Only 24 hours earlier I sat in her living room, the little gray dog barking at me so ferociously I used my workbag as a shield, protecting myself from a possible attack. The dog was only about 40 pounds at 18 months, but teeth are teeth and he had already bitten her. He bit her the first day she met him. She had reached out her hand only to say hello and was greeted with a chomp serious enough to send her to the ER. Yet she still brought him home. During the long car ride to San Luis Obispo he sat obediently in the back seat.
The little gray dog grew up in a backyard with one of its siblings. The owners were young, had busy lives and were not home very often. The neighbors, rumor has it, apparently fed up with the dog barking all day threatened it with a cattle prod. The little gray dog had no training. He seemed completely un-socialized to humans. The woman had taken him home hoping to rehabilitate him, and after he had been with her for a week, I was called in to help them.
The dog’s aggression, born out of fear, was one of the worst cases I had ever seen. The slightest movement I made set him off on a vicious rant, the woman trying to calm him any way she could. At first she tried to comfort him in a soft soothing voice, but that only reinforced the behavior. We worked for some time on a reconditioning exercise which seemed to work and showed signs of being successful had we been able to continue. But this would be a long, somewhat difficult journey and the woman wasn’t physically or mentally able to devote her energy to the cause. This was not what she signed up for, she expressed, when she rescued this little gray dog. She wanted to do the right thing and had grown attached to him in the short time she had him. But the little gray dog needed much more than she would ever be able to give. The woman began to cry. She felt so bad for the dog, and guilty that she wouldn’t be able to save him.
There was no one she or I knew that could take him. The dog needed someone who had the time and resources to work regularly with a trainer, who had the energy to work 30 minutes a day, for an extended period of time, on reconditioning and socialization exercises. so that rehabilitation could be successful. But there was no time now. There was no way this frightened, aggressive little gray dog with a bite history could ever be adopted out by animal services.
This sad scenario is probably one that has been played out countless times. It is a traumatic situation for all involved. Fortunately, fear aggression is one of the easiest behavioral issues to circumvent. Begin socializing puppies calmly and gently to humans at 8–12 weeks. Accompany the socializing with positive reinforcement and complete integration into the human pack. This is not to say that the dog must spend every waking minute with people, but just like with humans the more exposure to we have to scary situations the more comfortable we become with them. Help prevent your dog from meeting the same fate as this little gray one. If your having behavior issues with your dog, get help from a professional as soon as possible.