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  • Wednesday, March 04 2015 @ 02:59 am UTC
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By Erik Hoffer 3/2015

I get calls day in and day out from people who have dogs who have reportedly bitten them, asking for advice.

First and foremost, I am not Caesar Milan nor does my rescue have the band width to rehabilitate aggressive dogs. It is not that I don’t care, it is simply that we cannot take in dogs whose dispositions and temperament are not that of family pets. We require socialization training of everyone who gets a pet from us, for just that reason. No one knows what the rescue dogs we do take in have seen or experienced since many came from the streets. No one can know what triggers aggression from these animals; but rest assure that a GSD, or any large dog, can become a disaster in just seconds and without your ability to both correct and to see that action coming, can cost you dearly.

The first questions I ask when people call me on these cases are history oriented. Where did you get the dog? Most answer that they got the dogs from backyard breeders, friends or at a pet store. All of these sources have one thing in common, they collectively have no clue what they are doing, no business breeding and no regard for the outcome of their dogs because they get paid and run. The person or family who impulse purchases one of these dogs usually (more times than not) winds up with a problem animal. The problem can be as simple as health issues, or as complex as an aggressive animal. Many times the animals bred by novice breeders are predisposed genetically to aggression. All puppies are cute and it’s hard to say no to that angelic face, but keep in mind that they grow quickly and without proper and vigilant socialization training you can have a serious issue on your hands before you realize it.

The second question I ask is what training have you done and where and by whom? The usual answer is that they did very limited training or none at all. On occasion I do find that the family did everything it could have done, and correctly, to train and socialize the pet, but low and behold you still have Kujo on your hands. Typically however the training was limited, inconsistent, unmonitored, not done outside the home and done by someone unfamiliar with behavioral triggers. I find that when the dog acts up, most of these owners put him in a crate and hoped the situation would disappear on its own. I find that most families do not have the time to work with puppies and fail to realize that this is the most critical time of all to modify and cast behavior. Most families work, and making time for the dog becomes a back burner issue after the 3-4 week romance period is over. I find that generally speaking most families and dog owners with this particular problem failed to see the signs of aggression and then failed to act to retrain the pup in time for that behavior modification to become effective.

Quite a few of the people calling me are at their wits end. They have tried everything, they are frustrated, angry and want to just have the problem go away. We are not the answer at our rescue, nor are most rescues able to provide a remedial outlet for the condition. We typically test dogs before they enter our system to see what behaviors they exhibit without extra stimulus. These tests begin to tell us what the temperament of the dog is and if that dog is suitable for a family pet. Many of these aggressive dogs prove to be outside of our temperament standards and we are forced to turn them away. Some of the dogs however can be rehabilitated with time, training and attention but that decision making process is also complex and even at times arbitrary based on experience and gut. It is difficult to write down the formula for what works and what doesn't, but if your dog bites for attention, that’s one level of behavior, but if he bites for control and dominance, then that’s quite another level. The latter of course is the rejection condition while the former has to be a gut call by myself and our 3 member training staff.

Many of these dogs who appear to be out of control are just bored. Some come around almost instantly after entering a class where their minds are challenged and they have the opportunity to exercise their brain and body in a productive way. The dogs whose dominance becomes immediately apparent after a few minutes in the dog yard is the subject of my advice.

Not all dogs can be rehabilitated or saved. The simple truth is that some dogs are better off being euthanized than to create a danger to your family, your friends and strangers. Some dogs have a screw loose that cannot be repaired through any technique or by any person. Some behaviors can wind up costing you your home and sever personal injury to those you love. Some dogs just are too far gone to save and facing that fact is a difficult process unless you are sitting in a police station, or a hospital watching your kids get stitched up or worse yet in a lawyer’s office doing a strategy session on settling a liability case against you.

Animals are unpredictable. Knowing when to save and when to let go still remains the most difficult part of rescue. Seeing the angst people put themselves through when they make bad decisions is always hard. No matter the level of compassion I have for these dogs, I recognize the reality that you cannot save them all.