Thursday, June 23, 2011

About the dog

In the camping post, I made reference to some relationship struggles. With a dog. Time to elaborate and beg guidance.

Edie has been with us for four months now. In so many ways she's a wonderful dog—she loves the kids. Absolutely adores them, follows them around, is gentle with them, and puts up with their antics with a smile on her face and a wag in her tail. She's quite mellow for a 1.5-year-old dog, doesn't chew things, is trustworthy left alone, has never had an accident. She gets check marks on much of the Perfect Dog Checklist.

Unfortunately, she also has some issues. Serious issues. She has a crazily intense prey drive that causes her to chase anything that moves—squirrels, birds, bicycles, motorcycles, helicopters, other dogs … making leash training really, really difficult. We've been working hard on it, and she's slowly improving.

However, there's an issue that is not, so far, resolving with training: territorial aggression. When anyone comes to the house, which is about 10 times a day (we have a very busy household), she turns into Cujo. At first it was just barking and retreating, but now she'll actively pursue people while barking maniacally. On Saturday, she lunged and snapped at Greg's uncle during Nora's birthday party. Luckily she didn't make contact, but it was scary.

I've been in touch with a couple more behaviorists and the rescue we got her from. The general consensus is that, with lots of intense training, we might be able to manage her aggression but not erase it. Which freaks me out. Essentially, they're telling me it's going to be months/years of lots and lots of work just to minimize the risk, but she'll never be a bombproof dog.

We need a bombproof dog.

As someone who volunteered for years for a dog rescue, I get what a ridiculous thing that is to say. I get that dogs (especially rescue dogs) have issues. We worked through our 140-pound Great Dane's dog aggression. It was a ton of work and it took years, and we had no kids at the time. The stakes were lower, our hands were freer, and our time was plentiful.

And the truth is, we can deal with issues. Certain issues. But aggression is sort of a non-starter for me. I just can't have a dog who might bite when I have three kids whose friends are in and out all day long. So here's another thing I feel awful typing: I think we might need to return Edie to the rescue. And it's hard on so many levels. Edie has been through so much transition already and clearly has come to love our family. What's more, our family has come to really love her. The kids adore her. They (especially Nora) light up when they see her. She's their favorite playmate. It will be heartbreaking for them if we give her back.

But on the other hand, it would be far more devastating if she were to hurt someone and had to be euthanized.

Ugh. After typing it all out, I guess the answer seems pretty clear. I'd still love some weigh-in, though. Maybe there are some angles I haven't thought of, or just some words of comfort about a crappy situation. Please?


Me. Us. She. said...

OMG I'm so sorry. I can't imagine how hard this must be. Do the behaviorists say WHY she is acting so aggressively? Seems strange - most average dogs aren't so people aggressive are they? Is it fear? Our dog is very skittish with new people in the house (she's fearful) but if we tell them not to look at her or touch her until she approaches them then we're fine. She has snipped a little at new people but always those who were shaky/nervous around her and tried to approach her from above right away anyway. Does make me nervous too. I totally get it. Ours is 4.5 though and doing ok so I'm assuming it won't get worse. I imagine since your dog is fairly new to you guys and it IS getting worse that you feel there's no other choice. This is so terrible. I'm so sorry. Maybe you can find a new home for her instead of returning her? UGH!!! :(

Bridget said...

My sister went through this with their dog and I know it was one of the hardest things she had to do. They ended up finding a home for him in Nebraska so we could run and be 'free' on a giant farm. They made some peace with it, but I know it was terribly difficult. Shepp (their dog) had to be put in the basement any time any one came over and in the car if it was for a long stretch of visiting. It wasn't good. So very, very sad. I'm sorry that you are going through this now. You have to do what is best for your family. Sending lots of love...

Lauren said...

That sucks, I am so sorry. My sister and her boyfriend just got a rescue and she has some resource guarding issues and attacks people. She has bitten both me, and my other sister and lately she has been attacking my sister (the dog owner) when she gets near her boyfriend. They are working with a therapist and trainer. They have no kids, though, and the dog is small. These decisions are never easy and but you have to think of the best interests of your family and also the dog. Sounds like an environment with lots of people and kids may stress the dog out. She might be better off with a someone/couple who lives alone, doesn't have lots of visitors and wants company and protection.

Don't feel bad about it. You fostered her for a while and now the rescue group has a better idea of her personality and the type of environment she needs.

Stormy said...

I agree with others that she would be ok going to another family. Somebody else will love her.

That said, the best advice I got for dealing with dog aggression was to reward them for seeing strangers. Every time they bark at someone, give them a treat.

When they bark, and you yell, they think, wow, that's a scary person, they are yelling too. Person goes away, you stop yelling, all is good. So obviously strangers should be scared away. People don't yell at you anymore when the strangers go away.

hotflawedmama said...

oh boy, I'm so sorry you're going through this. ALL of you!

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry. As someone who has worked at four different not-for-profit animal shelters, volunteered at two others, taught obedience school and attended dozens of trainings, I can tell you that you have helped both the sheltering organization and the dog by having her in your home and learning so much about her. It will not help anyone, especially the dog, if she actually bites someone.
More and more people are willing to take on dogs and work through issues. But the dog and the family must be a good match to begin with. A dog with your dog's issues, is probably never going to be a good match for an active household.
We had to euthanize one of our dogs last year for unpredictable behavior. For a variety of reasons she was not a candidate for being rehomed. It sucked. But it was the right thing to do.
From your volunteer work you know that the range of dogs looking for homes is huge. And yes, every dog has his/her special quirks, but many, many, many dogs do not have aggression on that list.
Try to free yourself of the guilt. Protect your family, friends and the dog by helping her get to a home that is better situated for her needs. Remember a dog that is behaving like Edie, is not actually having a good time. Something is really stressing her out. She also deserves to be in the right home. And your kids deserve to have a dog that can live in your house for years.
I am so sorry but am also happy to see a parent writing responsibly about a pet issue.