About two months ago I was contacted by a gentleman named John about training his German Shepherd, Chopper and lab puppy. After speaking I find out that Chopper had previously been living on a chain. Of course this meant that he had a multitude of unwanted behaviors and maybe aggression towards family members. The family had been wanting to get a dog and their heart went out to this "damaged dog". The lab puppy, Gage, had been in the works for weeks before they found Chopper.
Taking in a dog like this is a challenge in and of itself. Chopper, for all intents and purposes was feral. He frantically paced the room, jumped onto family members, nashed his teeth, barked at anything that moved or any sound, pulled like crazy on leash, and barked at their special needs daughter. Chopper was going to take a lot of work and dedication. I was hesitant to even accept the case. I posted to a trainers group after the consult and almost everyone suggested rehoming, something that I cover in all consultations. The family wanted to give it a try first, "Chopper has had such a rough life and been bounced around. I don't want to do that to him again." But other family members were very unsure, and rightly so, Chopper was a lot of dog. There was a puppy to consider and my biggest concern, a baby due in four months. After really thinking it over I decided to accept the case. I worked with the family every week for six weeks. Impulse control, relaxation, and basic household manners were our focus.
Chopper had wild eyes and a glazed expression. My heart broke when I first met him and I instantly bonded with his dad, John. It takes a special family to put themselves into such crazy situation on purpose. A few times during our consult I moved too fast or talked too loud and Chopper jumped into my lap and barked in my face. Thanks to years of working with these special animals I managed not to flinch. I didn't think Chopper would bite me, but in the back of my head I was worried about it. Chopper pinned Gage to the ground twice, not in an aggressive way more of a lack of social skills. I also decided to try and get Chopper to play because the amazing power play has. He did tug a bit with me, then became too excited so he grabbed and humped my leg....
In only my second visit Chopper was a different dog. The frantic energy that had greeted me only a week ago had seemed to fade away. The eyes that looked up into mine offering eye contact were thoughtful and clear. On my third visit, the jumping up was almost a non issue as well as his mild "aggression" issues. He was becoming easier to handle on leash and that meant he got more exercise. His brain could finally calm down and start to focus. Training Chopper was becoming easier and he was shaping into a great dog.
Gage, the lab puppy on the other hand was WILD! He was waking John up in the middle of the night, peeing in the house, latching onto Chopper's neck to the point of pain, and just being an unruly little jerk! Puppies in and of themselves are a lot of work almost as much if not more than a two month old baby, because that is what they are. Finding a puppy's natural schedule and working with it is very important. Because of the chaos of the situation Gage didn't have a natural rhythm. I had been offering different ideas for managing the 3:00 AM crazy puppy time but to no avail. I asked how much sleep was Gage getting? The answer was not very much. Puppies need to sleep 18-19 hours a day, Gage was getting maybe half that. We instituded a little bit of "ruff love" which involved teaching Gage to self soothe in his crate.
Our sessions had extended to every other week. On my eighth visit after I came in and sat down in our usual routine, rewarding quiet behavior, I asked how the week(s) went. "Great, things are going great!" I sat and listened to how well the dogs had been behaving. The daughter had moved out taking her Chihuahua and cat with her. Gage had taken to the "ruff love" program and they were able to see when he was tired and give him appropriate naps. Chopper now understands the routines of relaxation and any new scary or exciting thing can quickly be taken care of to the point of non issue.
The family knows that they have to keep training to maintain the progress they have made and create two very well behaved dogs. It has come to their attention that Chopper is uncomfortable around children so that will be our next hill to climb. With his amazing understanding of relaxation we should be able to progress quickly. They also want to develop off leash skills with both of the boys and continue to reap the benefits of incredible dog training.