Archive for the ‘Lollie’ Category
I have been out of the posting loop for a spell, given that my life has taken a few twists and turns. I’ll have a post coming shortly on things to consider before acquiring a dog from the holidays. But first a few updates…
Our foster, Buddy was renamed Pupidaly by our son. We had Pup for about 4 months before it became clear that he and Lollie were going to be vying for the number one (alpha) dog position. This created too much stress in the house so Kristin’s parents agreed to give Pupidaly a try. They are now all deeply in love and have been living together for a year! Yay for a happy ending.
Lollie is still with Kristin and she is still learning every day how to manage such a strong willed and slightly off kilter dog. So far no more stitches have been required to fix any scuffles and most nights there is peace among the three dogs, Hermes, Bella and Lollie.
I remember when Lollie was just a pup. She was part of that first litter of puppies we fostered. They arrived just a month after Sadie died, 8 weeks old and dirty. We got 3 of 11 of them, born to a fierce fighter of a mother who scared me down to my toes when I met her at the vet’s office. I didn’t want to keep her. I really didn’t like her much. She was whiny, noisy, cried long and hard whenever she was left alone, and had SO much energy. Mike and I would stay up for hours throwing the ball to her, wondering aloud when she was going to get tired. I remember being afraid of her and for her, remembering her mother and not wanting to have any part of that. When that first family came to view the pups and I saw and heard myself steering them toward her littermate, I knew I was attached. After they left I had to acknowledge that she and I were destine to walk part of this life together. I remember holding her head in my hands, looking into her eyes and saying, “You will be my Buddha.”
I was determined, by willpower alone, to change the course that genetics seemed to lay out for her. I took to socializing her as if it were my job. We went to the dog park nearly every night. I met many kind people there and watched my little baby puppy grow into a lanky teenager, running among the dogs. At about 6 months of age, we stopped going to the dog parks. I dedicated myself to her training, starting her out at 4 months of age and going weekly, every single week, until I decided that she didn’t seem to like it much and I was getting too stressed out. That was about a year ago. If you read my last post, you know I failed to shape her into a different dog than she was. Some things really are destiny.
But I did get some things right: I got a semi-career out of it – I still train dogs on the side. And Lollie has a lot of skills. And I have had an amazing opportunity to learn about myself, life, and for lack of a better word, spirit. You see, Lollie triggers a lot of emotions in a lot of people. Dogs like her will do that. She isn’t an easy or a simple dog. She is fully herself and she has a big self. And she isn’t wall balanced. There is definitely a screw loose in her, a sensitivity, an over-reactive, fear based aggression that comes to the front more times than I would like. Don’t get me wrong – I am not glamorizing her. If I could make her one of those simple dogs who likes every dog she meets I would. In a heartbeat. The one thing, one of the best gifts she has taught me though, is to see what is in front of me.
So, when she attacked Hermes, I had to get really clear about what I was seeing in front of me. I had to sort through all the fears, the sense of failings, the horror stories my mind was telling me. I had to get as clear as I could to see what was in front of me. For a long time I thought I saw the end of my ability to keep my pack safe. I also thought I saw a potential heartbreak or law suit from her attacking a child. I also thought I saw the slow decline of a dog into doggy madness. Mostly I thought I saw myself failing, afraid. But when I finally settled my mind down I saw this: just Lollie being Lollie. Her “attack” was predictable, not unfounded (if you know dogs and how this particular dog’s mind works) and not intended to be so aggressive. No dog targets another dog’s tongue – that she got his was clearly an accident. And I also saw this: Hermes got over it as soon as the pain receded. Within a day he was eating normally and within two days I saw him happy to finally get to play with her again. Five days after the incident I saw all of my four dogs laying side by side in the sun on the deck. I saw Lollie finally relaxing as I finally relaxed.
Here is my biggest realization – Lollie is a mirror for me. Not always, that’s where good training comes in, but most of her incidents of “aggression” were a way for her to embody the stress of what I was carrying inside me. A lot of you won’t understand this. But those of you who’ve lived with an aggressive dog that you’ve worked hard with may. When I was stressed, she would pick up on it and become more agitated. When I was afraid, her eyes would dilate to nearly black as she also felt fear. When I was frustrated at home, she would turn on one of the other dogs lying innocently in her path. The aggression I was putting out into the world, she was showing up with. And it wasn’t just the aggression I was putting out, it was my perceptions of the world, how it works for me (or against me as was my usual story line) that was coming back to me in her behavior. It wasn’t until I consulted a spiritual adviser, Mary Muncil that I really understood this. She helped me hold a deeply grounded place while I searched for my answers. It soon became clear that this issue had more to do with me and my dissatisfactions, my left over issues from childhood, my fears and worries that I don’t get to be happy or have an easy life, than they do with Lollie. Lollie was simply being Lollie, my very predictable very present Buddha.
As I got clear with this she settled immediately. She seemed happier and more at ease. She was careful and non reactive around the other dogs. I started taking her out to run more and she liked it. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is no way I think that she is “cured” – she will likely do this again, be reactive with an overly stern level of correction to what she thinks is a slight to her, a disrespect, or a play for a possession she thinks is hers. But it won’t shake me to the core like it did this time. This time things are more clear inside me. Sure I still have an enormous amount of work to do. I am clearly in the middle of this thing with myself – still needing to listen, observe and be brave. But I am no longer afraid. I’m not afraid of her or of my truth. I know I can handle whatever comes my way. The fear was the hardest part for me, because it left me feeling so young, so cut off from myself, so helpless. Now that the fear is gone I have access to all my training, my skills, my intelligence and my instincts. As long as I can keep myself clear, I believe things will be much better. And I also bought a great book (Brenda Aloff’s “Aggression in Dogs”) on working with aggressive dogs, just to make sure my skills were up to snuff!
So, again, as always Lollie has pointed me in a direction that has been about spiritual growth and healing. For that, for her role in my journey, I will be eternally grateful to her.
There is a difficult decision on my mind tonight. One that I hope no one else ever has to make but one that I assume some of you have made before. The decision about when the time is right to euthanize a pet. I’ve made this decision before. I’ve “released” a pet from their pain in old age and in illness. They were difficult decisions made easier by the knowledge that I was, in a twisted way, helping them still. They were suffering, their end was near, I was simply easing their exit.
This decision is different in every single way.
My dog Lollie has been difficult from 6 months of age on. That is when, in pitbull lingo, her “fight turned on.” She began fighting dogs for balls at the dog park. Then it was fighting dogs for getting too close to her. Then it was fighting them for no reason I could figure out. So we stopped going to the dog park. Then she began fighting with friend’s dogs who she had known all her life. Then the dogs in our own pack. But back then I was younger, had more free time, didn’t work outside my home and had an inflated sense of my power and ability to control outcomes. I believed I could “cure” or “save” or “fix” Lollie so I did everything I could to learn all I could about her. I began to be able to anticipate her reactions, nearly all of the time. And I became good at stopping the attacks, nearly all of the time. But it was those times in between, when I wasn’t astute enough or fast enough, that she would harm another dog.
At first, it was mostly noise and spit, just a dominance display, nothing more. I told myself this to calm my fear. I decided that if she ever drew blood, then I would have to do something about it. Then in a few of those exchanges her tooth nicked an ear, a lip and blood was drawn. “She didn’t mean to bite” I told myself, it was just an accident. I became even more vigilant and stopped bringing her around other people’s dogs all together. I told myself that she inhibited her bite. She never tried to really harm a dog, she was just reactive. Then she had an exchange with a dog she knew for years at our dog training club. She appeared to want to greet the dog so badly. She was all wiggles and softness, low to the ground and polite. My friend and I agreed to let them sniff noses – the first contact Lollie had ever had with another dog at the dog club. As soon as Lollie got close enough to sniff, she lunged, with a snarl, and grabbed a hold of the other dog’s muzzle in her teeth and did not let go. I had to yell in her ear “DROP IT” over and over until she finally released the dog. No blood, but still that experience shook me. Clearly there was something going on for her that I did not understand. So we stopped going to the dog training club.
Time went by without anything but a random, unnecessarily intense reaction from her toward our other dogs. I would stop it and although she appeared to “sulk” for a few days it would blow over. It was a relatively peaceful time. Then last year I started working outside the house. The hours I spent away from home increased again this winter as I began training for a marathon. Whereas in the past I would only leave for 2-3 hours, I was gone from the house from 5-7 hours at a time. Then, three months ago, my son begged that we keep one of the dog’s we fostered and I relented. I never thought Lollie would allow him into the pack but somehow she seemed to understand that he was staying and she would have to accept it. We keep them separate and only one slight skirmish has occurred thus far. But things have gotten worse in another way. About a month ago I was getting ready for bed when I heard a terrible sound. At first I thought it was a low flying plane, it was loud and sudden and angry. Then my brain registered it was a bad dog fight. I flew downstairs to see Lollie attacking our dog Bella who was in a crate (she was sleeping in one of the crates where I had removed the door.) She had no way out and Lollie was biting her legs and face. I stopped the attack and as I looked at Bella’s sore face with two puncture wounds, the long scratches on her legs I decided to move the line a bit more. Clearly this was an attack, clearly she did bite, but still, was it that bad? “Ok,” I said to myself, “I will just crate Lollie when I’m gone and keep her separated from Bella at night.” But that attack scared me. It was becoming difficult to predict what would set her off. And even more difficult to rationalize the attacks to myself.
Then just last night the worse attack yet happened. I was out brushing the dogs. It crossed my mind that I should probably put Lollie in the garage and brush her separately, but it was so calm and peaceful out under that tree and I was just enjoying the moment. Lollie wasn’t really even participating, she was off by herself. I called our other dog, Hermes, over to me and as he was approaching Lollie put herself in front of me and turned away from me to face him. I knew that this spelled trouble so I said firmly, “GET” to move her away, and that’s when she lunged at him. It took all of 5 seconds. Five seconds for me to get up and run the three steps over to her and yell “LEAVE IT”. She stopped the attack then but it was clear he was hurt. He was limping and I could see she had bitten him on the legs in several places. But the wounds seemed relatively minor, not even puncture wounds so I brought him inside. But I kept seeing blood. He was licking and licking his legs in various places and blood was covering his legs. However, when I searched his fur I could find nothing. I called the vet and he offered to look at him even though it was two minutes to closing time. By the time I arrived, the ace bandages I had wrapped around Hermes’ legs were soaked with blood. There was blood spattered over the walls of the back of the SUV. It was terrible. I brought him in and we all just looked at him, trying to understand where all this blood was coming from. That’s when the vet said, “Could she have gotten his tongue?” and sure enough, there was a dime sized flap of skin, about a quarter inch thick, hanging on by a tiny bit of skin. It was way back on his tongue, and not obvious. But it was bleeding badly. Thirteen stitches later the bleeding had stopped. I brought him home.
I had never articulated it directly. Never said, “if this happens then…” but always I had it in the back of my mind that there was a limit to what I would allow from Lollie. I would hear other stories of aggressive dogs wounding resident dogs and think “That I would not accept.” I would hear how the owners would spend hundreds of dollars on stitching up the victim of the attack only to have it happened again. And again. And I thought, “I will never be that sentimental. If I cannot keep my pack safe with Lollie in it, she will have to go.”
So now I stand at that abyss. I see now how much easier it was to say “I will not accept that” than to do anything about it. I understand now more deeply why I kept moving that line in the sand, why I kept tolerating increasingly more dangerous attacks. Who wants to admit that the dog they’ve raised since puppyhood has to go? Who wants to see this perfectly healthy, beautiful dog in the prime of her life killed? Who wants to see all that work, all that love just thrown away? What was it all for? Why? Why has it come to this and is there any way at all to avoid this? She’s the only dog in the pack who understands me when I say, “go find Ryan.” She’s the only dog who listens to me as I guide her to finding the ball. She’s the only dog who plays Frisbee with me in the winter, who will jump and twist for it. She is in so many ways my best trained dog. But there is such a cost for having her. So much anxiety. I am always worried, watching, aware of her and the potential for harm. I am always trying to anticipate and think through and avoid situations that could lead to attacks. And they are getting more and more violent. And harder and harder to anticipate. I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a huge part of me that would be relieved beyond belief if she were no longer with me. But how to get her to not be with me is the question. I have to kill her? Really? It has to come to that? I just can’t figure out how to get from here to there without that happening. I wish I could see into the future. I wish I knew what to do.
And this attacked crossed that line. I find myself trying to find a way around it, a way to rationalize it, but I cannot.
How many of you out there regularly brush and bathe your dogs? How many out there trim your own dogs’ nails? How many of you out there brush your dogs’ teeth? My guess is that the numbers decreased with each question. Most of us understand that bathing and brushing come with owning a dog. And for many of us, these tasks are an enjoyable part of interacting with our dogs. Some of us, for many reasons, choose to have our dogs professionally groomed. But all of us expect that there is some “maintenance” required in owning a dog.
However, many of us forget about the rest of the animal. I have seen many dogs with extremely long toe nails, some so long that the foot is being deformed and the dog is clearly uncomfortable walking as a result! These dogs are usually loved and cared for but their owners, for whatever reason, have neglected this part of their anatomy. Nail trimming IS often difficult. Most dogs dislike having their feet handled and if a dog hasn’t been given regular nail trims from puppyhood, they can resist nail trims with a nearly violent reaction.
My own dog, Lollie, hated nail trims. I tried to give them to her as a puppy but she struggled so much she often got out of our hold. Once she learned that she could escape by fierce struggling, she struggled all the harder with each attempt. Add to this my fear of her reaction and we had a horrible situation on our hands. It got to the point that at one attempt I was certain she was going to bite me. I stopped trimming her nails and took her to the vet. There she was muzzled and put on her side and struggled so much that the vet assistant, who was restraining her, ended up with multiple scratches and the vet’s glasses were flung across the room (her flailing foot caught the stem of them and off they went, into the air). I realized that we were in for a lifetime of panic and unnecessary drama unless something radically changed.
I am done!! All my foster dogs are out to their new families!! Hooray!
I can’t describe the level of contentment that swept over me after last Friday when all the puppies and Willow moved to their new homes. The past week has been a breeze with just my dogs and Chloe. Unfortunately, Chloe still hasn’t found her forever home but she has fully recovered from her last experience. She is back to her sweet, very smart self. Today she left for her permanent foster home. I’ll still see her at The Water Bowl when I work there. I’m planning on doing some training with her and working with her shyness around some men. It will be good to have contact with her. And it is VERY good to have her out of my house.
Tonight we received a box full of samples from Kong. We tried some of their toys I’ve never used before! I’ve talked about how much I love their products before but now I can describe how my dogs liked them:
We took a large bone and filled the ends with treats and Kong Stuff’n and gave it to Lollie. She immediately became VERY possessive of it and is still chewing it. We had to put her upstairs so the other dogs could enjoy their treats. If you have a dog who is at all dog aggressive or toy possessive, this treat will set them off…it is that good.
Hermes got the regular sized Kong bone, also filled with treats and stuffing. He is still working on his. He has also confiscated Bella‘s stuffed large sized puppy Kong and is currently chewing on that one while his lies nearby. Unfortunately, Bella preferred the cattle bones we have lying around, but hey, two out of three ain’t bad.
I wrote last week about Lollie, about my struggles with coming to terms with her dog aggressiveness and my role in contributing to it. It was a long post and took a lot out of me. But it is true and real. But it is also not the whole story. Lollie is a dog that is very intense…in good and bad ways, or rather, in ways that I like and ways that challenge me.
One incident has always stayed with me. Lollie was in the height of her dog aggressiveness when my son was just a toddler. Lollie was sound asleep on her pillow when my newly walking son tripped and fell completely across her. He fell hard. He fell like a board, no knee down first just a full out topple. Lollie woke with a screaming child sprawled across her (my son didn’t like falling) and all she did was struggle to her feet, blinking her eyes, trying, it seemed, to orient herself. She did not lash out, she did not growl, she did not cringe, she did not cry out herself. She just got up, dazed, figured out what was going on and when she realized he had fallen she wagged her tail and looked sheepish, like she was somehow responsible. That has always stayed with me. That in her most vulnerable, awakened in a way that must have been completely startling and very likely painful, she was not the least bit aggressive. I would have woken with a growl, I am sure of it. I am not joking. I do not take kindly to being woken up, even gently. That she responded in that way has always amazed me. I must admit it has made me feel safe about my son and her playing together.
Another story comes to mind. My son’s was a bit older, like 3, and I was working in the yard. I became aware that he wasn’t pestering me and I went looking for him. I saw him sitting next to Lollie who was panting hard (it was a very very hot day). He was throwing grass into her mouth, covering her tongue. She ignored it until her tongue was completely coated and then she would close her mouth, work the grass out, and begin panting again. He would laugh and begin throwing grass into her mouth again. Needless to say I “rescued” her from him but again, her complete tolerance of him really touched me.
Lollie is the only one in the pack who knows who each of us are by name and will “go get” each of us on command. Including the dogs. She is the only one I trust off leash because she is so attached to me she won’t go far for long. And she is the only one who really likes playing with me, frisbee, ball, whatever. When I was taking her to agility classes it was clear that she loved to please me. But she was so sensitive that whenever I got frustrated with myself (or her) she would completely shut down and refuse to work anymore. But when we were good, working as a team, and we finished a run well, I would say, “yeah! Good GIRL Lollie!” and she would JUMP into my arms, wriggling with joy, knowing I was proud of her, knowing she did good.
Here is a video of her and I playing frisbee in our snowy yard, with Bella and Hermes joining in:
I’ve been thinking about aggression a lot lately. I have been reading a book by Stephen J. Joubert called Final Hope: Gaining Control of Your Aggressive Dog. I like this book because it is well organized. I also like how clear it is and how matter of fact it is. It has a section on how to identify whether or not you actually have an aggressive dog and chapters on what to do about each type of aggression – fear aggression, dominance aggression and dog aggression. I like the manner in which he frames the work as “going to war” because that is exactly how it feels. And I know. Believe it or not, one of my dogs is dog aggressive.
I obtained Lollie when she was about 8 weeks old, maybe more, maybe less. She was born around the first of December, 2004 to a mother who looked VERY Pit Bull-ish. She was part of a large litter who was born in a shed outside, moved to a shelter and lived in a cage for a while, separated from her mother then driven (for 2 days) up to Northern Illinois, and parked in a basement until I picked her and two of her littermates up to take to my house near the end of January. These were my first ever foster dogs. My beloved dog Sadie had died of lymphoma just three weeks prior to their arrival and I was still grieving big time. My heart had a huge hole in it and I knew it wasn’t a good time to get a dog but I wanted to fill that hole up so badly. I thought fostering would be a good idea – a way to give back and get back without getting in too deep when I was still missing Sadie so. Of the three of the pups, I knew Lollie was going to be a handful. She wasn’t as fearful as her litter mate Babe (who she would get into the nastiest of fights with) but she was demanding, obstinate, resistant, and smart, with a seemingly never ending supply of energy. High energy and high dominance is how I would characterize her now – then I just said, “She’s a handful!” I had a feeling that I was in for it when our first family came to look at the pups and I actively steered them away from her. I would look at her and get this feeling like it was out of my hands – we were going to be together forever. I also got a sense that she needed me and I am a sucker for that. I used to say, “Lollie, you are my Buddha.” She has taught me, through necessity, everything I know about dog training.
I outline those early events in Lollie’s life because I used to look to them a lot for an explanation for her dog aggression. Nearly everyone I meet who sees her aggression says, “Oh is she a rescue?” and when I say yes they think that explains it. But she was so young when I got her; her aggression didn’t come from her past did it? Could her aggression be my fault? Those questions haunted me for so long. I have come to the conclusion that, yes, the disruption of her past and her uncertain breeding (could have been from fighting breed stock) are part of the reason she is dog aggressive. But I have come to the conclusion that I am also part of the reason she is dog aggressive. I was so new to dog handling back then and so, so very sad about Sadie. I just wanted to hold on and cry my eyes out and I used Lollie for that – she was supposed to comfort me, fill me up, make me forget my sadness, and take Sadie’s place; too tall an order for a little mongrel pup.
I was also afraid of her – she was part Pit Bull after all, and they are dangerous dogs, right? And even though I trained her well and early (she was the best behaved in her puppy class) and even though I socialized her well and early (we went to the dog park 5 times a week when she was a pup), I was still always afraid that I’d see aggression in her. And what did I eventually see? Of course I’m not saying that I made it happen with my thoughts or anything like that, but expecting to see aggression and fearing I’d see aggression clouded my ability to actually see what was going on with her and take appropriate steps. I can’t tell you the number of days that I would leave the dog park humiliated and ashamed telling myself, “she didn’t mean it, it was the other dog’s/person’s fault, it won’t happen again.” And some days it didn’t. She had some good doggy friends there and some people who really loved her. But most of the people who saw her, especially as she grew older, were afraid of her and would visibly withdraw from her. If I noticed that you can bet that she did too. At 6 months she began attacking dogs regularly and eventually I figured it out and stopped going to the dog park. I have been through the entire gamut of emotions about her aggression. Since it started so slowly I always feared it would keep getting worse. I became afraid for my son, strangers, kids we’d meet in the street. But she wasn’t aggressive in those settings. But put her with another dog, even one she has known for years, and she’ll try to attack. And it will happen so fast you won’t even see it coming.
I remember the day when I finally accepted her dog aggression. She was playing in the yard with a friend’s dog, Cocoa, one of Bella‘s pups that Lollie had known from puppyhood and had seen weekly for her entire life. I was upstairs looking out the window and saw Lollie in a dominant aggressive stance (tail up, hackles up, stiff legged, facing the dog, head lowered and growling) and I saw Cocoa give a perfect submissive stance (on her back, back leg up, head down and away, ears back). A normal dog will accept this complete submission, maybe rub it in by standing over the submissive dog and staring at it but a posture like that does not trigger a fight…usually. So I am watching this, Lollie above, Cocoa belly up, and I see Lollie lunge and bite Cocoa hard on the belly, repeatedly. Cocoa screams and Lollie keeps biting and Cocoa is struggling to get up and run away but Lollie keeps biting and by now I am screaming out the window and Lollie looks at me and Cocoa gets her feet under her and runs away and Lollie chases her and bites her again. By now I am in the yard (somehow, how did I get out there so fast?) and grab Lollie who goes all submissive on me but I ignore her and go to Cocoa and amazingly there is no blood. No blood? A definite wound, like you’d get if you were bit repeatedly without the skin being broken; swelling and bleeding under the skin but no broken skin. Spit all over her fur on her belly, neck, and back, but no blood. Thank god no blood. I am shaking just remembering it. It was that day that I decided that Lollie was not trustworthy with any dog.
This made life difficult as by then we had acquired Bella and one of Bella’s pups, Hermes. And we also had Brandy, the old matriarch of the bunch who was with us when Sadie was alive. Lollie and Bella fought a lot in those early days and Bella took the worse of it. She suffered many attacks from Lollie and although they did not draw blood, she would often have long teeth scratches on her neck that you could see through her thick fur. I felt terribly responsible and confused as to what to do and began to hate Lollie for all this unpleasantness. Lollie also attacked Brandy a lot and these attacks sometimes drew blood when Lollie’s teeth caught Brandy’s soft ear flaps. As I write this I realize what I nightmare I lived through – sometimes we’d have a fight a day in the house. I didn’t let myself fully realize how out of control things were getting; I just keep reading and trying to figure it out. I went through a period where I wanted to get rid of her. Those rare times when she’d run off I was secretly relieved. I just didn’t want to deal with her aggressiveness anymore.
Around this time I learned of Cesar Millan and began watching his videos. I would stop and play back scenes that pertained to my struggles with Lollie, trying to find the key to solving this conflict. I began walking all my dogs, at the same time, as he suggested and that helped. I also began to fully understand that I am the alpha in the pack, not Lollie. She may take her position over the other dogs but I am the number one. And then someone told me something that really helped me – I am number one, Mike is number two, my son is number three and Lollie is number 23, Hermes is number 24, Bella 25 and Brandy 26. Lollie is SO far below me that she has no way of ever usurping me. I began to feel more confident with Lollie and less afraid. Actually, I began to get angry. “Enough is enough! I am through with you being aggressive! This is going to stop, NOW!”
I kept up with Lollie’s obedience training throughout this time. I train with a great group called the Fox Valley Dog Training Club and at the club Lollie had to deal with a great number of on leash dogs in her space. I had a teacher that would work with me on her aggressiveness and I began to feel less ashamed and more confident. This was a problem my dog had and I was being a responsible dog owner by helping her work with it. It wasn’t an indictment about my worth as a dog owner. As her obedience skills improved and my confidence improved I began to be able to see her getting ready for an attack and block it. If I missed her cues and she lunged I would correct her with an “alpha roll” that I had trained her to do on voice command. I say “OVER” and she lies down and rolls to her side and puts her head down on the floor. She is to hold that position until I release her. Sometimes she’ll hold it for 45 minutes. It isn’t “cruel” she could go to sleep (and often does, when at home) in that position. It is a way I have to control her urge to be aggressive and communicate that I am in charge and I do not appreciate that sort of behavior. This has been my main communication tool. I have also gotten clear about what the rules of the house are and I enforce them 100%. Rule number one: NO aggression, that includes staring hard at another dog (Lollie’s early indicator of an attack) or growling. No taking other dog’s possessions (if you have it in your mouth it is yours unless I want it, then it is mine). No hassling other dogs (that includes pushing them off of a pillow you want or pushing them away from me), and no pulling on the leash when we walk. The rest of the rules are looser and I probably should enforce them more – no pushing past people on the stairs, no leaving or entering unless I say it is ok and then only after me and the other humans go first, no excessive barking, no chewing people stuff (toys, papers, garbage), no counter surfing (happy to say my dogs do not do this), and no jumping up on people (only Lollie does this, big surprise). There are probably more but I can’t think of them right now.
I write all this to give you a sense of what it is like to discover you have an aggressive dog and what it is like to come out the other side of this nightmare. Most dogs slowly reveal their aggressiveness. It is sort of something that builds over time. It is something that they learn. They try aggression and get what they want and are motivated to do it again. It is difficult to accept the truth of their aggressiveness because then you have to DO SOMETHING about it. I have thought long and hard about what to do about Lollie. I have even contemplated euthanizing her. In fact, I hold that option in my mind at all times. It actually helps me see her with more compassion – I literally hold her life in my hands. It helps me get into the mindset of being her steward and helps me take on the responsibility of being her owner. But we have found a way to work with her aggressive tendencies. Training and clear and consistent rules are a must. Daily structured exercise is a must. A daily pack walk for 2.5 miles minimum is a must, regardless of weather. Weekly training is a must. Strong leadership from me is a must. Blocking her aggression before it gets to an aggressive act is a must (and sometimes this requires her to be in a muzzle). Keeping my head clear, my emotions steady and my focus in the present is a must. With all of this I am happy to report that Lollie’s dog aggressiveness is under control. I would never say that she is “cured” and for the rest of her life I will not trust her with other dogs off leash. But I do walk her with my three other dogs and include my neighbor’s big female black lab, every day. And when we have fosters who aren’t dog aggressive I include them as well. Lollie will walk, with strange dogs just my two legs away from her, and behave herself. This is the biggest accomplishment I could have ever imagined and I am so proud of her and me for coming this far. So, if you have an aggressive dog, do not despair. But DO something. Face your part, get clear about her triggers and get help training her. And good luck.
There is a feature article in the current edition of the Elburn Herald, a local paper that has been publishing for more than 100 years. Susan O’Neill wrote the feature and Sarah Rivers took the photos. Fun!
It’s a really good article, farily long too. We kind of weave through the story of our foster experiences as well as our own dogs. Enjoy – and submit your comments at the end of this post!