Johnny is perfect… at home, with no visitors, as long as his schedule isn’t disturbed! We got him when I was working at HALO Animal Rescue about 5 years ago. He was just 4 months old and had already found himself on the local humane society’s euthanasia list, not for fear but for straight human aggression. We knew taking him into the rescue was going to be a risk, but we also had seen many many dogs change drastically once they felt more comfortable. We also knew how unfair some behavioral evaluations could be. Johnny, at first, was no exception. He was quiet in his kennel, calm outside in the play yard with the other small dogs, and did not show any type of high strung behavior. He was exactly what I was looking for!
Hindsight is 20-20 and looking back I know if I knew then what I know now I would have seen a very different dog. His being ‘calm’ outside was him being unsure and cautiously watching everything going on. I would have seen that although he may have been quiet in the kennel, he was anything but relaxed. He was tense and withdrawn. Definitely not your typical puppy but I loved that even though he was young he had the face and eyes of an old man. Im sure feeling bad thinking about what he must have gone through at humane was no small part in choosing to adopt him. Fast forward and now Johnny is turning 6, has bitten at least 4 people and attempted several more. He has had to endure poor training choices from us, and has gone from only child to sharing his home with not one but two sometimes obnoxious frenchies!
I’m not sure if it’s the guilt of a) Not working more diligently with him at the beginning b) of considering re-homing him and realizing he wouldn’t be safe to others c) making his genetic issues worse by improper training/socialization by using a choke chain (many years ago!) or d) a sad situation with a dog we were planning to foster (a post for another day) that have prompted a desire to put the time, dedication and work into helping Johnny be all that he can be now. I realize he may never be completely safe to trust in any given situation but my goal is to never stop working and if at the very least he is able to relax around friends and family, and do more of the things he loves with us then I’ll consider it a success.
After searching to figure out how to start fresh with him I came across the CARE for Reactive Dogs protocol. The protocol is the most comprehensive plan using solely R+ training to counter condition reactive dogs that I’ve found so far. It’s great that there’s also facebook pages and groups dedicated to CARE and reactive dogs to talk with other owners going through similar issues and training with their dogs. Im one of those people that takes advice and information from everywhere and then filter it using the parts that make the most since to me. More then anything I’m worried I wont be clear in my signals, precise in my timing, and Ill end up making him more confused, anxious, and we’ll both end up frustrated. It looks like tomorrow will be a day full of planning and as always just little more research!
I feel like writing this is not only my promise to him, but also to challenge those I know that don’t believe in R+ training for counter conditioning and ultimately rehabilitation. I’m currently researching everything I can and would love any advice from those who have been there!