A Human Moment

In which I am a human and not a dog trainer every second of every day. I know. We are all shocked. I don’t actually know everything. Take a moment to gather yourself before you read on.

Jasmine is a trial to me. As a dog trainer, I end up frequently with the worst of the mistreated and mishandled dogs. Training can fix a lot of the problems that arise from mistreatment and mishandling. Jack is a good example. He was a nightmare before I worked with him, but anyone who meets him now is shocked by my detailed descriptions of his previous misdeeds. He’s a well behaved dog and a great service animal. Training cannot fix genetics. Jasmine has a familial history (that we found out about AFTER her litter had been whelped and adopted and WAAAY after anything could be done about it) of pretty severe dog aggression. Jasmine has displayed exactly ZERO instances of this aggression. She is naturally a little cautious and almost fearfully reactive to other, very rambunctious dogs. She has several friends and can be carefully introduced to new dogs who then become friends if they are polite.

I have to be SO careful with her. She had extensive, fantastic socialization as a puppy, as a young adult. In fact her entire life up until the Wreck, was filled with canine, feline, equine, and human socialization. Humans are a given. She’s an absolute flirt and adores all kinds of people. Its the ANIMALS she has the occasional issue with. On leash, she’s a perfect angel. Her attention is glued to the handler and she’s ever so polite with any species newcomer. But off lead is another matter. And because I’m currently house bound and unable to walk, her practice in public places is at a stand still. And her social behaviors seem to be regressing. And there’s precious little I can physically do about it.

In the mean time, I am determined to keep her safe. And to keep others safe near her. Jasmine is learning to be more comfortable in a basket muzzle. (I recommend a Baskerville. They have some incredible instructions in the packaging and I can’t elaborate further on how to train muzzle acceptance.) She was introduced to a muzzle what seems like ages ago, but I’ve never asked her to wear one while around other dogs. It’s a new experience and one I’m hopeful she will enjoy. But I want her to be free to enjoy her life.

So I’m studying. I’m learning more about canine aggression (unless it is fear based, it isn’t my forte). I’m learning tons about inter-canine communication, about bite inhibition, about all the possibilities. And I’m excited about a future in which I might not need to be QUITE so careful with Jasmine. In which MAYBE she can be more comfortable in her own fur around other dogs. Maybe she can look to her human handlers with more confidence that they will protect her, or that she need not protect herself from a playful puppy who pounces on her.

All of my research says that while “reactive” dogs can be rehabilitated to an extent, you cannot leave them unsupervised with their triggers (other dogs for Jasmine). That makes sense. Genetics play a part in everyone’s lives. Unfortunately for Jas, bad breeding is a part of hers. She has perfect, lovely conformation and coloring. She appears to be everything an American Bulldog should be. I am hopeful that appearances will not be everything one day soon.

In the past, I have rehabilitated other dogs with much worse bite histories with great success. I’ve rehabilitated fear biters, defensive biters (what most would label “aggressive” dogs), food aggression, and various other seemingly dangerous behaviors. For some reason, it is different with Jasmine. Emotions are powerful things in training, and I think I have that aspect under control. The wall I feel like I am running into looks a lot like this wheelchair that I am in.

One of my favorite (and recent) cases was a fear biting dog named Willie. He was a resident at a no-kill rescue that had pulled him as a pup. As sometimes happens, Willie was passed by time and time again. A kennel environment is no place for a dog long-term. Dogs need families. They need homes and interaction. Willie was a victim of dreaded kennel syndrome. He was frustrated with his solitary lifestyle. He was afraid of the things and people that walked by him but never gave him any reason to trust or love them. Willie started to bite. The rescue reached out and asked if I would be willing to help. Of course I was! I only had Willie 10 days before the Wreck, but evidently the work that I had put in, combined with the change in environment and handling was enough. Willie has a delightful home as a ranch dog. He’s still a little leery of strangers, but warms up quickly and is very friendly with people he knows. We freed Willie.

Before Willie, we accidentally foster failed Suzie. Suzie was our chihuahua. She was what you’d expect of the average chihuahua: she was tiny, barely housebroken, yappy, had bad teeth, and tried to proactively bite everyone who came close. Everyone. Adults, children, cats, 100+ lb dogs. After a few months of patience and love, Suzie settled down. She became friendly (though she barked at strange humans until she was presented with a token of friendship – usually cheese). She learned that barking at and biting new animals wasn’t the best way to make friends. She was as most dogs are–very happy to discover the freedom that comes with training.

While this new challenge is a little closer to home, and I have very different and more difficult challenges, I am as dedicated as ever to the safety and well being of all of the animals in my care. This means more training for Jasmine, more learning for me, and more success down the road. I am looking forward to all of the new learning and practice I’ll have to employ to be successful in this very personal journey for our family.