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!)
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!
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.