I received an email that I’d like to share with you. These folks wrote me privately about their puppy who they believe is aggressive. I removed all identifying information from their email and bolded some their comments that jumped out as big red flags to me. It’s not my intention to make an example of these folks as an individual(s) because they’re not alone and this article is not intended to be a direct hit to these folks either.
Unfortunately, there are way too many people who choose to take this person’s intended route as their solution. Part of my role as a more educated dog person than I used to be, what we believe in at our house and one of the things our website exists for is helping to be a voice for dogs who can’t speak for themselves, to help eradicate old-school thinking in order to give all dogs a better life and to stop dogs from being unnecessarily euthanized at the hands of uneducated humans.
Education must sometimes be blunt in order to learn. You won’t see an apology if I offend anyone with my comments and beliefs. You may not like me for some of the things I’m about to say, I’m not here to be liked. I’m here to share my experiences, be an educator, a voice for dogs who can’t speak for themselves, an advocate for saving dog’s lives and for helping to keep more dogs in their homes with the families these dogs love whenever possible. In other words I’m on the dog’s side where there aren’t nearly enough people. If you don’t want to chance seeing yourself here or of being offended just stop reading right here and now. If you decide to read on, I hope you learn something helpful for yourself and your own dog. Take what you like and leave the rest. So, let’s start with the email I received from these folks and then I’ll share my thoughts:
I have a 9 mth old German Shepherd that I need to turn in to be rescues. Our vet recommends euthanasia but I just can’t do that. He is very afraid aggressive towards other people including kids. Does not like cats, but will play with small dogs. I think he will play with big dogs too, but I don’t trust him.
We have had a personal training that worked with him for about 8-9 wks, he did a good job, but we just don’t have that kind of time to work with him. The Vet has him on anxiety meds, but I don’t think they are working. We love him and he loves us. But he is just too protective towards us. Can you help and find him a good home.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources for helping people re-home their dogs so we can’t help personally with this. Riley’s Place does not do adoptions or provide rescue or re-homing services. We hope to be able to do this some day but currently we don’t have this ability. What I can do is try to help these folks and others do some soul searching on re-homing their dogs and make suggestions which may help them keep their dog. People looking to re-home their dog should contact the local breed-specific rescues in their area and their local animal shelters. They’re the ones who have the resources to help those that still wish to or need to re-home.
One thing I say very vehemently is please please please do NOT do the “FREE to Good Home” thing or post dogs on Craig’s List! Advertising pets as FREE to a good home and/or on Craig’s List can be a sure way to send your dog into a life of torture and death. If you don’t believe me please read about the Craigslist tortured Puppy Doe who’s just one of so many dogs who pay the price for their human’s mistake. Just as there are predators out there after our children, there are predators out there after our pets and these people run rampant on websites such as Craig’s List! Don’t for even one second think it can’t happen to you, your child or your pet. For example, people who give away their pet mice and gerbils many times unsuspectingly give them to people who are going to do nothing more than to feed them to their snakes. The horror stories of dogs having been re-homed to supposedly “nice” people are never ending. These seemingly nice people get the dog’s family to trust them, turn the dog over to them and then promptly put the dog to work as bait for dog fighting rings or beat and torture them for their own grins and giggles. If you think I’m kidding, read the newspaper or listen to the news.
Here’s where I can sound like a real witch. I’d like to share with you a few of the excuses people give for re-homing their dogs (in bold). Stand in front of a mirror and say them out loud a few times so you really hear and see yourself while paying attention and be honest and objective to what you really sound like when you say them. I’ve added what you sound like to me and other dog lovers who are committed to their dogs no matter what and/or participate in rescue and/or work in animal shelters (not bolded). People in our shoes see way to much of people re-homing their dogs and we have a real hard time with the fabricated justifications people cite for why this or that dog needs a new home when the bottom line is that they just don’t want to be bothered with the dog anymore.
You can’t begin imagine how fed up I am with the excuses people give to justify re-homing a dog. In my mind this is nothing more than taking the easy, lazy man’s way out. I’m not saying that in some cases it’s not the best solution for the dog. Maybe the owner became ill, seriously disabled or fell on unexpected bad times such as job loss and with the economy the way it is they can’t find work and so they can’t afford to care for their dog anymore. The option to re-home the dog yourself where you’re sure it will be well cared for and loved is better than surrendering him to a shelter where the dog may likely be put to death because no one adopts him. Dogs in general don’t do well in shelters but the German Shepherd breed has an exceptionally hard time languishing in a kennel. It doesn’t take long for them to flat out shut down completely. They stop eating and drinking, stop interacting, they cower in a corner shaking in fear and quickly develop abandonment or aggression issues just to name a few.
Older dogs, black dogs and protective breed dogs have little to no chance of being adopted and likely the only walk they’ll get is the one to the death room. If you’ve ever seen a dog take that last walk, the horror in them and to see fight so hard to try to get away will send chills through you. I’ve seen videos that sent me into wave after wave of unstoppable tears and almost vomit. These dogs know where they are going and what’s going to happen to them.
“I don’t have time for my dog.” Seriously? Do you really expect me to believe you when you tell me you love your dog? If you don’t have time for your dog and don’t find it in your heart to make the time, then it’s my feeling that you don’t deserve your dog and all the love and devotion they give us. In cases like this your dog is then better off living with someone who really does want them. If you’re not willing to step up to the plate and deal with your dog’s quirks, if you believe dogs are “throw away” objects and you really just don’t want to be bothered with him anymore then you shouldn’t have a dog at all. Did you ever stop to think that you have some quirks that your dog may not be so crazy about? The difference is your dog won’t give up on you no matter what your quirks.
Your vet’s idea of treatment is to medicate the little guy and when that didn’t work his only other suggestion was to kill him? Good grief! This is a puppy! This vet’s mentality and treatment solutions are both archaic and absolutely unacceptable. Thank goodness this dog’s owner has more brains and compassion than their vet!
In my mind, no matter what their chronological age is or how long they’ve been out of vet school, this is a case of an old-school vet and there are way too damn many of them in practice. They were taught old-school ways, hold beliefs older than me and they’re not about to take time to learn something new. A sick dog is better off dead in their minds, pretty much no matter what the illness. They roll their eyes at people like me who choose to go to great lengths and spend bookoo bucks to save their dogs.
Vets like this went to school to learn how to fix the physical body of our pets but have no clue how to deal with dog behavior. They believe it’s their way or the highway and if they don’t know how to fix’m then kill’m. Some don’t even know the difference between a dog needing obedience training and one needing help with behavior issues, that dog training and dog behavior are two different things. Some don’t even know what the term “dog behavior” in its true sense means! At our house, a vet with this mentality and lack of compassion would be replaced in a heartbeat.
I’m having a real hard time imagining a 9 month old puppy being truly aggressive. Can it happen? Does it happen? I imagine it’s possible but it’s really a tough one for me to swallow and I’m thinking it would be a very rare occurrence. True aggression in a 9 month old puppy is like saying a kid is a Jeffrey Dahmer wannabe. Ok, so they’re out there but I lean more towards this being a rambunctious pup with excessive energy. Maybe he’s a working dog line Shep who hasn’t been given boundaries, hasn’t been to obedience school (which is a super great tool for helping with socialization skills and bonding with the owners) and who might have a problem with resource guarding issues. A puppy is a lot of work and a working line Shep can be an whole ‘nudder world of handful unless he’s given a LOT of structured physical and mental activity with strong boundaries enforced. This little guy might very well be a perfect example of why some Sheps in rescue are available for adoption only to experienced German Shepherd owners. All of these things can be fixed if the owner is committed to the dog and willing to do whatever it takes to help him become a good dog.
The owners say he’s fear aggressive, ok so who diagnosed him? Was he deemed aggressive because he’s a big clumsy lug who chases kids and probably nips at them to bring them back to the flock? A Shepherd is a herding dog and a herding dog’s instinct is to chase things that move and keep the flock both organized and safe! If kids are running around all willy-nilly the herding dog’s brain tells him he must do his job, gather the children, bring them back to a safe place and keep them organized. A dog doesn’t have a whistle to blow, arms to gently gather the children, he doesn’t have the physical ability to holler “Hey Kids, you’re getting too far away and disorganized for me to keep you safe so you need to come back over here where I can watch over you! He has only his feet to run around to gather and teeth to nip (usually at the heels or backsides) to herd this group of mayhem back to safety. In a pup these actions are likely clumsy and unintentionally painful to children.
You can try but likely what will really happen is that you’ll break his spirit rather than “cure” him of something he was born with and by his very nature — his instincts tell him he must excel in. A dog with a broken spirit is far beyond a sad thing to see. They’re not a dog anymore, they’re a pile of fur with nothing left inside them or they can become aggressive because their mind has been confused and robbed of all they know about being a dog. They don’t need their instincts trained out of them, they need to be taught and directed in a positive manner how to put it to best use. Most German Shepherds need a job, yes really. They need to keep their minds and bodies busy and working which helps to make them good dogs.
If how this dog is behaving around children is simply that of doing his job as a herding dog, my solution would be to positively redirect the herding energy and teach the pup safe, acceptable alternatives around people through positive redirection techniques and by teaching children how to behave around dogs. If he’s got a really strong herding instinct, there are farms all over the country that invite dog owners to take part in things like sheep herding classes and events that give the dog the outlet they so badly need. If children don’t know how to be behave in a safe manner around dogs they’re going to unknowingly create an unsafe environment for themselves which very likely could lead to an invitation to bite them. Parents can help keep this from happening. Don’t have a farm near you? A regular good physical game of playing ball will do wonders for the dog. Jogging, bike riding or hiking with you are other options.
I’m not dismissing the possibility that this pup could be fear aggressive … but IF he is then I have to wonder how did this happen? Why is a 9 month old puppy soooo scared that his only form of defense is to lash out aggressively? I have no specifics as to why the owners believe this pup is aggressive and I’m not convinced it’s really aggression they’re seeing. There’s a large number of people who just don’t know how to tell the difference.
Just a few of the questions that race around my mind when I hear people brand their dogs as aggressive are:
The owners of the pup in question here are alarmed and scared by their dog’s behaviors. They didn’t give any specifics and again in their defense, they may have good reason to be concerned depending on what the true behaviors are that their dog is displaying. They say he’s too protective but I don’t know what “too protective” means in their world and I’m not going to guess.They brought a protective breed dog into their home, was there no thought given to what “protective breed” means? Maybe they didn’t research the breed or if they did maybe they ignored the word “protective” like I did. I read up on German Shepherds a little bit before we became Riley’s proud parents and when reading my thoughts went to “I’ve had dogs all my life, why was I wasting time reading about the breed? It’s just another dog so who are these experts to tell me about protection dogs?” Oh my word! How ridiculously arrogant and irresponsible was I? I wasn’t aware that I had just unknowingly opted to learn the hard way. A dog is a dog is a dog unless they’re a protection breed dog. The word protection and any variation of it can take on a whole new meaning depending on the dog and how it’s raised and handled.
In any case, I’m asking these folks and others with similar dog-issues to take a good hard objective look at the behaviors their dog is really displaying. Think about this scenario:
The author’s dog is a large breed PUPPY displaying behavior(s) which lead them to believe he’s an aggressive dog. I first wonder if the owners really know the difference between true aggression and things like play growling, play lunging, play anything that includes things like growling or nipping? I then wonder if this were a 9 month old small breed dog like a Shih Tzu for example and this Shih Tzu pup were displaying the same exact behaviors as the larger German Shepherd pup — would the Shih Tzu be considered aggressive or would they be giggling because “Oh, he’s soooo cute when he thinks he’s a big dog!” Would the owners be looking to re-home this German Shepherd pup if it were a small breed dog displaying the same behaviors?
We recently went though another learning curve with our newest pack member, Gracie. She’s the smallest member of the pack with the biggest boldest attitude and growls at just about everything! She runs around the house growling for no apparent reason, she growls at the other two dogs and carries toys around in her mouth growling. As it turns out, we learned that this is just Gracie’s way of talking. Much to our relief, there doesn’t seem to be an ounce of aggression in her and she’s been put to the test numerous times. If she were going to bite, she would have done so. So knowing how Gracie “talks” makes me wonder if the pup in this story isn’t just “yakking it up” as well. Until Gracie came along I had no idea that some dogs “talk” like she does. It scared the living daylights out of me at first but now it’s sometimes hilarious, other times it’s annoying as hell but we know now after living with us going on a year in November that she’s not any more a danger to anyone than any other dog.
If they’re going to do anything at all to try to “fix” the dog, hiring a trainer seems to be the first step many people take when they think their dog has issues. Eight years ago when I was still so utterly dog-behavior-dumb and my brain lived in the old-school mindset hiring a trainer was one of the mistakes I made myself and now say without a doubt that I screwed up! Actually, we went through several trainers (and several thousand dollars) and I thought each and every one of them was going to fix my dog or at the very least show me how to fix my dog. Ehhhh — wrong answer!
Dog training is only part of the whole picture and dog training is not the same as dog behavior. Any Tom, Dick or Harry can take a few classes to get an “I’m a dog trainer!” certificate, hang a sign out or build a website that says “Insert Name Here Dog Training Company” but that doesn’t make them effective trainers nor does it give them the insight into dog behavior which I’m now convinced is so very important. You can’t buy this, you can’t earn it through a certificate, it’s an in-your-heart/in-your-gut connection with dogs.
Over the past few years and through all my dog-trainer misadventures I learned what I consider to be the probably the most important thing when you have a dog that seems to have issues. It’s the dog’s behaviors that need to come first and be understood. Understanding your dog’s behavior is the very first step to redirecting it if the dog even needs redirection and he may not! Your dog may just be being a dog but as a human you just don’t get it because you think with a human mind. In order to understand a dog it helps if you can think like a dog or at the very least understand and accept the fact that dogs perceive things differently than humans.
I’m not damning all trainers so don’t even go there. I think a few rounds of puppy and young dog obedience classes with a good trainer that has a handle on dog behaviors are an absolute necessity. These classes help a pup pick up some great socialization skills, they help dog and dog family bond and as a bonus your dog learns the basics and maybe a little more when it comes to being a well behaved dog. BUT the key here is finding and working with a trainer that’s not going to do more damage than they are good and that’s hard to find in my experience. I can’t say these folks happened to get a bad trainer, their trainer may have been one of the best but this doesn’t mean their trainer was effective for their dog. Think of it this way, your child may be in a class headed by the best teacher in the district but that doesn’t mean this great teacher has a connection with and is effective with your child. Nobody’s perfect, great teachers and dog trainers sometimes just aren’t able to connect with your child or your dog. It happens.
In order for any teacher or dog trainer to be effective they have to have the total cooperation of the child’s parents or in this case the dog’s pack leader(s). The entire family needs to participate in and agree on how the dog is going to be trained and the key is consistently sticking to your agreement. If you have even one family member doing things one way and another family member doing things another way you’re going to do nothing but confuse your dog, serve up behavior issues on a silver platter and frustrate yourself and your family.
And don’t make the same huge mistake I did and drop your dog off with a trainer who says he’s going to fix your dog and after telling you you’ll be working with him instead prevents you from participating in the training, No, no, and no. If you are prevented from training with your dog and the trainer in any way, go get your dog immediately and take him home. YOU train your dog under the direction of a good trainer, the trainer doesn’t train the dog leaving you out of the picture.
Oh yes, this takes time and dedication and it’s where a huge number of people fail their dogs, complain about their dog and re-home it because it’s got issues. They don’t see that they gave the dog the issues they’re complaining about! Giving productive, positive time to your dog from Day 1 goes a long way to preventing negative issues from happening.
Much to so many people’s misunderstanding, dogs do not automatically know how to behave in the human world. Parents teach their children how and when to cross the street but expect a dog to just know better than to run out in front of a car. Parent’s teach their children to sit still at the table and eat politely but fail to teach their dogs to sit and wait for their meals and then complain when the dog knocks over their dish in their rush to eat. Parents teach their children that to pick on other children is not nice or acceptable behavior but they don’t teach their dogs not to jump on people and then they get mad at and sometimes abuse the dog when he dog knocks over a toddler in his enthusiasm to slobber kisses all over the little guy. Do you see now where the human is at fault?
Parents who don’t teach their children how to behave, be respectful of and safe around dogs go berzerk demanding the dog be put down when a dog bites their child totally excusing the fact that the child just pulled the dog’s tail, got in the dog’s face, teased the dog, hit the dog or you name it. Too many people just expect that a dog should just take anything and everything a child (or an adult for that matter) dishes out (which can be considerable torment for the dog) and the dog is not supposed to react negatively? Good grief! If your child was being picked on by another child would you not encourage your child to stand up for and protect themselves?
It’s all the dog’s fault, the kid was just being a kid. I got news for you — the dog was just being a dog and protecting himself from your child! Some people believe that every dog will give a warning growl before biting. The truth is that most do not give a warning growl before biting. Learning to read a dog’s stress signals and knowing when to leave a dog alone is paramount to being safe around dogs.
We believe this dog and others like him have it in them to become GREAT dogs! Dogs need the right person to live with, people who are willing to make the necessary time, are willing to learn, have the patience and real commitment to provide these dogs with love, positive guidance and security. The more people who are willing to do this, the less problems humans will have with their dogs and the less dogs that will become hand-me-downs and/or die unnecessarily because nobody was willing to make the time and effort to do what it takes.
Yes, all of this does take time and patience and after all I’ve been through with my own dogs and having made the lifelong commitment to make the time to learn how to handle dog behavior issues no matter what rather than resort to thinking of our dogs as being disposable — rare exceptional cases aside — telling me that you don’t have time to fix your dog doesn’t cut it with me. If you won’t make time to give to your dog, get a stuffed animal.
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