When we still operated the training space in Carroll County, I had a client with an offensive-aggressive herding breed mix. She was a mature adult, but I can’t remember whether she was a ‘rescue’ or had been with this family from puppyhood.
A typical nuclear family; two working parents, two school age kids who were more interested in friends and activities than family or dog. The principal handler was male. I never met the wife or kids. The principal complaint was that the dog was “unpredictable” and had bled all of the family members at least once, and a few others besides. She was by all accounts a dangerous dog.
Anyway, the team had been coming for weeks. We were about midway through a particularly long program to address the dogs’ threatening behaviors with family members, guests or chance encounters during routine activities like neighborhood walks.
There had been no improvement, and I cannot remember a time when the dog didn’t take a swipe, at least once, during a lesson.
I was missing something. I had to be. I thought I had asked all the right questions, discovered all the pertinent information that would allow me to glean some insight into this dog’s behavior. The owner swore he was doing the work, that other family members were compliant with protocols, etc.
He swore it.
I was surely missing something.
After about the 6th week of lessons, I sat him down and told him that I wasn’t seeing any progress. I asked if there was anything I might have overlooked, and *now* would be a good time to tell me. Problems with follow-through, maybe? Perhaps there were some issues that he didn’t think were important, but that I might… maybe the work he thought his family was maintaining might be less than what was required to keep them safe?
He looked downfield to the agility equipment and sighed. “I was just waiting to get to the ‘fun stuff’.”
I needed a steam shovel to scrape my jaw off the floor.
This individual had wasted time, money, and opportunity because he thought that ‘fun stuff’ was more important than remediating his dog’s aggression. He proceeds to tell me that the only reason his wife made him come that night was because the dog had ‘nipped’ (gawd, if there’s a stupid euphemism that I hate, it’s THAT ONE) a friend of one of the children again and she was getting tired of the dog’s proclivity for people meat.
I mean, lawsuits are a thing.
He went on to tell me that with life being so demanding that having to train the dog was just a bother, so he had contacted a vet to write a scrip for anti-anxiety meds and the dog had been receiving them for months.
I was furious. I had a DOCUMENT that this individual had signed that stated the dog was not currently being treated with any medication.
He had lied to me. His lies had endangered not only his family, but myself, my interns, my spouse, and my son. All of whom at one time or another had been in close proximity to this dog.
I have a very simple, very specific requirement when I work with people. It’s called “Don’t lie to me.”
I understand that most folks aren’t being deliberately deceptive, and that what they interpret may not coincide with what a professional might see, but to openly deceive…
That is unconscionable.
And much like his dog, he had no remorse.
Our relationship ended that day. I never heard from him again.
The point being, there is no ‘getting to the fun stuff’ if you cannot master the basics. Especially if you are the owner of a dangerous dog.
I admire people that are willing to commit to their dogs and can envision solutions to the variety of behavior issues they encounter. I have immense respect for the folks that, by virtue of determination, are putting one foot in front of the other to help their dogs, and themselves, experience a better existence.
Not all behavior problems can be cured, but they can be improved. It just takes a plan that can be executed efficiently, and the determination to want the change.
In the movie Dune, there is a great line- “It is by will alone I set my mind in motion.”
It really doesn’t take much, but it takes more than lip service. It takes actual effort.
PS. The dog in this image is not a masher. She is a delightful Lagotto that is preparing for her obedience ring debut. I just wanted a nice, colorful image for the algorithms, because they like images.