Every week I get emails asking me to consult on behavioural problems; more and more of these are involving dog/dog aggression cases.
I got one a few months ago that is not untypical and thought I would share it with you..
The lady, we shall call her Sarah but thats not her name, emailed me to ask if I would go down to her home and help her with her dogs as they were in ‘a terrible state’.
She had seven dogs, number seven being an un-neutered great dane /pitt mix called Junior whom she had adopted six months earlier. At 14 months old when he arrived, cocky and confident, he was entering his adulthood and quickly realised he was the biggest dog in the house, plus he was the only one physically able to reproduce as everyone else had been fixed, so that in his mind put him straight in as head honcho.
Junior had been given the keys to the kingdom from the outset; a stray who had been in pretty bad shape, when Sarah brought him into her home she lost no time letting him have the best seat in the house, covered him with a blanket, hand fed him in front of all the other dogs, carried him up to her bed, kicking off the two labs who had previously slept there every night for 5 years, sat him on the sofa beside her and told him he was safe and loved and everything would be alright…. Junior was, without doubt the Little Prince.
Junior was too sick to neuter straight away so the testicles stayed on right until he was 19 months old by which time the mange had cleared and he was physically and mentally strong.
Now I have no problem with dogs not being neutered if they are breeding dogs, and also if the owner is going to school him properly and be a strong pack leader. There is also an argument for fixing a dog closer to his first birthday as opposed to at six months old as some vets prefer these days, so that the dog can benefit from the full force of testosterone coursing through his body as he develops. Testosterone is not just the sex hormone as people think, its also responsible for muscle mass, bone growth and hair growth, as well as general well being. Neutering a dog too early can result in dogs without these developmental advantages.
Sarah loved Junior from the get go..a huge powerful looking dog, even in his ill health, plus she felt very sorry for the bad rap that pitt bulls get, so she determined that she would keep him.
Only problem was…Sarah didn’t bother asking the rest of the family, canine and human, what they thought about it, so they all, as Junior became more and more spoiled and more and more sure of his place, had to set about doing the very thing that Sarah hadn’t bothered to do…knock the little bugger down to size!
Nine year old Sadie quickly got aggravated with Junior stealing from her food bowl as she was a slow eater, and wasted no time letting him know that this was unacceptable… for which she received a stern reprimand from her owner.
Billy got into tousle after tousle with Junior over the copious rawhide bones that were left lying around ‘to keep the dogs quiet’. Sometimes the vet had to sew him up, sometimes not; always it was Billy’s fault because Junior had ‘clearly never had a rawhide and didn’t want to share them.’
Paco, the smallest member of the group was sleeping quietly under a table one day and didn’t want to play so he snapped at Junior, and almost paid for this action with his life when Juniors huge jaws wrapped around his head and had to be prised off by Sarah’s son.
Job, who, like his name had exhibited much patience with the newcomer, got tired of 100 pounds of exuberant dog constantly on his neck trying to bring him down to the ground ‘in play’ and snapped to warn Junior to back off, for which he received a time out, and a torn ear from Junior. [As an aside, when people wonder why I cut off play at certain junctures, this is the reason why…here at the Ranch we don’t like play to escalate lest one should feel threatened or uncomfortable. Many a damage has been done by dogs who’s owners say ‘He’s just having fun..he loves to wrestle!’ Play MUST be viewed as such by BOTH parties.]
Junior would go to work with Sarah, who runs her own business, and sit under her table as she had meetings and typed. When he was 17 months old, he bit one of Sarah’s clients as they left her office, and shortly after administered a nasty bite to her nephew who had come to meet Junior at her home.
Her kids were scared of him, her employees were scared of him and she started taking meetings at Starbucks instead of in her office; her husband had given up the ghost about two weeks after the arrival of Junior and retired to the basement lounge to watch TV while Sarah spent her evenings on the main level with Junior. One by one, in quick succession, every other member of the family joined him.
The final straw was a huge fight when Sadie didn’t want to give up her dinner to the ‘school bully’.
Junior bit her, and Billy stepped in to help Sadie. In the melee that followed, Junior received dreadful wounds, Billy and Sadie were pretty torn up, and Sarah’s hand was bitten so badly as she tried to separate them that she had a hole right through her hand. Months later she still cannot use it and has to maintain a leave of absence from her business, costing her thousands over and above her vet and hospital bills.
As I read her email, it read like a what not to do in any home with dogs…no training for any of the dogs [ didn’t have time], poor quality food [didn’t have the money for all that “fancy holistic stuff with seven dogs..we feed Purina Dog Chow”], didn’t walk the dogs on leash [they pull], only had a small fenced yard area although they actually owned 5 acres, allowed the dogs wrestling and playing very rough with each other and never took time to play with the dogs or take them anywhere herself [ too busy working].
The final paragraph asked if I could help her to rehome Sadie, the nine year old female.
I asked her why she thought Sadie was the problem and she told me it was because Sadie was the one who started the last attack and because she was a troublemaker…
I know, if you have any sense, you are probably as shell shocked as I am at this response and so my first question to her was what was she actually prepared to do to change things?
Would she be prepared to rehome Junior as she was quite clearly overwhelmed and had way too many dogs for her lifestyle, plus her family disliked the dog he had become, the dog she had turned him into..?
Would she be prepared to embark on an in home training programme with all of her dogs so that she could establish herself as firmly in charge?
Would she view this whole problem from the point of view of the dogs and see that they were only doing what she drove them to do? She had created a brat in Junior by allowing him to do whatever he chose…he never had to ingratiate himself and work his way up through the pack, he never had to earn a darn thing, it was all handed to him on a plate. Would she at least see that Sadie had ostensibly been left with no choice but to do what she did……… Sarahs actions made no sense to a dog?
Would she commit to exercising her dogs every day so that they had some way to blow off steam and experience a larger world outside of the home, thus giving them something else to focus on instead of the growing problems within their domestic set up?
Would she feed a quality food that at least gave their brains a chance at producing some serotonin and creating some calm?
Would she, instead of dropping rawhide bones all over the floor for the dogs to entertain themselves with, manage the dogs environment so that resources like bones and food were strictly controlled while a programme of resource guarding training was carried out at home?
Would she stop treating the dogs like children and realise that they are huge, strong, highly physical creatures with teeth and different sensibilities; that to over -affectionalise a weak and feeble newcomer in front of the established pack who have earned the right to be there had made Junior public enemy number one from the get go?
Would she at least put her family first and listen to their reasoning?
The answer to all of the above was NO!
She had an excuse for everything, a reason for everything she was doing and saw nothing wrong with her actions…couldn’t I just help her to put the dogs back together again? She had seen on the website and the facebook the hands on work we do with aggressive dogs, so she really wanted to pay me to come out to her place and help her to reintroduce the dogs after their weeks apart, as she felt sure things would have died down by now. The other dogs were all getting along famously upstairs, Billy and Sadie’s wounds were almost healed and she felt the time was right as everyone was more peaceful and relaxed.
Plus, she was so sad for Junior having to live in the basement on his own..”He must be soooo lonely without all his buddies”.
Now, having been through a problem with my own dogs where two didn’t get along, I very much see the value of separating dogs, working with them each separately on impulse control and obedience and then re-introducing them in a neutral environment. With time and the right combination of personalities, sometimes success can be achieved.
This is not what Sarah wanted; she wanted me to just be with her in her home as we reintroduced these dogs and hang around for the first two or three hours as back up basically, because neither her grown son, nor her husband would be any part of this. They had told her that Junior needed to go.
Here is where the problem of the TV dog behavior specialist gets in the way of my job… Sarah had been smitten with a certain dog behaviorist who, when the dogs want to fight each other, puts each on their side, knuckle punches them on the shoulder, puts them in a state of ‘calm submission’ [when you unpack that phrase, by the way, think about what it actually means…if you forced me to submit to someone I wouldn’t be calm, I tell you] and then body blocks to get them to stay apart.
I’m sorry to say that in real life, this isn’t how things go, and only an idiot would put feuding dogs back together without having done all of the necessary remedial work first. The TV shows just don’t show you the weeks of behavior modification that goes into each case, which always shocks me. Why not show the huge amount of hard work that the trainer/ behaviorist and the family have done to effect this result? Making it look easy is dangerous, surely?
Needless to say I declined as being paid fifty bucks an hour simply to get my ass kicked and watch seven dogs try to do the same thing to each other, is not my idea of fun.
I’ve lived here in beautiful Georgia for seven years and I’ve found that you Southerners have a wonderful expression for most things and in this instance, only one will cut it.
You can’t fix stooopid!