I had a heartbreaking phone call from a young lady last night.
She called me to ask me if I would consider taking in her extremely people-aggressive dog to live with me. The dog is facing euthanasia after now seriously biting her owner. The lady has run out of options and can't live with her anymore, but it is, of course, killing her to do that so she is scrambling looking for someone, anyone, to take her.
I'm going to let you know right off the bat that I said no.
I don't need a dog with those kind of problems in my life any more than she does. I have one reactive dog in my home that I have to manage every minute of the day and honestly that's enough. I've been a dumping ground for problem dogs for years and have had many, many seriously damaged fosters who have disrupted my home, my family and my quality of life and I don't do it anymore. I have thoroughly benefitted from the education of it all, I honor that, but I'm not putting myself or my family through that anymore.
I will live longer that way. I won't be as popular, but I will live longer.....
However, that doesn't mean I didn't want to try and help her, so I asked her to tell me more.
The dog is fine with other dogs, even okay with cats funnily enough, but when new people come in to her life and home, she lunges and bites.
The lady has tried Prozac to no avail, she's using CBD oil right now, she's trying to manage her environment and she's been through training, but nothing is working.
"Okay," I said, "Let’s talk about the training. Who? Where? When?"
She told me that she used to live in Houston and the dog had gone to puppy training classes, had done fairly well and had just the usual puppy issues growing up; a few issues but nothing huge.
When she moved to Georgia a few years ago, the displacement of moving to a new home and all of the change that went with it, hit her hard and the dog started to get protective of her mum and new home.
In a bid to get the dog back on track she sent her to a nearby 'boot camp' facility where she stayed for a number of weeks, as is their usual requirement. She came back a shadow of the dog she was, very submissive and seemingly under control, but very soon started to show angst around new people.
I sighed. Heard this too many times before, and each time it kills me....
The boot camp she went to has a habit of using a shock collar to 'rehabilitate' all of the dogs in their 'care'. The guy who runs it is a Cesar Milan wannabe who thinks that in order to deal with any dog problem first you must demonstrate being the pack leader by dominating the dog physically and mentally, kind of breaking them down to build them back up. I have heard horror stories about him 'helicoptering' dogs in the air by their pinch collars, while wearing shock collars for good measure, slamming them down on the ground and growling in their face when they lay helpless on the floor. They cower and shudder and he maintains that this is 'calm submission' to his eagerly watching clients, who are just desperate enough to think that this might work. This lady admitted to me that she cringed and winced as she watched him handle her dog but she thought she should probably just trust him after reading the website.
Oh. Dear. God.......
I can’t even begin to comprehend this method.
It is totally nonsensical to me. We have had so many clients come here after this kind of 'training', asking me to salvage what is left of the dog after all of the personality has been knocked out of them, all of the joie de vivre has gone and after the problems have resurfaced.......which they ALWAYS do.
Bullying travels downwards.
The dog likely won't bite the trainer who scared the living shit out of him, but it will pick on the perceived weaker link in any future situation, that's how it goes.
You can almost always pick out the kid in a school yard who's having the shit kicked out of him (either mentally or physically) by someone at home, he will be the one who's either cowering in the corner, or bullying some other child. The abused become the abusers in almost every single case.
Dogs are no different. Having handled thousands of dogs over the years I absolutely know this to be true.
Your kids? Smaller dogs? Wife going through sickness or mental anguish? New people coming into your home who aren't fully confident around dogs? Now they're all at risk thanks to the dogs' so called 'rehabilitation'.
The biggest problem is, it's very, very hard to put these dogs back together again after they have endured such treatment. Not everyone wants to invest the time and money in doing so, (it is a very lengthy process and can't be undone by some cookies and a cuddle) and honestly, not every dog can be rebuilt successfully after such trauma.
Just like humans, when they are broken down, they literally ARE broken.
Any kind of training or rehabilitation you choose for your dog must first zero in on the cause of the issue. They are hardly ever the same, each dog has his or her own shit to deal with and they each look at it differently, deal with it differently.
To find out the cause, there must be a prolonged period of observation with the professional really getting to know the dog; trust must be formed, with the dog relaxing into the relationship so that he or she displays his or her normal behaviors.
A program of rehabilitation with the emphasis on reward.....(and no, I don't mean sausages and treats, I mean REAL rewards, as in, 'these things make me feel good about myself' kind of rewards, that the dog can buy into, see, smell, hear and feel......) needs to be devised. Dogs learn best using repetition, fun and praise. Just like kids.
Environment change can be a wonderful idea for sure, just like a drug addict needs to come out of his or her normal environment to get away from their daily habits and change up their routine completely, so that the brain shakes itself out of the programming of "Dude, it’s 7pm, gotta have a hit of something".
But physical and mental oppression using tortuous devices to change a dogs behavior?
They are neither long term or short term solutions, just an opportunity for some grand standing asshole with a character deficit to show off to those who don't know better...........and look like a total dick to anyone who really knows dogs.
That lady's poor dog will probably end up paying with her life for the behavior modification choice she made...she knows it, I didn't have to tell her, she pretty much said the same thing. She's just desperate to save her dogs' life and it's killing her. I feel for her, but I don't know what options she has. I certainly don't know anyone who wants to commit to taking in an aggressive dog who would bite visitors and even their owner.
Management isn't an option in this case because she herself now has become the victim and can't handle her own dog.
Ugh. I bloody hate it.
Think carefully about who you let handle your dog.
Are they empathic? Are they more about themselves and the performance, how they look to the watching public? Or are they genuinely looking at your dogs problem and how best to handle it?
Are they a one size fits all? Or do they see your dog as an individual with specific needs and fears?
Do they use punishment as part of their regimen?
Look at other dogs they have in their care....do they act carefree with laughter, fun and unfettered joy? Or are they cowering and going low, ears back, eyes wide and fearful or even worse, like slits waiting for the onslaught, when they see their 'trainer'?
Be an advocate.
If you love your dog, I beg of you...be an advocate. Lest your dog pays for your decision with her life.