When I came home late today I walked into the house with a renewed appreciation for my four dogs.
I’ve said it before and I sincerely mean it. My dogs are very imperfect. They have bad habits and do many things I don’t particularly care for. However, I have no one to blame for that other than myself. I’m a pretty lazy dog trainer. That said, overall, they are most excellent dogs. Most of the time we can get through life with them appearing pretty awesome. And although I really am a lazy dog trainer, I’ve still managed to work with their varying degrees of reactivity, train some fairly cool tricks and of course they do dog agility, which is really nothing more than more complex dog tricks. Most importantly, while I prefer to hike in places where there is no one else, and a lot of critters – thus needing decent recalls – I can confidently say that I can take them out in public and I’ll only be a little embarrassed. Sometimes we actually look pretty perfect even.
As a result of the shorter days and increased dark, as well as the very busy holiday season for my work, my dogs have been severely neglected of late. They’re just not getting very much exercise, of both the physical and mental sort.
Still, I find myself living with happy and relaxed dogs most of the time. There’s a bit more sniping at each other sometimes than I’d like, but it’s winter, with its dark and rain, and we all have a certain degree of cabin fever.
I’d say much of this is due to the fact that my dogs are eight years and older, but Rhys will only be three years old next week and he’s just as good as the older three.
Of course, I feel tremendous “dog mom guilt” when I feel I am not completely fulfilling their needs.
Today, I met a dog whose needs are not being met and who has been failed.
I’m going to come clean and specify that this was a border collie pup of just under six months old. Really, he could be any dog, of any breed or age. However, I am admittedly extremely passionate about herding breeds, in particular, border collies. Thus, I admit that I left this situation feeling furious, sad and very disheartened.
This pup has been failed. If he doesn’t get help very soon, he will become a failure statistic.
And I cannot really blame or fault his people. They seem well-intentioned and they deeply love this dog.
This dog was failed by his breeder when he was sold to people that not only had never had a border collie, but are first time dog owners. When I asked his people why they chose to get a border collie, I was told they liked the looks of the breed, that they’d read about how smart they were, and that they wanted something different than a Labrador Retriever.
I’m not knocking first time dog owners. I’m not knocking first time border collie owners. Everyone has to start somewhere. But I’m furious that the breeder seemingly did not question these people more thoroughly. I’m furious the breeder is not presently involved (although admittedly I do not know for sure why). And yes, I am upset that the dog’s humans did not more thoroughly research the breed.
No one should EVER get a dog because they like how it looks.
This dog was failed by veterinary professionals who told the people he shouldn’t be out and about in the world as a puppy. The result is pup that is severely undersocialized.
The dog continues to be failed as because he pulls on leash, he rarely gets walked. His sole form of exercise appears to be playing fetch, over and over and over. He lives in a community filled with zero-lot houses and if he has a back yard, it is postage stamp-sized.
Because he is food-motivated, and intelligent, he has learned some tricks, but he still requires far more mental stimulation than he is getting.
Because his people love him so much, he is not crate trained and he has no basic manners. He has no rules period.
From my brief time with him, he is triggered by fast movement, as well as lights and shadows. This is not atypical of border collies. However, if not addressed, behavior problems result. In his case, issues have already started, although until I came to see him, I do not think his people realized the extent of the issues.
He has been failed as no one has helped to teach him impulse control. Yes, he’s a pampered pet and is literally being spoiled with “love.” My own dogs are quite spoiled. But I do insist upon a set of rules for my own tribe. I saw no rules in place for this young dog.
This pup tried to bite me. Not once, but three times. Each attempt was more serious. I was told he’s never done this before. Later, I was told that some visitors to the house could not be in the house unless they were behind a barrier and until the dog became “used” to them. The people were behind the barrier, not the dog. The dog redirected to the owner and to her young daughter while I was there. I saw the dog bite the little girl’s hand. No skin was broken in any of the attempts. but the little girl yelped and the third time he made contact with me, I felt it and it was a hard bite. He also attempted to rip my pants and kept lunging for me. I had already asked the owner to put him away twice by the time he made the third attempt at me. He had been put away, but the girl kept letting him out.
This pup made no warning growl before his attempted bite. I did see what was coming because I’m adept at reading dogs, but his transitions were rapid.
Because I am dog savvy, I made no attempt to engage him after he charged me when the owner brought him into the hallway to meet me. I kept my body turned and my eyes averted as I could already see that eye contact was a trigger for him. Eventually, he was curious about the treats he could smell in my pocket. I tossed a few his way, but did not ask him to take any from my hand.
I knew motion was a trigger, so I kept quiet (not completely still – that’s hugely unnatural and can also be a trigger). I sat so I would not be looming over him. The owner and I talked. Over the next 45 minutes, he decided to sniff me over, to take cookies from me and actually solicited some touching from me by placing his head up underneath my arms. Still, I mostly ignored him. He appeared relaxed, but something still didn’t seem right in his body language.
When I put on my reading glasses to look at the potential client’s phone, something in that dog snapped. I strongly suspect that my glasses reflected the overhead lights and perhaps flashed him. Regardless, he went berserk. That’s when he tried for the third time to lunge at and bite me. And that time the intent was very serious. Still, the young girl and the adult woman just tried to hold him instead of physically putting him into another room as I had requested – which is when he bit at them, all the time eyeing me and snapping in my direction. Perhaps there’s a brain issue there too.
The dog is young and perhaps he can still be helped. I’ve provided some contacts to the owner, people that are professional and knowledgeable and won’t simply place the dog on a prong or e-collar and beat the crap out of him until he “submits.”
The whole thing left me deeply disturbed, and so very thankful for the enthusiastic greeting I received when I got home. I looked each of my four deep into their eyes as they sat surrounding me after I’d let them out to pee and sincerely told each how they were “the very best dog in the word.”
And by the way, that sitting around me, quietly looking back at me part? That’s behavior I placed on cue. It’s called training.