Tag Archives: dog aggression

Dangerous Chase, Part 2

“Who Saved Whom?”

by Terri Florentino

photo 5

Chase was home for the holidays.

We moved into the living room, which was decorated for the holidays with lots of cheerful color. I asked Debbie to describe how she was handling Chase’s separation anxiety. I wanted to understand what might be behind the clawed-up walls and doors. Why was he going berserk, panicking as if his life were at stake when she left him alone?

“I started by sending Chase to ‘his room’ for short periods of time while I was home.” As she spoke, Debbie gazed at Chase, who was lying on the other side of the living room, head on paws, listening. “Then I’d leave the house just briefly. I never made a big deal about coming and going. I made sure that he had a lot of yummy learning game toys placed around the room.”

Those were fantastic strategies, but for some reason, Chase couldn’t get calm enough to let them work. “Chase is obviously a very smart dog,” I said. Chase’s gaze shifted to me, and he raised one eyebrow. I smiled at him. He looked away. “In time, he’ll be able to exercise self-control. Maybe he needs a consistent and stable routine.” I suspect that his anxiety was brought on by the prior instability in his life. I suggested that Debbie talk to her veterinarian about anti-anxiety medication—just while Chase was adjusting to his new lifestyle. In conjunction with the medication positive, motivational training would be very important. Teamwork, exercise, and clear direction would help him feel more secure. “Tell me about the incident that prompted Chase to bite you and your husband. “

Chase and Sam

Chase and Sam

Debbie’s shoulders slumped, and she turned to me sadly. “Which one?”

“Wow. Okay, tell me about the times that he has bitten both of you.”

Chase sighed and closed his eyes as if he were tired of hearing these stories.

“All the time. He bites all the time. It’s nearly impossible to get out the door without him biting the backs of our legs. Just to get out of the house we have to send him to his room.”

“Ah, okay.” I was beginning to see that poor Chase carried a lot of fear in his heart. He lived in panic mode. I was even more certain he could use the help of the veterinarian and a lot of structure and positive reinforcement. “I’ll tell you what, I want you to keep Chase on a leash while in the house. This way you’ll have more control over him when he acts out.”

Chase lunged and barked like mad at any intruder, even squirrels.

Chase lunged and barked like mad at any intruder, even squirrels.

“Great idea, I never thought of that.” Debbie said that Chase would bark and act out whenever sees the neighbors or any other wild vermin, especially squirrels. “As if the barking and lunging wasn’t bad enough, whenever we try to put a stop to his madness, he just redirect his frustration onto us. He grabs our clothes, shakes his head, and growls. I’ve lost count of how many shirts, jackets, and pants he’s torn.” She added,  “No matter how I yell and scream, he doesn’t listen!”

Just hearing the frustration and anxiety in her voice, Chase sat up, his brow puckered in worry.

“I can appreciate your frustration,” I said calmly. “However, no more yelling, okay? I believe the yelling and screaming is making him more nervous.”

Debbie and Chase each sat watching each other across the room with worried eyes. Debbie had already gotten so frightened and fed up that she’d left him at the shelter. But love had brought her here and brought Chase home. I had to find a way to help them.

“I’ve got something for you that really might help,” I said. “One command. With a firm tone of voice, I want you to instruct Chase to ‘Leave it!” We put Chase on a leash, and I taught Debbie and Chase the ‘Leave it’ command and watched them practice. I didn’t want Chase to think that he’d have the option to ‘Take’ the item that she had instructed him to ‘Leave’, not ever. Down the road, on occasion, with other training techniques, there might come an opportunity for Chase to ‘Take it.’ For now, no, and it should never follow the ‘Leave it’ command. “‘Leave it’ means ‘Leave it,’” I said. “Chase needs to understand that you mean what you say. He needs these limits.” His life depended on it.

“The worst is how Chase resource-guards me,” Debbie said. We stood in the middle of the living room. Chase had walked to the end of his leash, ears pricked toward the window, ready to go into red alert should a squirrel appear. “If Sam tries to sit next to me on the couch Chase jumps between us and grabs and bites Sam’s arm. If I try to push him away, he snarls and growls at me. This has got to stop!”

Chase must never even get the opportunity to behave that way. Next, I taught Debbie and Chase the command ‘Off.” Chase would be on a leash indoors, and when Debbie sat on the couch, she would make Chase lie on the floor by her feet in a ‘Down’ and ‘Stay’ command. “Feel free to give him one of his learning game toys filled with goodies to keep him occupied while he’s lying on the floor by your feet,” I said. “This should be pleasant and peaceful. It’s not punishment, it’s redirection and prevention.”

“Also, a tired dog is a good dog.” We discussed the importance of exercise. “Basic obedience is also extremely important. I’ll show you how to make learning fun.”

“I can’t wait,” Debbie said, raising the pitch of her voice and leaning forward. “What do you think, Chase? Can we enjoy each other?”

Chase’s tail swished.

“The holidays are coming.” Debbie stood straight with a look of fright. “What should I do with Chase when we have company?”

Gianna and Chase

Gianna and Chase

“How is he with new people?” I asked.

“He picks and chooses whom he wants to be friendly with, but he loves my niece Gianna.”

“Your guests can help Chase learn appropriate social skills.” I explained she should keep him on a leash and make use of treats and toys to promote suitable interaction. “When you want to relax, put Chase away in his room and reward him with a delectable learning game toy. Don’t set him up to fail, be pro-active rather than re-active.”

“Chase is nothing like my other dog, Toby,” Debbie sighed.

“We’re all guilty of training our last dog.” I said.

“I’ll never get over how Toby died.” Debbie led me back to the couch. She put Chase in a down-stay by her feet.

“What happened to Toby?”

“We had just come home from vacation, and I was getting ready to leave the house when the phone rang. It was the owner of the kennel. Toby had died that morning. He was found in the kennel. No one knew what happened. I remember hanging up the phone, burying my face in my hands, falling to my knees, and weeping uncontrollably. Even though Toby loved going to the kennel I will never forgive myself for not being there for him.” She stroked Chase’s head. He closed his eyes. “I’ll tell you by the time I adopted Chase from the shelter, I needed him as much as he needed me.”

“I’m so sorry for your pain Deb. It wasn’t your fault.” I told her her comment about needing Chase made me think of a commonly used slogan for rescued dogs, ‘Who Saved Whom.’”

“I like it,” she said.

We smiled at each other.

“Isn’t it charming?” I said. “But especially for a dog like Chase—he needs you more than you need him. He needs you to help him with his fears and his shortcomings.”

There was hope for Chase this holiday.

Maybe there was hope for Chase this holiday.

“I understand. I’ll work very hard to become the person that Chase needs me to be.”

“I know you will. We’ll reconvene after the holiday. In the meantime I’m here for you and Chase. Call me anytime.” We embraced, wished one another a Happy Holiday. Before I turned to go, I bent down to Chase. When his eyes met mine, he sat up and gave me his paw. I grinned and gave him a pat. “Be the good pup I know you can be. Santa’s watching.”

 

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Living with Grace

by Judy Bonner

“Can your dog come over?”

The words refocused my attention to Gracie.  We were at the vet’s check-out window, paying the bill.  Gracie was tethered to a hook under the window.

Psst! Come on over!

Psst! Come on over!

I looked down at Gracie.  Her eyes were dancing, her lips in a puckered up smile, her butt wiggling.  Gracie loves people, especially children.  Who was now the apple of Gracie’s eye?

I looked up.  There was a woman at the next check-out window.  She again asked if my dog could come over.  Why not, I thought.  But wait, what is that in her hand?  A leash?  My eyes narrowed in on that leash, following it down to the floor.  Sure enough, it attached to a dog sitting tightly next to the woman’s legs, a dog not much bigger than Gracie.

Okay, take a step back, I thought to myself.  I stood in front of Gracie.  For as much as Gracie loves people, she is cautious around other dogs.

Gracie did not play with other puppies at break time in kindergarten class; she preferred a side seat with a good view instead.  She made friends at our group dog training classes, but certainly not at the first class.  She came to enjoy a good one-on-one play with her favorite friends.  On her short list were a Golden Retriever, a Great Dane, a Cocker Spaniel, a Basset Hound, and a Wheaton Terrier, the only female in her circle of pals.

Otherwise, Gracie generally offers up calming signals to most dogs in her path…turning her head, sniffing the ground, making a C-curve, changing direction, all to avoid a face-to–face encounter.  She is now a four-year-old Border Collie.  I have one finger left on each hand to add to my count of dogs Gracie has shown a great displeasure of their presence and behaviors.

The woman, probably noticing my hesitation, went on to say her dog was a rescue, living with her four years now.  “It’s only in the last year that I can pick up a broom without her running behind a door. This is the first time she has shown ANY interest in another dog.”  Four eyes were pleading with me–the dog’s and her owner’s.

No words from Gracie.  I glanced down at her.  Hmm . . . now a sitting wiggle-butt.  “It is up to Gracie.”  I gave Gracie permission to “go visit,” thinking she would head straight for the woman, ignoring the dog.  Nope.  Gracie walked softly and slowly over to the dog.  They touched noses and started sniffing each other’s muzzle and face.  Good so far, but dogs in her face is something Gracie will tolerate but does not enjoy.   Best not to push our luck.  “Good girl, Gracie,” I said.  “All done. Let’s go now.”  Gracie returned to my side.

“Thank-you” the woman said.  I smiled and nodded.  Back to business.   I signed the credit card slip, gathered all my papers together, and looped Gracie’s leash in my hand.  We headed to the exit door.

“Can she come over one more time?”

I turned around.  “It is up to Gracie,” I said.  Gracie was once again doing her sitting wiggle-butt.  “You can go visit.” I touched her head as she glided past me to the other dog.  I let them greet each other longer this time before calling Gracie back to me.

The woman started crying.  “You don’t know how much this means to me,” she said,  kneeling down to hug her dog.  “This is the first time I’ve seen her really happy.” The dog snuggled into her owner’s embrace.

Tears welled up in my eyes as Gracie and I tuned around to leave. I’d had dogs my whole life.  My journey with Gracie was unlike any other.  This was another entry into my journal of living with grace.

Dangerous Chase, Part 1

Fear Itself,

by Terri Florentino

He could be so sweet.

He could be so lovable.

“He’s a Border collie. He’s in the shelter. Can you go rescue him?” The woman on the phone was so upset it was difficult to make out what she was saying. “Please?”

“Calm down, okay? To whom am I speaking?

She took a deep breath and sighed. “Sorry, I’m just so upset. My name is Debbie.”

“Tell me about the problems you were having with your dog and what he did that landed him back at the shelter.”

“My husband and I adopted him from the local animal shelter. We named him Chase. He was quiet and well behaved at the shelter, but not long after we brought him home, he started barking, lunging, and growling at wildlife, other dogs, and strangers.” She took another deep breath and sniffled. “He also suffers from separation anxiety—you should see our spare bedroom.”

I could tell she loved this dog. She must’ve tried to help him. “What steps did you take to correct these behaviors?”

She began to relax. “We worked privately with a trainer. He had us use a shock collar, and now his behavior is worse than ever.”

“Now, you said something happened that made you return him to the shelter?”

“He bit us both. My husband and me. He was lunging and growling at a neighbor outside. My husband was standing near him, and the moment I pushed the button on the shock collar, Chase just whirled around and bit him. When I tried to pull him away from my husband, he bit my hand. I got so afraid of him, I took him back to the shelter.” Her voice started to quaver again. She sniffled. “He’s so lovable when he isn’t acting out.”

“I’ll make you a deal,” I said. “I can tell you care deeply for Chase. Go back and take him out of the shelter. I’ll put in a call in right now and let them know you’re coming and that we’ll be working together.  Give me three months to work with you, your husband, and Chase. If after that time, you’re still not comfortable with him, I’ll rescue him.”

“Do you really think you can help us?”

“I am going to do my best. Call me once you have him back, and I’ll come out to your home as soon as possible. .”

A couple days later, I arrived at Debbie and Sam’s house. As I walked up the steps to their front deck, Debbie came out the door  holding Chase by his leash. He was pulling toward me, frantically barking.  As I stood at the top of the steps, I pushed open a gate and stepped onto the deck. Shouting over the racket he made, Debbie and I discussed Chase’s current state of mind. I could tell she was very frightened. “First,” I said, “you need to relax. I know it’s hard.”

While we talked, I intentionally ignored Chase. After not receiving any satisfaction, his obnoxious behavior finally settled.

“Go ahead and drop the leash,” I said.

“Really? Just let it go?” Debbie said.

“Yes. Let’s keep talking and ignoring him.”

Full of doubt, her brow puckered in fear, Debbie dropped the leash, and we continued to talk without looking down at the holy terror. He ran over and sniffed my shoes and pant legs. Then, I smiled down at him. “You smell my dogs, don’t you, boy?”

He looked up at me and then, in relaxed, fluid movements, he trotted back to Debbie. He made his way towards the railing on the deck and stuck his head through the wooden slats to get a better look at what was going on in the yard below. Just then, a neighbor stepped out of his house. Chase went into a barking frenzy and raced the length of the deck, back and forth. I calmly walked around a picnic table to the other side of the deck and blocked him from running past me.

Using a firm tone of voice, I said, “Get out of it!”

He stopped dead in his tracks and looked up at me.

“C’mon on now, inside,” I said. He followed me through the slider door and into the house.

“How is the world did you do that?”

“He knew I meant what I said. That’s all.”

“Can you teach him to listen to me like that?”

“No. I’ll teach you to talk to him. Okay?”

Debbie nodded and wiped away a tear. “I see. You bet. Let’s get started.”

“You said Chase has separation anxiety and damaged a bedroom. May I see it?”

You could see his fear written on the walls.

You could see his fear written on the wall.

As I peered into the room, I gasped. Chase had clawed deep gouges into a wall right below a small, high window. Just looking at the marks, I could see his fear written on the wall. He had almost literally climbed the wall trying to get free.

“He tries to reach the window,” Debbie said, sadly. “I’m guessing to escape.”

“I think you’re right,” I said. Most of the wood trim along the floor had been scratched and gnawed on.

“Look at the back of the door,” Debbie said. We stepped into the room and closed the door behind us. Almost the entire surface of the door was covered in scratches and gouges.

All the while, Chase had been standing quietly beside us in the room. I took a deep breath and bent down to offer him a gesture of my affection. As I scratched behind his ears, we made eye contact and shared a moment of silent, peaceful communion.

Miracle Mick

by Lisa Lanser-Rose

Mick cheated death--twice.

Mick cheated death–twice.

It was déjà vu. In July, Mick got  sleepier and sleepier and then pitched into a nightmarish tailspin that whirled with terms like “sepsis,” “hemorrhage,” and “acute collapse.” The beginning of October, it all happened again, exactly the same way, only this time we were broke. And tired.

Back in July, Mick miraculously healed. He  found an appetite and energy like he’d never known before. In October, same turnaround, only faster, more vigorous, too good to be believed. His vet started calling him “Miracle Mick.”

Mick in intensive care, July 2013

Mick in intensive care, July 2013

Back in  July, the only diagnosis we got was hypoparathyroid disorder. His ionized calcium was rock bottom, and his parathyroid hormone levels confirmed the diagnosis. However, the doctor admitted, it explained few of his chronic symptoms, the lethargy and lack of appetite.

It also didn’t explain why, just two weeks previous, his calcium levels were normal. “I’m mystified,” she said. “But if I stretch it, I can make the hypoparathyroid story work. But I know it’s not the answer.” And she sent me home carrying a  feverish, feeble, and frail puppy, a sack of liquid antibiotic , a bag of syringes, and a prayer that it wouldn’t happen again.

We kept his ionized calcium up with medication, but it  happened again anyway–the fading appetite, the lethargy, the slow descent, and then the sudden free-fall.

September 30th, there was almost nothing left of him.

September 30th, there was almost nothing left of him.

This time, however, the new vet, Dr. Specht from the University of Florida’s Small Animal Hospital would not commit to any one “story.” He uncovered more mysteries. First, in the aftermath of the October disaster, Mick’s B-12 was normal but his folate was low–that made no sense. And Mick’s white blood cell count was low before the onset of sepsis. Had it been low before the sepsis last time? The new doctor gathered all the data he could. He had student interns make charts. He had lots of story lines to follow: pancreatitis, small intestine disease, trapped neutrophil syndrome, cyclic neutropenia, pyruvate kinase deficiency, immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, and more.

Then, in all his careful investigation, Dr. Specht discovered that, in a moment of crisis, the doctor on the night shift had given Mick emergency interventions, which included a B-12 shot. That would explain the discrepancy between his B-12 and folate numbers and indicated a possible diagnosis: Inherited B-12 Deficiency, or an inability to absorb B-12 through the digestive tract. It didn’t explain the white blood cell count. It also didn’t explain what happened to Mick in July. If the cause of all Mick’s problems was a B-12 malabsorption, why did he bounce back in July? There’s no record of him being given a B-12 shot then. “But it might have caused the low parathyroid numbers,” he said. “Maybe Mick doesn’t have hypoparathyroid after all.”

We started to train again. Mick loves showing off!

We started to train again. Mick loves trying new things–and showing off!

Dr. Specht ordered a month-long series of blood tests to watch how his B-12 and white blood cell levels fluctuated. In the first week, his B-12 plummeted. Bingo. Mick can’t absorb B-12 from his food. He’ll need B-12 shots the rest of his life. To my relief, his white blood cells held steady–so far. Right before my eyes, Mick got bigger and stronger. I began to relax.

Mick was a new dog. In two weeks he went from 24 to 32 pounds. Even his bones seemed to grow. Although he was a year old, his testicles  had stayed as tiny as spring peas, and his vet said we might as well leave them; “He needs all the help he can get.” Now, suddenly even those bulked up. His shoulders and hips muscled out. Best of all, though, I love watching him run.

Audrey couldn't believe her good fortune--the dog was gone again!

Audrey couldn’t believe her good fortune–the dog was gone again!

I used to take him outside and throw toys for him, only to have him retrieve once or twice, stumble, and lie down. Now he didn’t wait for a toss, but ran great circles around the yard for the sheer joy of running. He galloped through the house, from one bedroom to another, making figure eights on and off the beds. He’s fanatical in his observations of the cat’s traffic patterns. As if he’d rigged her with a GPS, he knows exactly when she’s moving toward a sink, from her litter box, or out the back door. How much of him was muted all year! His joy, his appetite, his fulfillment–how fragile we all are!

Mick makes friends everywhere--but now he's not always gentle.

Mick makes friends everywhere–but now he’s got to learn to  hold back.

We have new problems now. Mick’s a year-old dog making a six-month-old’s discoveries. His  speed, strength, and agility are like cool, new Christmas presents. He caroms off the couch glancing at me as if to say, “Look, Mom! Check this out!” When he hears the cat leap into the bathroom sink, he roars in and hits the vanity with the force of a ram. And worst of all, my gentle boy, the one the vet told me would “make a great service dog,” is gentle no more. With new oomph in his rump, he rockets up and knocks people’s noses. He claws their arms. Where once he rolled onto his back and wriggled for small children, he now nips their heels and tugs their tee shirts. These are  training challenges I fully expected to have with a young Border Collie. He’s not my first. But Alby, Mick, and I had spent a year living with Sick Mick. Mighty Mick has swooped in and changed all the rules.

Mick's starting to question his standing in the world.

Mick’s starting to question his status in the neighborhood. Does he really have to listen to this kid?

We’re still in the midst of the month-long series of blood tests. Once a week Mick is getting a B-12 shot and a count of his white blood cells. Meanwhile, he not only eats all his Science i/d, he goes back to lick the bowl. It’s a basic dog behavior that I’ve never appreciated so much before–all those months of wringing my hands and offering food after food while he wasted away! No, I’m more than happy to step up training to accommodate a bigger, stronger, more assertive dog–the dog I always knew Mick could be.

The more I read about the causes of B-12 deficiencies, the more confused I get. A simple B-12 malabsorption problem can’t explain everything. Is this really what almost killed him twice? If so, why did he come back in July without the shot? Should I be afraid there’s more wrong with Mick? Why doesn’t he show permanent neurological damage?

The fact is, we might never know the answer. Bottom line is he is improving, day by day. It’s been a long year for us, and it’s not over yet. Maybe I’m getting close to a “crash” of my own–I still haven’t let myself work through how harrowing those two crises were, perhaps because the blood work’s still out.

Meanwhile I wonder, as I do in times like these, why a dog matters so much to some of us, and not to others. Wouldn’t be easier, and cheaper, to care less? How do you harden your heart? And what do you lose if you do?

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Dusty, Part 4

Love Him Wisely

by Terri Florentino

“The truth is,” Susan said. She paused and ran her hand over her mouth. She took a breath. “Dusty can be so volatile that I’m afraid of him.”

Susan, Robert, and Dusty

Susan, Robert, and Dusty

I tensed. “Sometimes there are hard deci—”

“No. I’m in this for the long haul. We all are.”

“Okay. Good,” I relaxed. “I’m going to need you to love him wisely.”

“Can do,” Susan said.

We agreed to check back frequently, and a week or so later I visited them to follow up after their trip to the vet. I heard happy yelling and scrabbling behind the door as Susan put Dusty behind the baby gate. She let me in smiling and breathless.

“You were right,” she said. “The doctor agreed medication would ease his stress and lower his aggression. He’s been on it a few days now.”

I moved deliberately and calmly, never looking directly at him. Behind the gate he sat cute as a button and watched me intently. “Have you noticed any differences yet?”

“I’d say he’s showing a little less a play drive, which is sad, but the good news is, he is definitely less reactive.” She led me into the kitchen. “Juice? Tea?”

The fur family.

The fur family.

I could hear the hope in her voice, and I smiled. “Don’t relax yet. We’ve just begun. Keep a leash on him at all times, indoors and out, day and night.” This way he if started to act inappropriately they could get control of him quickly. “Think of the leash as an umbilical cord. If you want your dog to learn from you, he needs to be attached to you.”

Robert met us in the kitchen looking more at ease than the last time I saw him. We shook hands.

“I was just saying, be aware of Dusty’s body language and watch for early signs of reactivity.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” Susan said. She put a kettle on the stove. “His body stiffens, his head drops, his eyes stare, and he might let out a low growl you can barely hear.”

“The second you see him enter that mode, change the subject.”

“Should I offer to take him for a walk or to get the ball?” Robert asked.

“Yes, and I’ll teach you to learn some constructive learning games in class,” I said and grinned. “You’ll have a whole repertoire of new subjects.”

Susan was setting three teacups and saucers on the counter. She turned and flashed me a big smile at the thought of Dusty having lots of fun things to do besides snap and growl.

It’s important to be pro-active rather than re-active. “Let’s not set him up to fail. For instance, he’s not sleeping in your bed anymore.” I took a seat at the kitchen table, and Robert joined me. “Since that last episode with you and the bed, Dusty has lost the privilege of sharing that space. Do you see what I mean?”

Susan set a box of herbal teas on the counter and turned around with a frown. “Where should he sleep?”

“In a crate, where you know exactly where he is and what he’s doing.”

“That won’t be a problem,” Robert said, relieved.

Susan set a plate of sugar cookies on the table and joined us. We discussed Dusty’s fear of people he didn’t know. “Don’t force the issue this early on. Once you and Dusty attend my classes we’ll work on promoting positive interaction.” The kettle whistled, and Susan got up. “In the meantime allow him to be social with people he’s relaxed with, but take him immediately out of any situation that makes him uncomfortable. Baby steps, okay?”

I explained the nothing-for-free concept. “Dusty needs to earn everything,” I said, as Susan filled my teacup. “Everything. Toys, food, treats, free time, and affection must be earned.”

Susan and Robert looked at each other, dipping their teabags. “This is going to be hard,” Robert said.

“It’s doable,” Susan said.

“It’s worth it,” I said. We raised our teacups. “To Dusty.”

It took years. They trained Dusty in basic obedience, rally, tricks, Beyond Backyard, and even Canine Good Citizen.

“One of the secrets,” Susan said in an email, was that “Dusty loved the hotdogs we used for training. It helped keep him focused on me. Each night the family and I also enjoyed practicing all of the skills we learned with Dusty, and it tired him out.”

Tigger, Autumn, and Dusty

Tigger, Autumn, and Dusty

Surprisingly Dusty was tolerant of other dogs. He didn’t want to wrestle and play with them, but he was comfortable in their presence. Susan and Robert eventually got two cats. “I never thought Dusty would get along with the cats, but I believe they helped with his social development. He and Tigger are good friends. Autumn tolerates him. It’s so funny seeing our tough guy get smacked around by a cat and tolerate it.”

“Dusty and I formed a strong bond during the training process. I had a blast training him, and he loved to learn. I was amazed at the transformation in Dusty once I stopped the punishment and intimidation technique I’d learned on television. I focused on his good qualities. Seeing the twinkle in his eye and overall happier demeanor motivated me to keep going. After I while, I wasn’t afraid of him anymore. I was more and more determined to save him. We were able to wean him off of the Prozac after only a year. It got easier and easier to love him. We became the best buddies I dreamed we would be.”

Dusty and the Kids

Dusty and the Kids

Susan and Robert did a remarkable job with Dusty. I had cautioned them that Dusty’s baseline personality would never completely change, so the behavior management techniques have to be lifelong habits, and they followed through. I’ve seen it too often: the biggest mistake that my clients make is falling back into their old habits with their dogs. When they fall back, the dog falls back, and the trouble’s back.

“I’m not afraid of him anymore,” Susan said. “But I’ll always be guarded in certain situations. He still gets annoyed. It’s clear he can never be trusted, just as Terri predicted. He still wants to be the boss, but we try to keep a nothing-for-free attitude with him. I recognize his triggers and immediately change the subject. He’s much easier to re-direct now, and he’ll forgive and forget quickly. He rarely sleeps with us, and when he does he’s on a leash, and Rob gets in bed first, then he is invited up. My mission is to make sure he stays on the right path.”

Dusty and his favorite person, Susan

Dusty and his favorite person, Susan

Some things haven’t changed. Susan is still his favorite person, and he’s protective of their daughter Sarah. He still keeps an eye on Robert. He’s an intelligent dog, so he was easy to train. He demands attention but he’s learned to ask for it playfully. He loves riding in the car, going to the beach or park, and seeing other dogs. “The best part,” Susan said, “besides being able to keep and develop a satisfying relationship with Dusty, was meeting the people along the way, who helped us.  Especially Terri, but we met others who truly cared about our plight, and understood the potential heartbreak and stress of what it was like to have to deal with him.”

Susan got choked up remembering the tough times. “So many of our friends and family said we should euthanize him.” She shook her head. “I never knew the depth of the relationships between man and dog, and how much a dog understands and feels. I learned about dog rescue, and saw people give of their time, money and emotions to protect the helpless lives of so many dogs.   How inspiring is that? I appreciate dogs more than ever, and even though Dusty will never be a therapy dog, I am inspired. I hope to have a Therapy Dog one day.  I never would have been exposed to that if it wasn’t for Dusty. This experience has been invaluable to me in many ways.”

“Now I realize the truth in Anatole France’s quote, Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.

Beach Dusty

Dusty, Part 3

Nature, Nurture, and Dusty

by Terri Florentino

“What exactly do you mean by, ‘pack mentality?’” I asked Susan.

Unhappy Dusty

“I’m not sure Dusty knows what fun is.”

Behind the baby gate, Dusty blinked at the three of us sitting around the dining room table, blowing our noses and deciding his fate.

“A take-charge attitude. I was the ‘Alpha,’ not Dusty.” Susan said she followed what she’d learned from the dog-training television show. “When Dusty would resource-guard something I’d try to intimidate him into releasing it. I’d get very close to him, use a sharp guttural tone and order him to, ‘Leave it!’”

“What happened?”

“Well,” she said with a rueful laugh, “that never worked, so I did like the expert said and picked him up and angled his head towards the floor. A few times this did work.  He’d drop it.” Before long, however, he began to threaten her with an uncompromising growl.

“He bit me,” Robert said. “Again and again. I’d only yank something away from him if I thought he had a hold of something dangerous. He broke my skin every time!”

Dusty had never been a social butterfly with strangers. His normal response was to walk away. As Dusty neared a year old, when people reached to pet him, he showed his teeth, growled and lunged.

"Sarah adores him."

“Sarah adores him.”

“Even though he’s gotten to be such an unpleasant, and even dangerous little character, I love him.” Susan paused to collect herself, and I thought she might need another tissue. “Our daughter Sarah adores him. He’s never gone after me or the kids.”

“He’d be gone,” Robert said. “In a heartbeat.”

Susan squeezed his hand. “Look, Dusty was supposed to be our pet. The family pet. It’s not fair for Rob to live in fear in his own home, terrorized by a fluff ball.”

We all glanced at the fluff ball. He hadn’t moved. I started to wonder if he wasn’t a stuffed toy. He sure was cute.

“Now that he’s trying to bite other people, we’re at our wit’s end. We just can’t live like this. We can’t live with a dangerous dog.” She had steeled herself. She wasn’t going to cry.

Not knowing where to turn, Susan emailed Dusty’s breeder with her concerns about his behavior. To her surprise, the breeder replied that she and her family must have harmed him and ruined him. She refused to take him back, under any circumstances. “If you can’t handle him, you’ll have to euthanize him.”

“Euthanasia was not an option. I could not kill my daughter’s dog.” Susan reached for the tissues. “I started to believe the breeder was right. I must have ruined Dusty.” Even though she’d been following all the techniques of the well known television trainer, she suspected she’d only made things worse.

“Once the vet did a physical and blood work on Dusty, and everything came back normal, she told us to call you. She said your experience and motivational approach would be our best option.”

“Let’s get started,” I said. I sighed and thought for a moment. Some things were hard to say. “The first thing I want you to understand is that a certain percentage of personality traits are inherited and indelible.” I turned to Susan. “Based on your description of Dusty’s behavior right from the start, I’m certain that some of what you are seeing is his genetic baseline personality.”

“So he was born this way? And he’s always going to be like this?” Susan teared up. “I’m sorry. This is just so sad.”

“No, no! Don’t apologize. Your heart is breaking. I get it. I’ve been there. And I’m not saying things can’t get better for Dusty. This goes back to the nature-versus-nurture debate. Nobody’s entirely sure how much of each influences personality. All we know for sure is that a certain percentage of both are factored into the final product.”

Susan balled the tissue in her fist and looked at her hands. “I should’ve done things differently. It never felt right. I ruined Dusty.”

“No. It is both nature and nurture, but you still can’t blame yourself. Look, a dog with Dusty’s issues has to be handled very carefully, and you couldn’t have known that. You did your best. You’re still doing your best, and that’s awesome.”

Susan and Robert nodded. They smiled.

"We need to lower his anxiety."

“We need to lower his anxiety.”

“Before we can teach him new skills, we need to lower his anxiety.” I recommended that they talk to their veterinarian about anxiety medication.

“You’re kidding me,” Susan said.

“That’s interesting,” Robert said. “I’d heard about it. People do it all the time. I just hadn’t thought of Dusty as anxious.”

“He’s afraid,” I said. “He was afraid before you met him.” I also explained what I refer to as, “the nothing for free concept.” This theory is based on controlling all resources. “Anything of value to your dog must be earned.” Into his daily routine we would integrate positive, reward-based motivational techniques. “All of this has to be fun, okay? Fun for you, fun for Dusty.” I turned toward the pup behind the gate and in my best, “Oh, boy!” voice I said,  “Right, Dusty?”

He slid to the floor and dropped his head on his paws with a grunt.

“Fun?” Robert said. “I’m not sure Dusty knows what fun is.”

I’d love that. I want him to enjoy his little life,” Susan said.

“Okay. We make him feel safe. We set him up for success,” I said. “Deal?”

We had a deal.

Dusty, Part 2

Dust Comes Home

by Terri Florentino

Winter Dusty'

“There was nothing normal about him.”

As Susan and Sarah followed the young lady into the house, Susan said, “I’d like to meet our puppy’s parents.”

“I’m sorry,” she said over her shoulder. “We don’t allow anyone to go to the area where the dogs are housed. You might bring germs in on your feet, and the dogs could get sick.” She looked back again, wrinkling her nose at Susan.

“Oh. Of course.” Susan had been hoping for a glimpse of how her pup would act and how he might look as an adult.

“You wait here,” the girl ordered. Then she turned to Sarah, grinned, and said with false gaiety, “I’ll be right back with your new puppy!”

As the young lady disappeared behind a door, Susan and Sarah beamed at each other. When the door opened again, they were breathless at the sight of the adorable ball of curly fur in her arms. Susan reached for the puppy. She hesitated. The puppy looked tense and pulled away from her. “Why does the puppy seem fearful? His tail’s not wagging.” Susan didn’t know how to feel or what to do. She had sent a non-refundable deposit and invested a five-hour drive for this puppy; turning back was not an option.

Nothing made him happy

“Nothing we did made him happy.”

“He’s just nervous, nothing to worry about, he’ll settle down.” The young lady kissed him on the head. He didn’t seem to mind that.

Gingerly, Susan took the rigid puppy and cradled him in her arms. Mechanically, the girl went over the contents of a basket of puppy food and other new-puppy essentials. By the time she was done, the puppy had relaxed. He even gave Susan a little kiss on her cheek. The affection offered her some relief. The fact that he was as cute as a button didn’t hurt either.

“Well, if you don’t have any more questions,” the girl said, in a way that invited no further questions, I’ll see you to your car.”

Susan hesitated; she felt full of questions, but couldn’t think of any in the face of such a brusque remark. “Well, we do have a long drive ahead.”

“Can I hold him? Can I hold him in the car?” Sarah said. “I can’t wait to show him his bed and his bowls and his toys!”

Out at the car, the pup went stiff with fear again as Susan opened the back door. She placed him in his new crate in the back seat, said goodbye to the strangely aloof girl, and headed on their way.

On the way home Sarah and Susan discussed what name they liked best for their puppy.  The pup was mostly white, with a small stripe of very light tan down his back, and some tan fur on his ears that looked like dust. Susan suggested calling him “Dusty.” Once the entire family arrived home later that evening they all sat around and discussed various names. Everyone liked “Dusty.”

Really sad Dusty

“He seemed depressed.”

“The first two weeks weren’t what we had expected,” Robert said.

“What exactly do you mean?” I asked.

“When they brought Dusty home, he seemed depressed,” he said. “Normally a puppy would run and play, but Dusty just lay around. I wondered if he was sick. I got down on the floor to wrestle with him, and all he did was sit and stare at me.”

“We were worried. I called the breeder,” Susan said. “She said Dusty just needed more time to adjust. Something didn’t seem right, so I took him to the vet, but she just assured me we had a healthy-looking puppy and that we needed to come back in a few weeks for some vaccines.”

Inevitably Dusty settled into some of what anyone would constitute as normal puppy behavior. He chewed on whatever met his mouth, got the usual puppy “zoomies—racing around and like he’d gone completely haywire, and started the puppyhood biting, or “mouthing.” The mouthing was so severe, they called him, “land shark.” Dusty grabbed and nibbled on hands, legs, pants, and feet. It was difficult to walk him; he got furious tethered to a leash and made every effort to chew through it to free himself.

"I wondered if he was resource-guarding me."

“I wondered if he was resource-guarding me.”

By the time Dusty was six months old he started to exhibit “resource-guarding behavior;” when he had food or a chewy, he growled and snapped dangerously at anyone who came near him.

“I was taking Dusty for a ride in the car,” Robert said. “He grabbed a tissue from the console between the seats, and I didn’t want him to swallow it. I reached to get it out of his mouth, and he grabbed my hand in his teeth—not just once, but again and again. He bit down as fast as he could, over and over, slicing me up. In the blink of an eye, there was blood everywhere!”

“I was devastated when Rob told me what Dusty did.” Susan got up and fetched a box of tissues. She dropped it on the dining room table and helped herself to one.

“Careful!” Robert joked. “Don’t let Dusty near it!”

“I didn’t dare admit it at the time,” Susan said, glancing at the button nose behind the baby gate. “But I simply could not enjoy my puppy.” She blew her nose. “How sad is that? He was never cuddly or affectionate. Nothing we did made him happy. There was nothing normal about him. He was bold, pushy, always had to have his way–or else! It was like he was terrorizing us. I had no idea what to do with such a mean and nasty puppy.” Susan began to cry again. “I couldn’t believe it. Who’s ever heard of such a thing?”

Robert squeezed her hand.

Susan pulled herself together. “It seemed like he was only putting up with me and the kids, but he outright hated Robert.” She laughed and sniffled. “I’m sorry, Honey.”

Robert smiled. “I know it’s true. I guess I didn’t smell right.”

“I understand how some dogs are intimidated by men who are authoritative and commanding,” she said. “But Robert is gentle and kind. He was sweet to him. He got down on the floor with him, talked in a high-pitched voice. He did everything right. He really tried. I thought maybe Dusty was resource-guarding the children and me from Robert.”

“When Dusty and I where home alone together, he was fine with me,” Robert said.

“That’s right,” Susan said. “When I was home, Dusty would never leave my side. When Robert came within a certain distance of me, Dusty growled until he backed away.

“Then he started trying to keep me out of certain rooms.”

“Okay, that’s interesting,” I said. “How did you each handle Dusty when he acted inappropriately?”

"He just seemed to tolerate the kids and me."

“It seemed like he was only putting up with me and the kids.”

“I’m embarrassed to say,” Susan said. “But there was this trainer I saw on television who emphasized the importance of being a pack leader. I followed his advice.”

“Okay, I see.” I looked at the angry little mop-head glaring at us from behind the baby gate. He had hardly moved a muscle the entire time. “I think we see where this is going, don’t we, Dusty?”

He didn’t even blink.