So this is not my normal blog. I am fostering a dog brought to our shelter because of behavior the owner felt was too dangerous for them to deal with and the approaching birth of a child. I’ve been asked to assess him behavior and determine his adoption potential and if so, what kind of home/owner he will need to be a safe and happy dog. So I’m going to share my experience here both for my benefit of tracking his progress but also in the hopes others might take something away beneficial from my experience. So after having him only a few hours, his story begins.
Jack is a 2 year old purebred Toy Poodle. Purchased as a puppy from a breeder and in the same home since that time. But has progressively become more aggressive towards other people. In particular when the owner became pregnant, he was deemed and called the Devil Dog for being unpredictable. Concern over the safety of future child, led owner to surrender to our shelter.
When I met him in the lobby, he was in the arms of a young volunteer who he seemed comfortable with but who had already seen his aggression when others tried to approach him with the dog in his arms. I never recommend introducing a dog to people when the arms of person as 1) the dog cannot get away and may feel trapped and threatened and 2) the position up off the ground can empower some dogs to act more assertive than they would naturally on the ground. I asked that he be put on the ground. Even on the ground, he had acted ugly towards others approaching the young man. However, when allowed to wander to the end of the leash, he approached people with a friendly demeanor. Very telling of part of the problem.
I took the leash and did not introduce myself at all until after a short walk. Generally responded to me with a wary but friendly approach. Not overzealous in his expression of pleasure but calm yet wary. But not relaxed. I did not pet him.
He did growl at another dog that I introduced him to who was very calm but somewhat submissive. However a jerk of the leash and turning him around to allow the new dog to sniff him, he accepted amicably. Later when I went to pet him from behind, he did over react with growling and snarling and it took several minutes for him to relax. Overly sensitive reaction to my touch. When I moved towards him in his irritated state though he immediately moved away from me. Submitting. Also telling.
An hour later I would introduce him to each of my dogs one by one without a single incident. He was soon loose in my home with all 8 of my dogs and my cats without incident. And also ran and attempted some mild play in the yard not long after without incident. He was excited but relaxed in his chasing of my dogs and when they approached him playfully, he submitted quickly. Respectful.
He follows me fairly closely although not on top of me nor positioning himself in front of me. Just in my area and so far no reaction when my dogs approach me, even in an excited state. Good sign.
Initial assessment, he is not fear aggressive. But whatever the underlying issue, I suspect based on possessiveness and imbalance as a result of having been given insufficient leadership in previous home. Lots of love, but not enough guidance. Time will tell.
Only firm rules in place at the moment are that he is not welcome to lay on the furniture, for the time being anyway, and not permitted to jump up on me (or anyone) for attention. This is a standing rule for all my dogs. Otherwise, free to be.
Couldn’t ask for a better first day with Jack. He has been terrific. No issues whatsoever. Has taken up with my pack without a single issue. Ate along side them without even the slightest hesitation or aggression. He does tend to want to grab food out of my hands when offered a treat but learned quickly that this wasn’t acceptable and waited patiently while I taught him that only gentle mouths got treats from my hand. Played with Lola, my youngest dog with confidence but respect. Is relaxed and responsive to my commands. Still tends to want to jump up on me occasionally for attention but has very quickly learned that no attention will be given with this behavior and sits his little butt down and waits for my affection. I can touch him from head to toe without any sensitivity or reaction. Unlike yesterday when he overreacted and became growly when I touched his lower back initially. He trusts me or respects me enough to know better than to react. While I rarely pick dogs up, I can pick him up without resistance and while I cannot say that he is terribly relaxed as I hold him, he remains still and compliant. While he wanted in the bed last night, my ignoring his initial jumping on the side of the bed and quiet whining to be picked up, he settled down without a minute to sleep under the bed or on one of the dog beds next to my bed with two of my other dogs and never made a sound. He’s even started to go to the door to be let outside. In general he’s been a delight and respond exceedingly well to what I suspect are pretty drastic change in the rules and routine. But seems very happy nevertheless. I imagine in anyone walked in my door they would think he’d been here for months rather than hours. He followed me around the yard while I worked outside some today and never strayed too far from me but was neither clingy or insecure all the while. And he stayed alone with 4 of my dogs while I ran errands and while I heard him whining when he saw me approaching the house, there was nothing out of place or destroyed while I was away. Jack is doing great. And I’m very proud of him and very optimistic about his future. I brought out his bed and some of the toys that his previous owners brought in his luggage and he could care less about who shares any of those. Does not seem possessive of any of his things which I am very pleased about. Day 2 with Jack was a very fine day.
For that know me well, they know I’m not a fan of dressing up our animals. BUT since it is Super Bowl Sunday and since Jack came with a plethora of outfits including a football jacked, I allowed myself to break my own rule about playing dress up and put Jack’s Jacket on briefly.
Another good day for Jack for the most part. Ate with my dogs, took his after breakfast treat with more gentleness and a prompt sit when told. Initiated play with Lola today for the first time and they played well together and quit when I told them to stop. Good pups. Only one mild exception to his good behavior. He jumped up on the couch today and when I told him off, he resisted and showed a little of his old attitude and gave me a growl and showed me his teeth when I insisted. But rather than a 30 second outbreak of ugly attitude as he did the day I met him, he got over it in about 5 seconds and trotted away from me briskly knowing he was wrong. I was told that he did not like to have his back or butt touched and while he will turn his head in the direction of my hand when I do pet and scratch him there, he has shown no resistance and seems to enjoy the scratching. He also is laying in his bed (that came with him) more often but does not seem protective or possessive of it and has no problem with the other dogs trying to share it or approaching him when in it. While I was trying to anticipate some attitude which would have gotten him a brisk “NO” for acting as such and would have sent him away from his bed as a lesson for that behavior, he’s given me no reason nor opportunity to teach him this lesson. There’s been no need. Good Jack.
Jack met my neighbor today and Lee Buckingham and did great with both of them. Friendly, excited and no protectiveness of me. However, I did learn that he is not fond of being brushed. Two swipes with the brush, regardless of how gentle I was, set him off. Will need to work on this. However, even in his highly irritated state, he settled down quickly, came to me when called and sat on command for a treat. After 2 or 3 trials of putting him on the couch and then telling him “off” and giving a reward of a treat for his doing so without hesitance or a snarl, he is now very responsive to such commands and sits readily waiting to be rewarded by just a pat. He is learning but certainly has a few old obstacles that he needs to overcome. He really enjoys the company of other dogs….good thing since he spent all day with my dogs and did great. I believe a home with another dog is a must to help him stay balanced, provide him some leadership and ensure he is not treated as the only “baby” in the home. I think we both learned things today.
Well week 1 with Jack here in my home has overall been a very good week. He has acclimated wonderfully, learning our routine, making new friends…he loves my dog Lola best and they play a great deal and other than some annoying humping action (Jack was just neutered recently), they get along famously. He learned the dog door today all by himself or possibly with the assistance of my dogs but is great to stay close in the yard. No accidents in the house at all in the past 5 days and seems to be holding it all day while I’m at work too. Good boy. I’ve learned what sets off some of his ugliness (I am purposefully not calling it aggression since it is in response to things that he doesn’t enjoy). He does not like being brushed but I can now brush him a stroke or two without him getting annoyed. He does not normally get on the furniture at all but if he does or if I put him on the couch, he gets off on command without any issue and waits for the reward of my attention or a treat now knowing that it is coming. He did find a toy under the bed and growled when I approached the bed but he got ran out of the room (yes, he growled at me while he was leaving) but I could simply call him back to me, he sat and waited for attention like he knew well what he was supposed to do. So I’m very please with his progress. This weekend we will do some field trips out to be around more people to ensure he’s meeting and greeting strangers with the same calm attitude he has done with friends around my home. While it was reported he did not like car rides, he was great on his way here so will want to see how he responds to the next trip. I’m optimistic. Have been in communication in with his former mommy who misses him greatly and is very sad to have to have given him up but is happy to know he’s responding well and will have a wonderful home again hopefully soon. Have an adopter lined up but want to ensure that he is ready for another home before sending him off to start his new life.
Overall Jack continues to do very well. He has settled into a great routine here with my pack. His best buddy Lola is a constant playmate for him and I think this helps with burning off any excess energy that might have in the past been part of the source of problems. He has shown little to no aggressive behavior, in part because I understand more about what might bring it on. Most of the time he’s an absolute joy. He’s not shown any possessiveness with me, allows others to pet and hold him without any incident. Is polite and respectful of my dogs that don’t enjoy his energy. And shares his bowl and treats like a gentleman. He does tend to get a little growly at times when under the bed with a toy but nothing that worries me. And we have conquered his aversion to being brushed or at least to some extent. He is perfectly content to be brushed when he’s licking out the empty cat food can. So I will call that progress. Have tested him without the can licking as a distraction without incident but only a swipe or two, so cannot get too excited that we have conquered that issue yet but am happy with his response to even that. He doesn’t seem to relish it but does not act like he’s going to eat the brush or me now when I show him the brush and stroke him a time or two. Hoping to make some roadtrips to the pet store this weekend for another car test and outing in public with lots of people but am pretty confident that this too will be successful. I am very happy with his continued progress and his attitude overall! He’s a happy go lucky guy!
Two weeks after arriving at our shelter and into my home, Jack took his first field trip to see how he would do in a different environment. He road well in the car and despite a little whining a few times along the way, seemed relaxed and comfortable in the car. He was content to ride in the back and curled up on the big blanket for most of the rides to and fro. We stopped for a visit at the shelter where he did fabulously. Was excited to meet everyone. While he was a little overly exuberant, jumping up on most everyone that came by, he greeted everyone with happiness, butt wags and kisses. He was very happy to see a couple of children and while I supervised him very closely and them, he was wonderful with them. Met two strange dogs and with only the briefest of growls when meeting one of them initially made friends quickly with them both. Then we were off to the local Pet Store where our shelter was having an adoption event. He was Mr. Personality there too and showed no signs of protectiveness towards me, ran up to everyone he could and when one woman swept him up into her arms before I could discourage her from doing so, he was nothing but delightful. Met a few dogs too with no issues. I was curious to see how he behaved while attached to me via the leash but was just perfect. Only on the car ride home when I tried to remove the leash from around his neck did he show even the slightest of his past issues. While trying to unloop the leash, I put a good bit of restraint on his collar and he got annoyed by that and whipped his head around as if he might bite me. He didn’t but its obvious that one thing he still doesn’t know exactly how to react to is having someone hold onto his collar. I’ve noticed a few times here at home when I’ve grasped his collar even lightly, that he would turn his head around as if to say “hey what’s up with that”. So that’s something else for us to work on before he goes home. He now allows me to brush him without much ado. Now that his outbursts are few and far between, have to test him a little to discover what he doesn’t like so that I can change his reactions to those things. There don’t seem to be many anymore. Proud of him.
The fact that its been almost 10 days since my last post is somewhat indicative of how Jack is doing. He’s doing fabulously! Any signs of the aggressive, impatient little dog that arrived here are virtually invisible now. While he did get a little upset when I insisted upon putting his snowball covered feet and legs into a bath after he insisted on playing outside in 5 inches of snow, even with that his reaction was one of mild irritation and not the ugly, snarling little dog that previously showed itself when he was displeased. He understands the rules about getting on and off furniture when told and often will jump down off the couch before being told by simply a look from me and the point of a finger. He enjoys strangers and shows no possessiveness of me, toys, beds, or even his food dish. He is extremely playful and loves playing with my other dogs and right now the young boisterous puppy I am also fostering. While I imagine a grooming would be a less than pleasant affair for the groomer, I can now brush him and he enjoys it. Most of the time…which means when he wants to join in the fun with my other dogs, he is less satisfied to sit with me and be brushed but is squirmy rather than snarly. I much prefer this attitude. While his “recovery” or rebirth as a good little dog will need to continue to require his future family to establish and reaffirm the expectations and rules I put in place from day one, I have no concerns about him continuing to be a great little guy and a happy family member for his new owners. This weekend will be one last test which is an overnight with friends but I am confident in him and that they will enjoy him as much as he will enjoy the experience as he loves everyone he meets.
Jack is having a great time at his sleep away weekend with friends and fosters Lee and Cindy Buckingham. Is being a perfect gentleman…well as much of one as the playful, joyful fellow he is. While I’m not surprised as he’s come a long way and has shown nothing but a willingness to be a fun loving pack member, you just never know. But he has done me proud and will be going to his forever home shortly. I have been in touch with his former mommy pretty continuously through this process as she misses his terribly and wants on the best for him and while I know it is hard for her to not have him be a part of her life and family, she also wants the very best for him. And I think one of the best things about the process with Jack, is his former family is now better prepared for the future dog they will one day add again to their family when the time is right. They have probably learned as much through the process with Jack as he has. So its been very rewarding for me to not only help Jack but also help them. They were loving and doting parents to Jack and while that was not always best for him as he needed more leadership, they will make wonderful parents and now leaders for their next dog some day. For me too, they have been a good reminder that not everyone that gives up their pet does so because they don’t love and care about them. Sometimes its because they DO love them so and know that they can’t be the kind of owner that the dog needs. Although I suspect now they could be, with a new baby coming, Jack is not the right dog for this family. But I’m very happy to know that he was so loved before and will be loved greatly with his new family but with a few more rules to help him stay the balanced, secure dog he has become. Soon I’ll report that Jack has gone home and I’ll miss him too. Have missed him in just the one day he’s been away but look forward to him beginning his new life in his new home as I do with all my fosters. Fortunate to have the advantage of staying in close contact with him for the rest of his life makes it all the easier to put him in someone else’s arms. Why I love what I do.
Today Jack starts his new life in new wonderful home. And I’m so excited for him and his new two-legged and four-legged family. I couldn’t ask for a better home for him and am confident he’ll not only do great but will entertain, charm and add a new fun loving dynamic to their world.
Jack’s transformation from an outwardly aggressive little dog that shocked his owners who had only shown him love to a well-behaved, loving but still lively personality is not miraculous. And in fact wasn’t even very difficult to bring about. Setting new rules for him while allowing his native instincts to be a part of my four-legged pack and every dog’s need for a pack leader to be the basis of his retraining, he learned what behavior was acceptable and what was not.
Granted changing the rules was simpler for me as a result of two facts. The first of which was that I had no past relationship with Jack. I didn’t feel guilty changing things because I wasn’t dealing with emotions or past practices that might get in the way. I treated him like I treat my dogs. No, not like a baby. But like a dog. In my home that means rules and limits but also love, attention, furniture laying, cuddling, treats…but all within limits.
Secondly I was the only person in the home and I could control the consistency, reward and “punishment” (mostly in the form of banishment from the pack) at all times. I didn’t have a spouse or children that might not practice what I preached in the same way or consistently. I did not have to deal with others confusing Jack by not applying the rules and rewards in the manner I set. I only had to control my own weaknesses.
Jack was never yelled at, hit or even touched for that matter in discipline. In fact virtually the opposite. In most cases, poor behavior if mild was ignored. Good behavior rewarded with pats and “atta boys”. Ugly behavior that was uncalled for, disrespectful was rewarded (punished) with being banished. Literally I made him go away. And while initially his response was his old response of growling, snarling and snapping…he soon learned that this did not get him the response that in the past he must have taken as reward. I didn’t stop, I didn’t get scared and I didn’t give up until he stopped. And when he did, his name was called, he was welcomed back into my presence and the pack and he was happy to return…each and every time.
While I’m not suggesting this will work with every dog…different things work for different issues and different personalities. But Jack’s high social drive made being exiled unattractive to him. He wanted to be with me. As such this approach worked well.
My hope in sharing Jack’s journey was not just to tell his story but to hopefully share some ideas and give hope for those who might have dogs that have similar problems. Changing their world is not inhumane and you can do the same with your dog today if needed. Honestly, not doing so and allowing your dog to live in a world where bad behaviors make life uncomfortable at best and dangerous at worst is as unfair to the dog as it is to those that live with them. Not helping them to find balance and security in your home is torment. Pretending it will just go away or they will grow out of in most cases not realistic.
It’s never too late to start but does require consensus among the entire family, commitment and giving up the guilt that comes with change. But it can create positive change for you and your dog. And in some cases may allow you to keep your dog when you are at your wits end and are thinking the only way to solve the problem is to get rid of the dog.
While Jack’s previous owners loved him beyond belief and would never have given him up had it not been for the impending birth of their first child and the dangerous position they felt they were bringing that child into, not knowing how to deal with his behavior left them feeling helpless. And I know how difficult it was for them to give him up despite the logic of that decision. I hope that others might learn a little from Jack’s story and make change happen so that they don’t have to make such difficult and heartbreaking decisions.
Jack is in his new home now and I am sure to share news of his new life here as well. This is not the end of Jack’s story but rather the beginning of a new one for a charming little dog I won’t ever forget. I’m exceedingly proud of how far he has come and appreciate the opportunity to not only help him move forward but also to learn along the way too. And I’m going to miss him like crazy but couldn’t be happier for him if he had been with me all his life. He’s lucky to have known such love in his previous home and what I’m sure will be big love in his new one.