Sometimes, no matter how badly we wish for things to be different from how they are, the time comes when we’re forced to confront the reality of the situation with both eyes open. Resisting the truth tends to eventually hit us squarely in the jaw, like a knock-out punch, laying us out completely. Moments like this make me feel as if God or the Universe is saying, “Look, this is what you need to do. Since you can’t seem to recognize it, I’m going to create circumstances that force you to take action.”
That is exactly what happened to me.
My dog Shelby has been a broken dog from the beginning, and managing her aggression was a full-time job. The day after we brought her home as a puppy, we knew that there was something not quite right about her when she snarled and growled at the worker in the drive-up window at McDonald’s. It’s a bit of territorial aggression, we were told. Don’t take her to drive-up windows or you’ll unwittingly reinforce it.
Two weeks later, at 12 weeks of age, she snarled, growled, and lunged at a visitor who came to our home. I’d never seen a little puppy growl at anyone before. Maybe the woman frightened her, we were told. It sounds like she has a bit of fear aggression. Later I would learn that deep belly-growling like this in puppies under 20 weeks of age is a warning sign for psychotic aggression. Psychotic aggression can never be cured.
At 16 weeks of age, we were advised to contact a professional trainer in an attempt to better manage Shelby’s aggression. Upon evaluating Shelby, the trainer said, You should contact the breeder and look into returning her. I did not want to return her. I wanted to fix her. I wanted to make her like people. I wanted her to be happy and loving and normal. As it turns out, what I wanted was impossible.
Three months of training with a professional did not fix her. I stopped inviting people over. I stopped taking her places. When we wanted to go camping, I tried tranquilizing her so that we could take her with us. The medication gave her glassy eyes but did nothing for her aggression. We stopped going camping.
When I needed work done at my home, I would keep her crated. Still, she would bark psychotically and lunge and gnash against the inside of her crate while anyone was in the house. It sounds like she’s protective of your home. I stopped scheduling work to be done on my home. We stopped all contact with people outside of our family. It was too difficult trying to explain why Shelby behaved that way.
For two years, my husband and three children and I altered our lives to accommodate Shelby’s many issues. In exasperation, I tried to find a new home for her; she wouldn’t let anyone near her, choosing instead to chase them away with her snarling and growling and psychotic barking. I tried to give her to a rescue group. They refused her, saying she was too aggressive to re-home. They recommended euthanasia. A rescue group, who takes unwanted dogs and places them in no-kill shelters, recommended euthanasia for Shelby.
I called my vet again last month after Shelby had two more aggressive incidents which seemed to indicate that her behavior was worsening. It seems as if she’s moved beyond her fear aggression issues and is now exhibiting dominant aggression behavior. What can I do to get her to stop? You can try medication, such as Prozac, along with behavior modification. Here’s a phone number for an Animal Behaviorist. There are no guarantees, but this is one more thing you can try.
While trying to save the $300 needed for the Animal Behaviorist at the same time that my husband became unemployed, things began to unravel dramatically with Shelby.
I’ve always said that Shelby never snapped or nipped at anyone in my immediate my family. I could no longer say this after my son’s 9th birthday. My happy son Evan came home from school and attempted to give me a hug. Shelby lunged at him, snapping at his face. I corrected her and asked Evan to try again as I closely watched her behavior. She did it a second time. Now she’d advanced to preventing my own children from touching me.
A few days later, while muzzled, thankfully, she aggressively attacked a child; a child who had done nothing more than walk into the room. He wasn’t running. He wasn’t being loud. He didn’t even look at her. It was horrifying to witness as Shelby lunged at him without warning, jumping against him, barking, growling, and attempting to bite his face through the muzzle.
To make a horrific situation even worse, Shelby seemed unable to forget about this child. She went after him again after my husband let her outside to go to the bathroom. Upon coming back into the house, she tried to hunt him down, like a predator going after her prey. This time, he was safely behind a closed door.
This experience dashed all hopes of Shelby’s rehabilitation. She was now officially considered to be a dangerous dog.
That night, while feeling completely out of options with our dog, my husband and I watched a DVD that a friend had sent to me on Dog Aggression hosted by Ian Dunbar, a noted dog expert. He advised that preventing aggression in dogs happens in two ways: taking care in breeding to ensure that the dog isn’t genetically damaged, and providing adequate training. Aggression that’s been learned through poor upbringing can be managed with patience and training. Aggression that’s the result of irresponsible breeding, such as in Shelby’s case, cannot be undone.
This information, along with the attack on the child, sealed Shelby’s fate. Since I hadn’t been able to make the tough decision, my husband did it for me. He had Shelby put to sleep last Friday. If he’d had any doubt about his decision, Shelby’s actions made sure to erase it. She remained true to her inner Madame Cujo until the end, lunging and barking viciously at two children and their father who happened to be in the parking lot at the same time she was.
Is there a Rainbow Bridge for mean dogs?
I hope that you are finally peaceful now, Shelby.