They named him Happy. Happy was originally from Detroit but he found himself a long time resident at the Windsor humane society. A foster home was arranged and he was taken into the care of the Mississauga Humane Society. Here it was found that Happy was indeed a well behaved happy dog, with a slight catch.
Anytime you would go to pet him, he would snarl at you. Happy lived in foster care with two other dogs. He got along well with them and had his place in the pack. He was a good dog. But he would snarl every time. This poses a problem when your a Pitbull mix looking for a home.
I totally ignored Happy for the first half hour of our assessment, I interacted with the friendliest dog in the pack that entire time. He knew I had treats and he knew how to get them! Happy watched and built up the courage to come take some treats. And he took them nicely.
After another half hour I decided I would try to pet happy, and I got down and offered my hand to see if he wanted a pet. He came over quite willingly, very friendly, and as he got close, he started to bare his teeth and snarl at my hand.
I had never seen a dog snarl and growl like this before. Happy was in front of me, displaying his full arsenal of beautiful teeth, and growling quite intensely. It would be quite intimidating to many.
His front legs were stiff but his rear end was loose. His tail was wagging. His hair was not standing on edge and his eyes showed he was still with me.
A 50 pound Pit bull is nothing that I want to mess with, so I backed up a step and continued to offer treats and then offer hands for a pet. Every time, Happy would come for a pet, every time the same unique show.
The resident dogs were one very friendly out going dog who wants to be the center of attention and loves everyone, and one shy timid dog who was very scared of men. I had been in the home about 2 hours when I decided I was going to pet the dog even with him growling at me. I went to get up as I had been kneeling on the ground for most of the time and I must have stood up too quickly.
The timid dog freaked out. Already a skiddish dog recovering from abuse, I stood up too quickly and he got set off. The pack was well established. The timid dog truly believed I was a threat at that moment. And this set off the other dogs. I suddenly had three dogs growling at me and this time they all meant business.
I left. I was standing right by the door and I went and grabbed a donut and came back. I reintroduced myself. I offered my hand to Happy for a pet. He snarled and put on his display. And the other dogs, they did nothing. They didn’t even look up.
When the timid dog got set off
he truly felt I was a threat. The other dogs responded accordingly to protect the pack. When Happy snarled, I realized, he did it because he had been trained to. If Happy had been snarling out of fear or giving a warning sign, his pack would have been there for him. As he was just preforming, the other dogs didn’t put their guard up and enjoyed the free treats.
For the first and only time in my life, I got down on one knee and reached out and pet a Pit Bull that was snarling at me on the chin. And his tail wagged hard. His whole rear end started shaking.
At this moment, my heart broke for Happy. It is a very unique cruelty to name a dog Happy, teach him to growl at pats, and dump him at a shelter.
I worked with happy another half hour or so before I worked up enough confidence to slowly reach up to his mouth, and gently close his snarl up.
As it didn’t take very long for me to get there with Happy (a few hours of time in the dog world is nothing) his foster was handed fresh instructions for dealing with him, and that was to simply untrain the growling. For this particular dog, an unorthodox solution to a unique cruelty worked.
The dog was preforming and not upset. Just a friendly massage of the lips down while reassuring the dog he is in fact a good boy and an even better boy without the growling was all that was needed.
There is always an underlying issue behind any sort of reactive issue. Sometimes we need a little help from our canine friends to decode it. Sometimes allowing a dog to decompress in a small pack setting is a wonderful thing to do.
I also do not advise anyone to attempt to pet any dog that is giving clear warning signs that it does not want to be pet. If you are unsure about any dog it is better to be safe then sorry. Dog bites really hurt and a bite history can be the difference between life and death for a rescue dog. When in doubt, consult a reputable professional trainer.
Meeka was surrendered in Detroit but also found herself to be a long time resident of the Windsor humane society. Her prey drive was so high she would become unpredictable and dangerous as soon as she became over stimulated by something. She attacked me while I was delivering her to her foster, who promptly refused to take her on. I am thankful I was able to fend her off without either of us getting hurt.
As I had my chihuahuas at home I couldn’t bring her home with me, so I boarded her at a local veterinary clinic and went and picked her up the next day.
We started walking in a quiet industrial area (it was a Saturday) with little distractions around. We went at a very good pace for a solid two hours and this whole time I had her in a prong collar heel, holding her attention on me with a combination of freeze dried chicken and hot dog slices.
After the two hours were up we started walking down quiet roads which would offer minor distractions. Meeka had a hard time with approaching dogs no matter how far they were approaching from. Cars and loud noises, everything set her off. As long as she could focus on it, it would set her off.
We went back to the industrial area to continue to focus and spent more time there. By this time we had spent quite a bit of energy and she was beginning to become much more receptive to me. I decided to go with a slow introduction to a high speed over stimulating environment.
And so we headed to Costco. Fortunately we were able to approach the Costco parking lot from a distance. We spent about an hour slowly approaching it, sitting, focusing. Meeka’s job was to focus on me.
Once we arrived at the Costco parking lot, we walked as fast as we could through the far aisles of the lot. Past as many things as there was, Meekas only job was to focus on me. My job was to focus as much as my attention on Meeka while making sure we didn’t get hit by a car. We worked our way deeper into the lot.
Every time we came through an aisle we looked back while I partied hard with her. She had just walked right past so many things and none of it had bothered her because she was focused on me.
The thing about German shepherds, I find, is that when they are wound up, they tend to act out. These dogs in particular make horrible decisions when they feel the need to think for themselves. Luckily, they are blessed with a very high level of intuition and therefore are very easy to communicate with if you as a handler can keep your emotions under control.
If I can confidently walk through a Costco parking lot without fear, and Meeka’s job is to focus on me, then she can confidently walk through the Walmart parking lot. The more she can confidently walk through busy situations, the more confident she will be in busy situations. Confident dogs don’t freak out. And dogs that don’t freak out are just so much easier to take for a walk.
We repeated these drills for a few days until a suitable foster was found. Meeka and her foster worked hard together and fell in love. Meeka is now a loving companion and even has some dog friends. I wouldn’t recommend breaking into her home, but to those she loves and trusts she is a blessing.
Oh Marley. Marley came to me as a damaged adult miniature Doodle. Like many unfortunate super cute dogs, he had never had his personal space respected and learned that biting was the way to protect himself.
Unlike many of these cases, was the extreme force and rage Marleys shows of aggression would contain. Marley would come for blood, and he would come for blood often. His resource guarding was quite bad. And he would guard everything, including his space. He had high anxiety, so he would stack triggers and eventually pop off at the smallest things.
There was no touching him. Our only saving grace the first two weeks was his obsessive desire to fetch a ball. I could not leash him, but a few hours of fetch every day helped him burn his energy and helped us bond together in a fun way for us both.
After a few walks using a slip leash Marley learned I wasn’t going to hurt him with the leash and happily let me leash him for walks, where he has always done well. Marleys major issues were inside the home.
To deal with Marleys issues inside the home required a much more detailed approach to managing his triggers. His whole life had been framed by fear and aggressive response until this point and everything was new to him. You can’t fix a scared dog. You need to remove the fear first.
This is not something that can be done overnight. I had to provide Marley with an environment he felt safe in, a structured life, and ample opportunity to exercise both his body and his beautiful mind. I tried to occupy his mind as often as I could. We would walk with a six foot leash on the sidewalks and train while we went. I would put him on a 50 foot leash and allow him to run around the backwoods behind my home with my hound dog, free to follow their noses, roll in dirt, and do as dogs do.
Inside the home I packed Kong toys full of goodies and froze them solid, and used a snuffle mat to fill with little kibble for him. I kept his mind occupied with positivity as best I could so as to be able to release the pressures of the triggers stacking.
I also tried my hardest to manage his triggers inside the home. For example I would never walk straight at him. Instead of trying to walk past him in the hallway, I would have him get up and move out of the way. I did not allow any opportunities for him to get a hold of something he would guard. I removed all opportunities for him to fail so he could simply exist as a good boy in a controlled environment.
I would hold treats in a closed fist and not allow him to have them until he was calm, helping him learn to control his impulses. We also worked on the drop it command with a high value treat trade for a low value item, and then after the treat was consumed, I would return the item. We gradually built the trust that whatever I asked him to take, I was only holding it temporarily while he ate the treat I had. When you give it back, and normalize giving it to them and taking it away in a non threatening manner, you are removing the need for them to guard.
While Marley was still a “foster” dog I worked on contact exercises with him. I would present myself to him in such a way that he could chose to come to me for contact, or chose not to. If he chose to come, I would give him a quick pet under the chin or behind the ear. One to two seconds, tops. I would then praise him and back away. I would then start over again.
We would continue doing this regularly until I decided to adopt Marley, at which point I decided I would continue them on a less frequent scale and let time take its course, as he wasn’t going anywhere. We worked our way up from one to eight seconds within three months.
It took a good six months before the light over took the darkness. There were a few major setbacks along the way, as well as some minor ones. Sometimes he has a setback that I consider not worth dealing with. Example: he will sometimes steal a sock from the laundry and guard it. He will take it to a corner of the house and lay with it, guarding it. This is an item I don’t care to take. The other dogs don’t want it. He is left a doodle grumbling alone over a sock in the corner. Sometimes we need to let them deal with their inner demons on their own.
A dog like Marley takes extreme patience and understanding. These dogs bite and they often bite quite hard. Reacting to these bites is the worst thing you can do, while I totally understand that a dog biting will sometimes force an automatic response. You must keep your cool, not retaliate, not fight back, and stay calm. Anything else is only reinforcing the bite worked.
Expressing your emotions at this point is critical. Dogs sense of emotion is very limited. Dogs know love, and dogs know fear. You cannot be angry, you cannot yell, you cannot give them something to fear. They are already biting because they are scared. You must hit them in the love. The dog bit. You can be sad. You can disappointed. You can cry. The dog does love you. It is acting this way because it has learned this is the way to behave, not in spite of you. They do not want to hurt the ones they love.
Calm sadness and disappointment is a much better emotional response to yelling and screaming at them for biting. This is the hardest part about rehabilitating a biting dog. They have learned biting works. The only way to unlearn it is to be shown that biting doesn’t work. It hurts.
Over time the days without a bite increase. Eventually you go a week, and then two, and then you go weeks, and months without a bite. Every day is a new day. Some take more time than others. It’s important to go at the dogs pace and not push them to quick. They will let you know when they are ready.