Rex the Hero dog…the rest of the story

Standard

Rex the hero dog, a German Shepherd from Des Moines, WA, was shot three times and attacked by home invaders!  The burglars had smashed the home’s rear sliding glass door possibly unaware that a teenage boy was upstairs with his dog.  Rex was rapidly on the scene and, protecting home and hearth, went after the invaders, biting at least one of them!  Rex was then fired upon and sustained three bullet wounds.  He was shot in the neck and hind legs!  The criminals fled the scene after hearing police sirens.

Naturally, the family and Rex’s story gained much media attention.  They were able to raise many times what they were asking for in regards to Rex’s medical bills.  (In just two days they were gifted $52,000.00 on their gofundme to go toward his surgery!)

fullsizeoutput_158b

Javier giving Rex some love while he recuperates.

However, what the news folk all failed to go into was the rest of the story…how Rex became people aggressive to everyone and anyone aside from his immediate family and how the normal behavior training they initially attempted did NOT work!  The truth of the story, of course, is that this is Not just another touchy, feel-good dog story – there’s more to it than that.  Some segments of Rex’s news story even featured some dog trainer talking about PTSD and giving the dog food treats but the media’s story stopped there and failed to go into how that did NOT work for the family or for Rex or for society at large!  Classic.  The fact that Rex was now psychologically messed up and that the “positive” training they tried failed was NOT included in any of the media’s follow up reporting on Rex and the family.  I’m not exactly sure why.  It probably has to do with the fact that people these days are only familiar with telling one half of the story when it comes to our dogs.  Only the good half.  We tend to shy from what’s ugly even if it’s the God’s honest truth.  But, if you’ve been a reader of this fine blog you know I do Not do that.  I strive to be honest and direct and open like all dogs are with me.  I know Abe Lincoln was on to something.

When a large dog is aggressive towards people it is an issue that must be taken seriously.  The sad fact is that we as people, no matter how desperately we desire it, don’t always see our dogs for what they really are or how insane they may be becoming.  People are often misreading, mishandling, and mistaking our dog’s language and their training (for more on this – much more – read my first book, Dog Myths: What you Believe about dogs can come back to Bite You!).  In Rex’s case it is a totally understandable reason to become aggressive and untrusting of other people, he was shot three times for crying out loud, but how do we move on?  How does a person successfully lead their dog back into sociability?  How do we lead the dog properly in order to vanquish fear and embrace living in the moment?  Will keeping him as a “victim” truly help?  Will stuffing his face with food treats truly help remove severe psychological damage?  Will oodles of human comfort aid him mentally and emotionally?  Will adding more training and rigid obedience help solve the problem?

Many pet owners and many pro trainers would suggest giving Rex food.  Food treats, when the dog is at a distance from a person in order to develop a “positive association,” is NOT the best way forward in a case like this and often will NOT work with dogs at higher  levels of aggression BECAUSE dog’s can turn down their sense of smelling and tasting in order to turn up their fight/flight senses of vision and hearing leading them to ignore the food and continue escalating their energy by way of extreme, instinctual, predatory concentration directed right at the stimuli/person.  Also, for many dogs, food is exciting – why add that to an already excited dog?  Fighting is also exciting.  (I know because I loved sparring in my martial arts classes and adored tossing boxing gloves on to do some backyard brawling with a buddy).  Lastly – if one looks at literally every single dog on the planet, we see that they do NOT need to utilize food treats when interacting and relating with other dogs!  Dogs simply converse with one another.  The father and mother dog do NOT rely on a food treat in order to “condition” or “modify” their pup’s behaviors…instead they simply communicate using dog language.  (By the way, the parent dogs don’t use brutal or harsh tactics either in order to effectively raise their young).

Other people might suggest taking him to a former police or military dog handler turned private trainer because, well, they have worked with a lot of shepherds (German, Dutch, Belgian Mal.).  The problem that we often hear about after this sort of training fails is that they’ll teach the dog to stand on a log for a long time, to work a bite sleeve efficiently, to jump a fence, and perform rigid sits, downs, and stays and will train them using German or Czech commands but…they barely ever consider what it takes to RELAX the dog.  They seldom if ever consider what is important to all older dogs and dog “society” in general because the emphasis is always on working obedience and not on calming down and getting along.  (FYI: we are very thankful for those serving in our military and for the military working dogs – both dog and handler do a great job serving and protecting our nation).  Some times taking your Shepherd to a former LEO or military dog handler is overkill on working obedience when what most dog owners desire and desperately need is trust and the ability for the dog to get along with others at the local barbecue.  One of the biggest myths in the dog training and behavioral modification industry is that the addition of obedience removes behavioral issues!  Please reread that last sentence.  The addition of obedience does NOT necessarily mean the subtraction of poor behaviors!  If you fixate on obedience (which all mainstream dog training does) you’ve just added some juggling to your dog’s bag of tricks.  Keep in mind the mother dog doesn’t care whether or not her pup’s can perform a “sit” command.  Please think about what she cares about. Think about what dogs care about and need.  I’ll let you puzzle that out.

Back to Rex…the good news…

Thank goodness Rex’s family made a wise choice and did some well thought out research because they ended up eventually finding and working with us, Garrett Stevens’ Alpha and Omega Dog Training, on Rex’s behavioral rehab after trying all the other stuff.  They drive a long ways to see us and the natural, spatial techniques we’ve gone over are working to help calm him down and get him closer and closer to how a normal, healthy, social dog acts and interacts with the world.  Great job, Julia and Javier!

Enlight149

Time to socialize. Socialization is always the answer for a house dog no matter what the question is. Living with constant fear is no life at all! If you have to begin on muzzle then begin on muzzle but socialize always!

When I first met Rex he was intensely barking, lunging, jumping, and snapping at me while on leash.  I instructed Julia and Javier on dog language and Rex’s need for leadership and for natural calming and proper positioning and leash manners.  For weeks now I’ve been able to calmly lead him on walks, pet him, and help guide him back into what is acceptable behavior and energy within his family and within society at large as I try my very best to impart to him that not everyone is a bad guy looking to do harm to him or looking to hurt his family.  I am realigning the dog’s senses so he can once again navigate his world.

Trust is so important.  We cannot get to trust though unless we have real respect too.  Respect and trust don’t come from food (even if your local trainer is forcing the food down your pup’s throat).  It doesn’t come from a certain rigid training method.  Respect and trust do not come from raw obedience either.  Respect and Trust are something altogether deeper.  Remember, reinforcement in dog training and behavioral modification is tremendously overrated.  Relationship has almost unlimited potential!  Forget “positive only” methods and forget punitive mostly – focus on how dog’s relate and your dog will thank you!

It has been a privilege helping Rex the hero dog and teaching his family the ins and outs of efficient dog handling and relaxation techniques directly from the Garrett Stevens Method and Mother Nature.

Rex has come a long way.  He, like all of us, has more to learn but we are glad he’s learning to self soothe and to truly calm down and follow Julia and Javier’s lead.  Here’s to a bright future for Rex and the family.

-G

 

Advertisements

My Black Cane Corso/Pitbull: a Rescue dog story – Part 2

Standard

The powerful black dog trotted my way after a quick visit with his owner on the chair across from me.  His docked tail vigorously wagging this time.  I began putting my hand over his head and stroking his face, eyes, and muzzle.  I do this as a sort of touching and quick temperament test with every dog I work with.  I do NOT suggest you do this unless you have a good grasp of the dog language, which, in my professional opinion, most folks do NOT even though they assume they do!  Please don’t take it personally because I know for a fact many dog professionals (vets, behaviorists, trainers, daycare owners) don’t have a solid grasp on dog language either!  If they did behavioral issues wouldn’t be skyrocketing like they currently are.

IMG_2302

Cato our Pitbull/Cane Corso mix. He will be featured in my upcoming third book on rescue dogs!

 

As I spoke with Cato’s owner I applied my classic “Touch and Go” move like I mentioned in the first part of this series.  I’ll explain it to you now, Dear Reader, so you too can begin a better life with your own dog and with any dog you happen across in the fine future.  Are you ready?  Please pay attention.  Basically it goes like this…

1.  Touch the dog.

2. Stop touching the dog.

That’s it.  That’s what I call a wonderful beginning.  While I’m telling you this slightly with tongue in cheek that really is the whole maneuver.  The magic is that you, the toucher, stop giving touch before the dog, the touchee, leaves your space, or grows tired of your touching, or threatens you, or before he/she demands more touching from you.  You pet the dog then, if you’re sitting, you purposefully stop and lean back and look away from the dog.  If you’re standing and petting the dog then you stop and stand up to your full height and, looking away, you ignore the dog.

This ridiculously simplistic maneuver is so undervalued and underdone among dog owners and dog lovers.  This is astounding to me in my daily dog and human observational studies.  Most people keep petting until the dog determines when it’s over.  Most people are left bent over and the dog has exited their space whenever it wanted.  Most dogs dictate (over time) who touches who and how and when that touch is applied and the human just follows along like a clueless goon.  Then, years and many behavioral issues later, “The dog just snapped,” or “The dog just turned, no warning at all!” I call BS on that, Friends.  For many a dog has spent its entire life telling the person they live with precisely how they will or won’t receive touch!  This is no bueno.

IMG_2498

 

Touch is a dog’s first sense and the most important sense by far when determining sociability, respect, trust, clear and polite communication, obedience, and every other stinking thing you can think of that happens between human and dog!  PAY STRICT ATTENTION TO HOW TOUCH IS HAPPENING TO YOU AND YOUR HUMAN BODY AND TO HOW YOUR DOG TAKES TOUCHING ON HIS/HER DOG BODY.  My “touch and go” move lets the dog clearly know that I’ll touch when I want, how I want, and then stop when and how I want also just like the mother or father dog would on their young.  It paves the way for healthy relationship between owner and dog as opposed to the classic blunder of – dog dictates touch whenever and however and forever until something awful happens! This is what many families suffer through.

Does the “Touch and Go” work for nervous or aggressive dogs?  YES and YES!  The point is to touch them and then stop before they aggressively warn you off of their body or space or bed or food, or before they run away or slip your touch.  In extreme cases it looks like this – You touched them.  They barely registered it.  They began to get uncomfortable but before they could escalate you already have stopped and you’re ignoring them.  It’s the smooth way to begin to handle a dangerous dog and to begin to lay claim to what you should lay claim to – namely – your dog’s body and the space and items around it.

The owner proceeded to tell me Cato played a bit rough for her older female pit.  That he was afraid of loud noises too.  Fear.  Fear is rampant among dogs these days.  I noticed his flat buckle collar was on his neck pretty tightly.  I guessed he was prone to slipping his head loose by way of backing out of the collar.  All those things mattered little to me though as he took my touching so well.

You see, Dear Reader, when I touch a dog I am communicating to them on a primal, instinctual level that is familiar to all canines (and to the majority of creatures on the planet).  This is so much more important than training and behavior modification!  Touch is the heart of dog language, it goes into energy, space, and how all dogs interact and build relationships.

Cato was a sweetheart.  A heavily muscled, cropped-eared, strong-jawed pushover.  Because he received touching so well from me, a stranger, I knew he could get over those fears and I knew he would make for a great family dog.  Jokingly, I mentioned how cool I thought he was and “If you ever get rid of him just let me know.”  I finished my eval/training session and merrily went off to my next appointments.  (Special note: if a dog training company has time to offer Free evaluations typically that clues us into the fact that they’re services are Not in demand, or they’re planning to pull a big upsell on you, or they do their alleged “training” only part time = I’d typically steer clear of these companies/people when searching for a quality behaviorist/trainer but bear in mind there are always exceptions to the rule)

IMG_2335

Shoulders for days

Well, life has a way of handing us what you put out into the atmosphere and within a couple weeks we got a call about the possibility of us taking Cato or at least fostering him until a suitable home could be found for him.  His owner had hurt her hip (apparently unrelated to Cato or the dogs) and the doc was telling her it would take a while to heal up  and since I had mentioned to her to let me know if she ever got rid of him…

The bride and I had a fitful night of back and forth and other low-minded indecisiveness.  I did not enjoy it.  I liked Cato but weeks later I was purposefully and intelligently thinking of things that would potentially disqualify him from entering our home.  You see, Dear Reader, we should all use our heads as well as our hearts when it comes to rescue and shelter dogs.  We must consider our lives, and our children, and our schedules wisely.  In this way we can foment growth both in our home and family and in the new dog.  I was thinking of all the potentially terrible happenings that could occur if/when we took in a two year old, powerful breed, shelter dog and things went sideways because my first responsibility is as a husband to my wife and a father of four young children and then as a dog owner of my older boxer, Rambo.  If more people thought this way instead of rushing out with emotions blazing perhaps dogs in the rescue world wouldn’t have such a bad return rate, or bite rate, or as many behavior issues.  Maybe shelters and rescues (very well meaning) should stop lying or at least hiding the truth about certain dogs’ temperaments just to up their monthly and yearly adopted dog numbers!  Many rescues do this.  It’s a sad truth.  Many dogs should not have gone out.  They were unready for a home.  I see the rest of the story.  I see the bites on children.  I see the bites on other dogs.  I hear the stories direct from our clients of the bites on unwitting and unequipped dog trainers and behaviorists they hired prior to using our unique services.  I see neurotic dog after dog after dog.  It’s time to stop listening to sappy commercials that purposefully manipulate your heartstrings and utilize both your heart AND YOUR HEAD when contemplating bringing another dog into your home.  By all means love the dog.  Love it fully which includes leading it.

Tune in next time for the conclusion of Cato’s story and for more tips about dog language and about rescue dogs and their proper care and handling.

For more reading in the meantime please sample my books on Amazon.  Simply search Garrett Stevens or search Dog Myths: What you Believe about dogs can come back to Bite You! and So Long Separation Anxiety

IMG_2897

I know, I know, we need to clean our floors. They are especially messy because the new home we moved into had giant holes in the back yard from the previous owner’s dogs digging like mad. This spring there will be much grass planting going on.

-G