  Anxiety medicine was also prescribed to help her to settle down. The doctor suspects some sort of central nervous system disorder and suggested that we take her to a local neurologist. We’re taking her next week.” He sighed, his eyes following Nala as she paced back and forth and the other dogs gave her room. “We’ll do whatever it takes. We need to get to the bottom of this.”

“I hate to say this, but what I recommend is for all of you to keep Nala as quiet and comfortable as possible. If she’ll go into her crate and rest comfortably, use it as often as you can. Keep a very thin four-foot leash attached to her collar so if you need to take a hold of her you’ll be at less risk of being bitten. Be sure to call me anytime if you have any questions or if there is anything I can do for you and please keep me posted.”

Nala6“Thanks,” Mike said, giving me a wan smile. “We’ll let you know how Big Dog’s coming along.”

The entire drive home I replayed all of the events from the last couple of months over and over again. I was trying to make sense of Nala’s bizarre behavior. I was mystified. My heart was heavy not only for Nala, but her family as well.

After seeing both a neurologist and an internist, Nala was taken to surgery in late August. The poor dog had been diagnosed with Lyme disease, hypothyroidism, and an abscess in her armpit that was no doubt causing her discomfort and pain.  A surgical specialist removed the abscess, and she was sent home with a drain coming from her armpit, a bandage, and medication. Hypothyroidism can promote behavioral problems, I thought. Could the answer have been found? She would need time to heal. All we could do is wait, hope and pray.

Over the next month, Mike sent me email updates on Nala’s progress. She had two post-op appointments, and the specialists were pleased with her healing. Her behavior, however, was still as unpredictable as an uncharted river. Most worrisome, she was now consistently turning in circles to the left, so Mike scheduled an appointment to take her back to the neurologist.

On September 11th, a staff member at the animal hospital came into my office and handed me a fax. The report was from a veterinary neurologist; Mike had taken Nala to him that same morning. My eyes scanned the report. I was like a speed reader going from the pertinent history, quickly through the physical examination notes, skimming the diagnostics and finally on page 2, the diagnosis. I took a deep breath: Intracranial advanced brain lesion (thalamus), placing pressure on the cortical plates.

So, that was it. After all was said and done, Nala had a brain tumor. For a moment, I was paralyzed with grief for Nala and her family. I sat in silence, still holding the report. I no longer looked at it, but through it, where I could see big, sweet Nala gaze again into my eyes the powerful and pleading way she did that first time.

Then, I snapped out of it and read on. “The family decided to let her go . . .”

She’s no longer in pain, I thought, the report blurring through my tears. For that I am relieved.

I would like to offer my deepest sympathies to the Patrician family. I cannot thank them enough for allowing me to share their story.

Godspeed, Nala.

“An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.”

Martin BuberNala5

Nala, Part 1

“I Want Her Back To The Way She Was!”

by Terri Florentino

“I want her back to the way that she was,” Mike said. He gave her firm, strong shoulder an affectionate thump. “She was always so sweet, lovable and happy. I don’t know why she’s acting this way.”Nala2

Nala was beautiful, solid black and built like a Labrador retriever with a splash of Rottweiler. Most people would have found her intimidating. She was a big dog, solid, well muscled, and strong. However, whenever she’d wiggle her little nub of a tail, the lower half of her body swayed back and forth like a talented hula dancer. It was her eyes that I remember the most. They were large, round, and dark but her expression was soft. I never felt threatened. In fact as I sat in a chair, she sat in front of me, gazing into my eyes. I felt her sorrow; something was wrong. I slipped my hands underneath of her strong jowls and pulled her head up to mine, our foreheads touching. I moved my hands up behind her ears and massaged with my fingers, and her head relaxed in my hands. Eventually I gently placed her head in my lap and continued to massage her head and neck. She pressed her head into my lap, her body, for the time being, completely relaxed.

 “She’s my son’s dog. He’s busy during the summer so she comes to live with us for a few months.”

“Who’s us?” I asked.

“Myself, my wife, son, and three other dogs.”

I asked about the other dogs and Nala’s relationship with them.

Nala1“Nala was a gentle giant. She was always so kindhearted with the small dogs.” The terrier mixes are littermates who are getting older, so they didn’t bother much with Nala, “especially since she’s gotten so intolerant and grumbly with them.” He also talked about a three-year-old male sheltie mix. “Mac is outgoing. He’s a great dog, and we’re running partners. He and Nala always got along just fine. In fact they would often have a great time running around and chasing one another. Now whenever Nala gets aggressive Mac jumps in to intervene. I’m concerned those two might get into a fight if this behavior continues.” 

Mike’s son had adopted Nala from the Griffin Pond Animal Shelter in December 2012, when he was home from college on winter break. There was not much information on her, except that she was a stray, listed as a Labrador Retriever. He felt an instant connection to her. She was remarkably gentle and kind. About the time I met her, she was approximately five years old.

Nala now completely relaxed and obviously tired. She lay down on the floor at my feet. I was relieved that she was resting comfortably. “What’s she doing that worries you?”

Mike sighed and folded his hands, staring down at the sleeping dog. “In June of 2013 my son tried to lift her into the bathtub. She snapped and bit his hand. That was so out of character for her.” He shook his head in disbelief. “For a split second, she was a different dog. Of course he wasn’t angry with her.” Mike sat up straighter and ran his hand through his hair. “He figured that she must have been in some sort of pain. That was basically the beginning of the downturn in her personality.” Mike’s brow puckered in worry, but his gaze never left Nala’s sleeping face. “She started growling at us if we disturbed her in any way. She lunged to bite us when we tried to get her off of the furniture. The whole family was bewildered. We hardly knew our sweet Nala anymore.” He paused, looked away for a moment, and blinked. “She used to love to take walks, but now when we try to put the leash on her, she growls. We’re afraid she might really hurt someone. We don’t understand what’s happening with her.”Nala7

Most behavior problems follow a similar archetype. After listening to Mike’s story of Nala, I couldn’t connect the dots. There was no clear pattern. “The first thing I’ll suggest for you to do is rule out that there isn’t something medically wrong with her. I recommend that you schedule an appointment with your veterinarian before we start any formal training.”

He nodded. “We’ve done that. It’s coming up soon.”

“Good. In the meantime everybody in the family should keep a leash on Nala at all times. That way, if she should threaten anyone, they can safely get control of her. Otherwise, just let her be as much as possible. Try not to do anything that might aggravate her. Let’s see what the veterinarian has to say before we start any training.”

I left the consult perplexed. I couldn’t shake the sinking feeling that something was terribly wrong. As I drove home, I kept remembering the strange and urgent way she gazed into my eyes. It was as if I felt her pain. Thinking about Nala was literally haunting me. Nala

 

 

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Sweet Dreams, Sweet Ginger Snap, Part 1

 Over My Husband’s “Dead Body”!  

By Katherine Dattoma

It was time. That little itch had grown into something bigger and more persistent. The guilty pleasure I had secretly been indulging in, of sneaking peeks at internet photos of beautiful Border Collies in need of homes, was morphing into a serious search. It was time to add another dog to our household, albeit once again over my husband’s “dead body”!

Puppy GingerOreo, my first rescued Border Collie was enjoying a full agility competition schedule, but I began to discern subtle signs of trouble before he had even reached the age of six. My eye, uneducated in correct canine conformation, but knowledgeable in evaluating the equine, could see that Oreo’s hind end structure was somewhat, well, odd. All the other wonderful Border Collie quirks and attributes possessed in abundance by Oreo had compensated up to this point, and enabled us to enjoy some small successes undreamed of since my first bumbling attempts at agility. However, I knew my dog’s normal, if somewhat funny way of traveling, and something was off. At that time, the cause of his intermittent, subtle hitch in stride remained undiagnosed, though many opinions and treatments were offered. Sadly, I had to admit that Oreo’s agility career would most likely be cut short.

To the uninitiated it may have seemed like an obsession, but to an ever growing dog sport fraternity, agility is a healthy, wonderful passion. My addiction needed to be fed. I needed another agility dog. Because Oreo had also instilled in me a passion for the Border Collie breed, and our whole family, daughter included, had been formed through adoption, there was never any question as to where I would be looking. References were solicited, home photos taken, and adoption applications sent.

Glen Highland Farm’s Sweet Border Collie Rescue in Morris, New York rehomes a huge number of abandoned and abused dogs each year, and Lillie Goodrich seems to have a knack for placement. On a sunny morning in March of 2008 that glittered with excitement and a late winter frosting of snow, I loaded up husband, the kid and dogs for a visit to the farm. Upon arrival, Lillie took special note of my daughter’s bossy terrier mix bitch, Kimmy, and her controlling antics with long suffering Oreo. She immediately dashed my hopes of meeting a particular handsome young male that had gazed soulfully out of my computer screen. Our little Kimmy was destined to be the limiting factor. Instead, the first dog brought out was a one year old classic black and white female, friendly, agile and altogether lovely in every way. Whoa…. she’d make a great family and agility dog was my first thought, my mind immediately entertaining a fantasy of fame and international events…. Then, presented to me was a red and white, four month old bundle of fur, dangling limply from the assistant’s arms, blinking fearfully at the world. This ragdoll of a pup stole my heart.
The trip home did not auger well for my new choice of a future agility prospect. How was I to successfully integrate a petrified, puking pup into my little agility travel team? What happened to one of my basic requirements, dutifully checked off on the application form, “must ride well in car”? Being lax in my criteria could explain something about those agility bloopers with Oreo. My Sweet Ginger Snap was looking less and less likely to fulfill my agility dreams as the full extent of her fears was soon revealed. Ginger was a textbook case demonstrating that missed social opportunities during the first few months could have a lifelong impact on behavior. Ginger’s reactions to ordinary things fed our imaginations in building a picture of what her first four months on the Maryland puppy mill farm may have been like. And was it genetics, or something far worse that caused her skull to appear misshapen and her face crooked? Men, men with hats obscuring their faces, men carrying objects on their shoulders, people suddenly “appearing” all triggered intense fear reactions. Ginger constantly alternated between leaping away from and attempting to appease human feet with incessant licking, a trait that earned her the first of many nicknames, “Miss Lick”. Any object that moved or looked different from when first observed by Ginger provoked a reaction. A pillow falling off the couch could send her flying out of the room, and she would peer out the upstairs window, barking hysterically every time a package was left on our neighbor’s porch across the street. One of our neighbors inadvertently frightened her as a pup, and because of her fear reaction towards him, he referred to her thereafter as “The Wolf”.

Ginger and KimmyI needed an agility training plan very different from the trial and error path taken with bold, confident Oreo. My training methods had always been positive reinforcement based, and I knew any attempt to force a behavior with Ginger would be unsuccessful. Clicker training and shaping were a natural fit, both for my ideals as a trainer and for persuading a fearful pup that my goals were really her choices. Because her startle reflex was so easily triggered, Ginger needed to become less sensitive to noise and movement if I ever hoped to get her on agility equipment. She needed to be able to come towards her source of fear to investigate instead of running away. One of the training games I played involved my other two dogs to help motivate Ginger to join the fun. In my basement training area, I set up a tower of tin cans and metal cooking pots. On a push cue, Oreo and Kimmy would happily tip over the clanking pile for a reward. Barking, laughter, treats and curiosity finally drew Ginger from upstairs to the middle stair landing where I would toss a treat. Using the principles of incremental training, I waited for Ginger to choose to dart closer and closer to the action. It was a moment of triumph when Ginger finally offered a nose touch to the offending pile of noisy objects! These early lessons were something I was able to build upon, and today Ginger will often offer an automatic nose touch to an object that initially frightens her.

Surprisingly, at home and in class, Ginger’s agility training progressed very rapidly. She flew through the foundation exercises and fought for her turn when the clicker came out, signaling a training session. On both the plus and minus side, Ginger never forgot anything. Her education on the agility equipment began to follow a pattern of fits and starts, plateauing while we worked on overcoming a fear, and leaps forward evidenced by a desire to correctly repeat any action or obstacle with which she had grown comfortable. She grew rapidly as well… and grew and grew…. Was this the embodiment of having BIG agility dreams? Meanwhile, those long legs just kept getting longer. In spite of too straight shoulders and hindquarters, Ginger outgrew her awkward stage to become an elegant and effortless jumper, who as described by my daughter, ran like a cheetah when streaking across fields in play.

My redheaded fur rag was also growing into a striking, comical teenage drama queen. To the family, “The Wolf” was more of a red headed “Lucy”. The slightest knock had her exaggerating a limp until something else caught her attention, and she would get the sillies each morning, yipping and talking up a storm as she rolled herself in the bed blankets and pillows. She became a master at slinking off with cardboard boxes to shred in private, and would repeatedly catch and bring through the dog door a firefly to play with until she had to, ah….replace it. She could look majestic while burping loudly in our faces, and took over the job of household security by making the rounds checking all the doors, windows and rooms each night before settling . Best of all, Ginger fit seamlessly into our little dog pack, becoming wicked Kimmy’s partner in crime. I brought her everywhere dogs were allowed…into the bank, pet stores and a local book store. While competing with Oreo, I spent countless hours introducing Ginger to all the sights and sounds of agility trials, and frequently introduced her to many fellow agility competitors in an effort to reduce her general fear of humans.

Ginger In the early summer of 2009, Ginger was age eligible to enter agility events. The perfect opportunity for an agility debut arrived. The trial was local, held at a site she had visited several times before as a spectator. I sent in the entry, though unsure if Ginger was ready to enter the ring and make her public appearance as an agility competitor. She enjoyed playing agility at home with me, was extremely consistent in her execution of the obstacles, even showing some typical border collie abandon, but remained shy and uncertain in public. It was with nervous anticipation, that I waited for the big day to arrive.

Dangerous Chase, Part 6

Our Lovable Little Bother

By Terri Florentino

Chase, Part 6

The Remarkable Journey

ChaseDebbieFast-forward to now.  Five years have passed since Debbie, Sam, Chase and I made this deal: give our training three months. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll rescue him. Needless to say, Chase has a permanent and loving home! I’m so proud of their accomplishments.

Debbie has also gone beyond my training and taught Chase many playful and clever tricks; she was always diligent in making sure she kept the learning process fun. I was so impressed with their tricks that I invited her to teach a Tricks Workshop at the training center. It’s a great success; the students enjoy the amusing and interactive activities with their dogs. Watch Chase’s video on YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5XmqxNqFaE&feature=youtu.be.

Chase will always be a work in progress. When Debbie and Sam leave the house, Chase must go to his room. There he finds a yummy interactive toy that keeps his mind occupied for a short while. Now Debbie and Sam can go out the door without Chase jumping and biting at them.

When it comes to interacting with other dogs, he’s still no social butterfly. In fact, Debbie knows that bringing another dog home is not an option. Chase does fine with my dogs so we get together as often as we can. Their interaction isn’t the tumble and play, but rather a coexisting in the same space, running and chasing a ball or swimming in the lake. They have a mutual understanding and know the no-fighting rule. It’s my job to enforce it, so when I suspect one of the dogs is getting a little too pushy, I remind them, “Get out of it!”ChasewithDogs

When company comes to Debbie’s home, depending on who’s coming to visit and how long they’re staying, she handles Chase differently. Chase is comfortable with older children and adults that he is familiar with. Very young children and infants make him uneasy. Their quick, unpredictable movements, loud high-pitched voices, and crying make him anxious. If the young children stay just for an afternoon, Debbie can manage Chase at the house by keeping him with her on a leash, giving him an occasional time out in his room, and making sure he gets outside often to exercise. When they have out-of-state visitors stay at their home they take Chase to a boarding kennel at the training center. Chase knows the facility very well and does fine with his stay.

The Gentle Leader is a mainstay for walking, because keeping control of Chase’s head and mouth is essential. If he happens to see a squirrel, for instance, he’ll lunge and bark. The Gentle Leader keeps him from pulling Debbie down to the ground. Also, for no obvious reason, he’s not comfortable with certain people. He might grab and bite them. Again the Gentle Leader affords Debbie the head control to keep him from endangering others, and therefore himself.

When it’s time to exercise outside Debbie puts a collar on Chase and secures it to a 30” long line. Chase can never be trusted off-lead unless in a fenced area. While outside on the long line Chase gets to explore, play fetch, practice recall and run. If while on the long lead he encounters a wild animal or a neighbor that makes him uneasy, Debbie can use the, “Leave It” and “Come here” commands. Fortunately Chase is food-motivated and knows that if he immediately returns to Debbie he’ll be rewarded with a mouth-watering treat.

Debbie keeps a crate in her car for travel. Chase jumps right in and lies down quietly. If not for the crate, Debbie would never be able to safely exit her vehicle. Chase gets far too anxious when she or anyone else tries to get out of the car and walk away. He barks, bites, and grabs the clothing of whoever tries to leave the vehicle without him. So as you see, for the obvious reasons, it’s safer for all parties involved that Chase rides in a crate.

His separation anxiety, for the most part, is under control. He no longer redecorates the walls, baseboards, and floors with frantic claw marks. A person leaving the home is still a little bit of an issue, so Sam and Debbie are diligent with the down/stay exercise. Chase is not released from the position until the person has exited the house and driven away.

All in all Chase is a nurturing, sensitive, affectionate, and lovable dog. Even Debbie’s Mom isn’t afraid of him anymore. She brings him a toy every time she comes to visit. He’s so intelligent that you need to spell certain words in front of him, such as “walk,” “ride,” “lake,” “out,” and “training.” He also knows certain ChaseSamDebbietoys by name, like “monster,” “football, “Santa, and “tumbler.”

Chase, has become my buddy. Sometime I look at him and say, “There’s my adorable little bother,” and he wiggles so hard he keels over and shows me his tummy. Debbie and I have also become great friends, a relationship I value very much.

I’m thankful to be a part of this remarkable journey.

In closing Debbie wanted to share her thoughts:

For how frightened I was of Chase, something told me I had to help him. I’m not sure if it was the fear of losing a dog all over again that tugged at my heart, but that was part of it. I think I just knew that if given time and with the right direction we would make it.  Chase has taught me so much. I have become a more patient person, I’m more relaxed and learn to be proactive rather than reactive when Chase acts out. Terri has been a godsend for Chase and me. She is so compassionate about animals as well as the people that care for them. If I hadn’t made that call to her, I really don’t know where Chase or even I would be today.  Would his next adopter have done the same for him, or would he have just been put down? Would I have adopted another dog, or just given up?
Terri has inspired me to become a trainer and to help people the way she helped us. Chase has come a long way in the last five years, and even though he still has his moments, I can say that I am equipped to handle them. Occasionally I still get a little frightened so I stop take a deep breath and move forward. Chase has turned into a loving companion and we are forever grateful to Terri, her family, and her pack for helping us get where we are today!  And as a bonus, we have forged a long lasting friendship!
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!
Debbie, Sam, and Chase.

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.

Roger Caras

Part 4: The Comfort Zone

by Terri Florentino

 

Chase needed help learning to be a team player.

Chase needed help learning to be a team player.

This week the class would assemble at a local dog-friendly park. I was really looking forward to it; the “Beyond the Back Yard” class offers my students an opportunity to become experienced in handling their dogs in all types of environments, and is always so much fun.

One by one the students arrived and gathered around. I greeted them, and when it was time to begin, I said, “Not sure if we’re going to have any late arrivals, so let’s start with the question-and-answer portion of the class. Remember to practice the sit-stay and down-stay exercises while we talk. It’s important that your dog learn to exercise self control.”

We formed a large circle in order to hear one another while we spoke. I placed Debbie and Chase next to my mom and my dog, Bonny. My mom is an experienced dog handler, and my dog Bonny is well trained and able to deal with disruptive dogs with little to no reaction. Everything was going well. The class members took turns discussing their successes and failures, and I offered praise and advice, when suddenly, Chase lunged and barked at Bonny, and Debbie panicked.

“Stay calm. Just back away from the group,” I said.

Chase snarled and leapt at the end of his leash. With fear and tears in her eyes, Debbie strained to pull him away.

“It’s okay,” I said. “We’re going to work Chase in his, ‘comfort zone.’ Take him just far enough away from the group so he can relax enough to behave. I want Chase to sit and face you, okay? Promote eye contact and praise him when his behavior is correct.”

Debbie dragged Chase about ten feet away, and then another five or so before Chase calmed down and sniffed the grass. “Do you think he’ll ever stop acting like this?” Debbie asked, wiping tears off her cheeks.

I had the class practice down-stays while I approached her and said softly, “Yes. He’ll come around, and so will you. Here. Let me take Chase for a while. You take a deep breath and smile, okay?” I took Chase’s leash, and we walked back toward the group. I stopped about five feet away, just as Chase began to slow down and watch the other dogs with prick ears and stiff legs.

“All right, let’s get going. Follow me,” I said to the class. “We’re going to take a walk. There are a few zoo animals down this path, and the dogs are always rather intrigued with them.”

Everybody lit up with anticipation and fell in line behind Chase and me. Debbie followed at my side.

As we approached the zoo animal’s cages, I instructed the group to stay in a line and keep their dogs a few feet back from the cages. “It’s not fair to the zoo animals to let dogs harass them and bark at them while they’re trapped in their enclosures. Our goal is to teach our dogs to be well behaved and mannerly.” One by one we worked the ‘heel’ position back and forth past the monkeys, lions, exotic birds, and other zoo animals. Chase, wearing the Gentle Leader, walked very well with me.

I watched Debbie’s face. She was watching Chase with pride, affection, and hope. “Are you ready to take a turn walking with Chase?” I asked.

“I think so.”

“Wrong answer, Deb. You are ready, and you can do this! I want you to work within his comfort zone. I’ll stay right next to you.” I instructed Chase to sit and handed Debbie the leash. She took a deep breath, stood up straight, and off we went, back and forth several times past the animals. They did an awesome job, absolutely no overreaction from Chase. The class applauded and praised both Chase and Debbie for doing such a great job.

Shanghai_Zoo_monkey

The monkeys seemed to tease us.

While in the vicinity of the zoo animals, I had the class practice their sit- and down-stay exercises, and everyone did well. “Let’s head down the path to an open field, gather in a circle, sit down to relax.” Once we arrived to the open field everyone took out their bottles of water to refresh themselves and their dogs. We talked about how their dogs reacted to the many zoo animals. We all laughed and shared stories about the monkeys, convinced that the monkeys were teasing the dogs each time they passed by their enclosure. Debbie smiled. “Chase is much more relaxed and behaving himself,” she said.

“He is, isn’t he?” I said. I reminded the class of the importance of exercising your dogs. “I’ve always said that a tired dog is a good dog.”

Next we were going to walk the dogs by a playground. “I want everyone to make sure their dogs sit and stay before you allow anyone to pet them. No doubt some of the children will approach and want to pet them. I’ll manage the kids, you all manage your dogs. Any questions?”

“Chase might lot like the kids approaching him,” Debbie said, her anxiety level rising. “What should I do?”

“Instruct the kids to stay back. Be firm about that. And I won’t allow the kids to approach any of the dogs that aren’t completely accepting of them.”

The Playground

The Playground

We packed up the bowls and bottles of water and got on our way. As we reached the top of a hill you could see the playground off to the left at the bottom of the hill. There were a few children playing on the equipment while their parents sat close by on the park benches. As we got close enough to the playground for the dogs and kids to notice one another, I instructed the class to stop and get in a straight line. “OK, class let’s have our dogs sit and stay politely by our sides. Here come the kids!”

“Doggies!” one of the children cried, and they came running. The parents rose and followed more slowly, talking amongst themselves.

I met the children halfway between the playground and the class. They all seemed very excited. “I’ll bet you want to say hello to the dogs. These dogs are in class learning how to be good dogs, can you help us?”

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” They jumped up and down.

“I go to school too!” a child said.

“Do you?” I said, feigning great surprise. “Now dogs need children to stay calm. Can you show me how you do that?”

They all stood still and listened to me, eager to participate. “Good. Here are some treats. If the dog you approach is sitting nicely and the owner of the dog gives you permission, go ahead and give the treat to the dog.”

Paige and Linny

Paige and Linny

The kids and their parents made their way down the line of politely sitting dogs, greeting each owner and dog and doling out treats to those dogs who sat nicely. I noticed that Chase was obviously uncomfortable with the kids approaching, so Debbie walked him away to practice the sit- and down-stays at a distance, careful to keep inside Chase’s comfort zone.

All went well. “Thanks so much for your help,” I said to the kids. And off they ran back to play on the slides, seesaws, and jungle gym.

The class and I made our way back to the parking lot where we originally met. We discussed where we were going to meet the next week and addressed any other questions.

“Great class,” I said. “Everyone did a fantastic!” When I knelt down next to Chase, he rolled over onto his back, wagging his tail.  “You had a great day, didn’t you, Chase? Keep up the good work, buddy!”

I Like Chase Very Much

By Terri Florentino

Debbie and Chase

Debbie and Chase

The next time we met, Debbie and Chase came to the training center. I scheduled our meeting before the start of classes so I could evaluate Chase with my own dogs.

“Are you sure you want Chase with your dogs?” Debbie asked.

“I trust my dogs,” I said. “They’ll follow my lead. They trust me too and know I’ll keep them safe.” I took the leash from Debbie. “I’m going to keep the leash on Chase, and, since you’re so nervous, I want you to stay inside and watch from the window.” Chase would sense her anxiety and that alone could promote an inappropriate response.

I do the meet-and-greets in a large fenced area. I had let my dogs out to the area first to run around. I had six of them at the time: Tulley, Echo, Scout, Meg, Deja, and Wyn. With Chase on lead, I walked around with him, allowing him to move as freely as the six-foot lead would offer so he could relax. I said little. There was enough conversation in body language among the dogs. As soon as I was confident that Chase was not going to dart after and attack my dogs, I dropped the leash. I stayed by, just in case he lunged or behaved aggressively.

As I suspected, at first my dogs ignored Chase, and he did the same. After a short while Tulley, the social butterfly of the pack, approached Chase. (Ironically enough, when I rescued Tulley it was said that he would never be good with other dogs.) Tulley’s tail was up and wagging, his interaction welcoming. Chase lowered his head, flattened his ears, tucked his tail under, and diverted his gaze, signaling he was not a threat. Tulley read his body language and adjusted his approach accordingly. After the initial greeting went well, one by one my other dogs went up to Chase to say hello. The females were less impressed as he was a bit of a flirt. In fact, when the females corrected his obnoxious behavior he politely deferred to them. Overall, I felt the interaction with Chase and my pack went well.

Once the dogs settled down, I invited Debbie into the yard. As soon as she stepped outside, all of my dogs ran to greet her. Chase immediately ran between my dogs and Debbie and didn’t want any of them near her. As soon as Chase started to growl at my dogs Debbie retreated. I stepped in, took a hold of Chase’s leash and removed him bodily from the group.

Once Debbie, Chase, and I were safely indoors away from my pack, I explained the problem. “Chase was resource-guarding you, Deb. You retreated. You empowered him to continue. Chase needs to know that you’re in control of the situation, not the other way around.”

She nodded soberly. Chase was panting from the excitement. Every time he heard a noise from outside, he pulled for the door, eager to throw himself back into action.

“First you’ll need to earn his trust and respect,” I said. “This of course will come with training. Not to worry. If you’re up to the task, I’ll get the two of you on the same page.”

“I’m up for it. In fact I’m looking forward to it,” she said.

When I asked how the appointment went with the veterinarian, she said, “He put him on Prozac.” She’d already noticed that Chase seemed more relaxed when left alone in the house. “And he’s not nearly as reactive when he sees my neighbors or a squirrel.”

“Great! Now we have a window to redirect his overreactions.”

Chase and his classmates.

Chase and his classmates.

The other students and their dogs were arriving. We had a few minutes before class would start. To prevent Chase from lunging at the incoming students, I had Debbie practice focus and body-blocking exercises. Fortunately, with a really yummy treat, Chase’s food drive was nearly equal to his defense drive. “Nearly,” however, wasn’t good enough. A couple of times he lunged and snarled at other dogs. It was scary not only for Debbie but the other people and their dogs as well.

“Chase isn’t being fair,” I said. “Let’s try a Gentle Leader head halter so you have more control of his head and mouth.” We fitted him for the Gentle Leader, and class began. The halter worked wonders–Chase’s behavior was more manageable for the rest of the class.

Chase wears his Gentle Leader.

Chase wears his Gentle Leader.

When class was over and the others had left, Deb and I had one more follow-up. “I’m relieved that the combination of the Prozac and the Gentle Leader gives you more control, but Chase still needs to listen to you and stop acting on his own.” I urged her to continue with the obedience techniques we’d been working on. “Be consistent. Follow through. As the two of you master each technique, I’ll add more to your repertoire,” I said. “Experienced handlers can never have enough tricks in their bags.”

Chase was panting softly by Debbie’s side. I knelt before him, and he wriggled and wagged for me. I stroked his shoulders. “I like Chase very much,” I said, and stood back up.

Relief and gratitude swept over Deb’s face.

“He’s a very smart dog,” I said, smiling at Chase. When he caught me looking, his tail swished. “He just needs guidance. Be kind. Earn his trust and respect. Make learning fun, and eventually you’ll have a devoted companion.”

Debbie hugged me, and when she let go, I saw that tears rolled down her cheeks. “I will! I promise. I know there’s a good dog in there.”

“Don’t forget—call me immediately if you have any problems or questions.” We hugged again, and I watched as they made their way to Deb’s truck. She spoke to him, her speech calm and happy. I wondered what the week would hold for them. “Don’t forget—same time next week!” I called.

“Can’t wait!” Deb said.

The Pack, Part 1

They Lost Their Pack Leader: Now What?

by Terri Florentino

pack

Terri and her pack.

I never bought into the theory that I had to be the dominant leader of my dog pack. I never saw myself as such, nor did I ever feel the need to attempt to “act” like my dogs in order to communicate with them. Yes, I spend time individually training my dogs, feed them, groom them, socialize, exercise, and love them but I am not their “pack leader.” Yes, humans have domesticated the dog, but to what degree?

I have lived with many dogs, at least five at a time, over the course of fifteen years, and can tell you that there appears to be a pecking order within their own ranks. I’m not sure why we would believe otherwise. We humans fall into similar social hierarchies. For instance in sports, doesn’t every team have a coach? Most social animals do. It seems to be natural for any pack, pod, or flock animal—consider the very phrase “pecking order,” which comes from watching chickens.

Tulley, Echo, Mirk, and Roy, who was just visiting.

l. – r. Tulley, Echo, Mirk, and Roy, who was just visiting.

What actually constitutes the definition of a pack leader, within a group of domestic dogs? We know that for a pack of wolves or coyotes it’s all about survival, so we can appreciate the importance of a strong hunter.

My dogs have never had to fight for food. I know of puppy evaluations where a piece of meat is thrown to a pack of seven-week-old pups. Whichever pup “guards the meat” is one that the breeder might be very interested in keeping for its dominant temperament. So does the display of a survival instinct define a leader? Perhaps a leader is determined by the tendency to discipline other dogs for inappropriate behavior, in effect, to govern them? How about the drive to ward off strangers? Perhaps the ability to charm humans into doing their bidding might be the real and true mark of a canine pack leader. I’m often amused at how often some dogs have their owners so well trained, and the owners don’t even know it.

As of last week, my family and I lived with seven dogs.

Heather and her soul-dog, Epic.

Heather and her soul-dog, Epic.

After careful examination and an abundance of medical testing it was apparent that my old girl Epic had developed a bleed in her brain. There was no turning back. My daughter Heather and I knew that we had to let her go.

Epic had chosen my daughter Heather as “her person” soon after we rescued her from a hoarding situation. Heather trained her, competed with her in obedience, and became her bed bug at night. In the vet’s examination room, Heather cradled Epic in her arms, inconsolably sobbing. I held both Heather and Epic, reassuring Epic that she was a good girl as the doctor gave her the final injection. Epic took her last deep breath and was gone. She lay peacefully in Heather’s arms until Heather was able to let go.

Now the mourning and healing for the human family would begin. But what about the other six dogs?

Sweet Epic has left us.

Sweet Epic has left us.

A bewildered uneasiness had fallen upon our pack. Epic had been the matriarch who commanded respect. She managed all of them with strong-willed peacekeeping diplomacy. She was a guardian, the greeting committee to the countless rescued dogs who entered our home, an “Aunt” to the occasional litter of puppies, teaching them right from wrong. Any dog who had been under Epic’s regime would greet her by laying down, rolling onto their back and licking her mouth, even when she’d reached the fragile old age of fifteen.

Scout

Scout

Now our pack consists of Scout, who, at nearly sixteen, is the oldest of them all. Next is Deja Blue at fourteen, Tulley at a youthful twelve (He was featured in the “Mean Dog” series in BCI), Mirk, age eleven, Echo at seven, and young Wyn of five years. Scout has always been the family pet, too old to care about leading the pack.

Deja, Mirk, and Echo

Deja, Mirk, and Echo

In her day, Deja was a tough lady, a talented sheepdog with too much of an independent streak. In her “hay day,” I suppose I might have thought her the next pack leader, but she now prefers to be left alone to sleep comfortably on her bed, next to mine.

Most of the dogs defer to Tulley, but he has no interest in the pack behavior unless it has to do directly with him.

Mirk at work.

Mirk at work.

Mirk was born here (Deja is his Dam) and lived with us for the first year of his life. Then he went off to pursue a professional sheepherding career. Over the course of the last ten years, he would come home on occasion. Just a few months ago, he retired and is now home for good, and the pack is still adjusting to him. He does have a very strong presence within the group, but strong enough to step up to the role of leader?

I love them all, but my heart and soul is Echo, a younger full sister to Mirk–she finishes my sentences. She’s not one that stands out as a leader, but she is well balanced within the pack and will step up to control any improper conduct with the other dogs. It’s said that the best leaders rule with a velvet glove, so maybe it will be Echo?

Will Wyn be the Winner?

Will Wyn be the Winner?

The truth is, I always thought that Wyn, a daughter of Echo, even though the youngest of the pack, would be the next leader. After Mirk she is my most talented sheepdog, by far the most boisterous and always into every other dog’s business. She may be too much of a busybody to rule the pack.

Either way it will be interesting to see how the dynamics of my pack eventually play out. For now, we’ll let nature take its course.