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Buddy’s Rehab 1 - How did I end up with Buddy?

Updated: May 8

A question people often ask is how I ended up with Buddy. So this seems to be a good place to start as I begin writing the rehab portion of his story…

During the Covid lockdown, when the dog “orphanages” were overcrowded, and I was stuck at home, I thought I would do something positive and offer to help. The orphanage had a dog who just was not doing well in the orphanage environment; they said he had a rough beginning and was fearful and had anxiety as a result. They had tried to place him but things didn’t work out because of the dogs fears. Being in the orphanage only intensified his fears (all the noise and commotion was just too much for the dog) so they said he just needed a quiet place where he could decompress and then they would be better able to adopt him out.

Since I had studied canine behavior as a hobby for 20 years, and I had rehabilitated fearful dogs before, I said I would be willing to let the dog stay at my house for up to 2 months, and that I would work with him to help desensitize him to the things he feared. We had a very detailed discussion about the dogs behavior, and to summarize, I was told he was a level 1 biter (this means air snapping – no contact made – I will attach a bite scale at the end of this post), that he was toy guarding, and guarding his previous owner. I told them I would only work with level 1, that I had no experience with level 2 and above, and I stressed the importance of them telling me if there were any level 2 or higher bites - they said there weren’t. I told them I could help with the toy guarding, but they had to handle the people guarding; they said they would come to my house and work with him on the people guarding. I also stressed that I only had 2 months to donate, as I had to go back to work after that, which would mean I would be traveling. I made it CLEAR that I had no intention of adopting the dog; they understood and agreed to resume responsibility for the dog after that, but felt they would have him adopted out by then as they were actively searching for an appropriate home for him, so it wouldn’t be a problem.

I went to the orphanage to meet Buddy. He was very skittish, as I expected. I ignored him and waited for him to approach me. There was a worker in the room who had been taking care of him during his time at the orphanage, feeding and giving his medications, and he did go to her for pets, so that was a good sign that he had the ability to get comfortable with people after getting to know them. It took him quite a while to come to me, and when he finally did, he only stayed for a second and then ran away (he was afraid but was choosing flight instead of fight, so that was a good sign). He also wouldn’t take any treats from me (signs of fear and being “over threshold” – I’ll explain this in a future post). After a while I took him for a walk so that he could get to know me one on one. He seemed to enjoy the walks, but it was obvious he was not comfortable with me and he was very nervous. I visited the orphanage several times over the next week to take him for walks to allow him to get used to me a bit. My observation of him was that he was very afraid, but he was getting used to knowing that seeing me meant that he got to get away from the noise of the kennels and go on a walk.

The next thing I am going to tell you I did I DO NOT recommend you do unless you have extensively studied canine behavior and know how to read canine body language.

I needed to learn more about Buddy than I could learn from a walk, so I asked if I could sit in his kennel with him. When I got to his kennel, he was shivering and pacing back and forth. They told me that was what he did all day long. I sat on the floor outside the kennel for a while facing away from him and let him get used to me for a bit. When he seemed like he had calmed down a bit, I entered the kennel, sat on the floor in the corner, and made sure that for most of the time I was looking down. I needed to be completely non-threatening to the dog. I was very careful not to look directly at Buddy (although I was paying attention to his body language from the corner of my eye to ensure I was safe). I just sat there for 2 hours and waited for him to come to me. For a long time he was pacing, and when he would stop he kept his back to me – which told me he was uncomfortable with me being there, but he never got aggressive with me, which was a good sign. So I just continued to sit there, ignoring him, and after about an hour and a half he came up to me. Eventually, he let me pet his back and he seemed to like it. When I stopped petting, he actually asked for more petting. This was a very good sign. It didn’t mean we were best friends, far from it, but it told me he was capable of, and actually wanted, to be able to interact with people and trust. He was just too afraid to know who he could trust.

Based on this, and my discussions with the orphanage, I agreed to take Buddy home for up to 2 months. Our agreement was that I would give him a quiet place to relax and decompress, work on desensitizing him to his fears, work on correcting the toy guarding, and the orphanage would come to my house to work on the people guarding. The orphanage said they had a lot of inquiries for Buddy from potential adopters, so they would find an appropriate home for him and I would help with the transition from my home to the new adopters to make it as easy as possible for Buddy. I also offered to make rehab videos to give to the adopters, this would allow them to see the rehab exercises I had done with Buddy so they could continue Buddy’s rehab. I also offered to be available to the adopters to answer any questions and give them the help they needed after the adoption to ensure it was successful. This was the plan and agreement.

The orphanage agreed to this and told me they would contact me when it was time for me to pick Buddy up and bring him to my house.

Read about Buddy coming to my home and the challenges he had to overcome:

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The Bite Scale

This is Dr. Ian Dunbar's bite scale. Dr. Dunbar is someone everyone who has a dog should get to know. He is THE leading authority on dog behavior and training. I recommend EVERYONE who has a dog visit the Dunbar Academy and take advantage of all the FREE information Dr. Dunbar has provided.

And for everyone in a profession that services dogs (dog trainers, "orphanages" that house and adopt out dogs, breeders, vets, vet technicians, groomers, etc.) you should be taking EVERY course Dr. Dunbar has to offer. You owe it to the dogs and owners to be properly educated in canine behavior and training. By virtue of what you do for a living, the public assumes you are knowledgeable in canine behavior, so you need to make sure you actually are! I have seen too many people in dog related professions mishandling dogs, thereby causing and escalating behavior problems. With great reach comes great responsibility.

You can access the Dunbar Academy here:

If you would like to get a FREE one month trial to Dr. Dunbar's "Top Dog Academy", click the button below and you will have access to ALL the courses and materials for FREE for one month, after which you can choose to cancel, or continue your subscription for only $20/month. Dr. Dunbar has also generously offered to donate half of what you might spend to help pay Buddy's rehabilitation costs.

I have copied this directly from Dr. Dunbar's published scale...

"The Bite Scale - An Objective Assessment of the Severity of Dog Bites Based on Evaluation of Wound Pathology

Level 1. Fearful, aggressive, or obnoxious behavior but no skin-contact by teeth.

Level 2. Skin-contact by teeth but no skin-puncture. May include scratches (less than one-tenth of an inch deep) and slight bleeding.

Level 3. One to four punctures from a single bite with no puncture deeper than half the length of the dog’s canine teeth.

Level 4. One to four punctures from a single bite with at least one puncture deeper than half the length of the dog’s canine teeth. Deep bruising around the wound, or lacerations in both directions.

Level 5. Multiple-bite incident with at least two Level 4 bites, or multiple-attack incident with at least one Level 4 bite in each.

Level 6. Victim dead.

The above list concerns unpleasant behavior and so, to add perspective:

Levels 1 and 2 comprise over 95% of all dog “bites” and well over 80% of reported bites (tallied by the CDC). The dog is certainly not dangerous but much more likely to be fearful, or rambunctious and out of control. Wonderful prognosis. Quickly resolve the problem.

Level 3: The dog is not overly dangerous but much more likely to be fearful, or rambunctious and out of control. Without treatment, other Level 3 bites may follow with a slow, albeit predictable, increase in severity, especially if the dog is stressed (frightened, cornered, manhandled, etc.) Prognosis is fair to good with owner compliance. Quickly resolve the problem.

Level 4: The dog has insufficient bite inhibition and is dangerous. Prognosis for resolution is very poor because of the difficulty and danger of trying to teach bite inhibition to an adult hard-biting dog and because absolute owner-compliance is rare. The dog is a Level 4 biter and is likely to inflict an equivalent amount of damage WHEN it bites again. I recommend that the dog is confined indoors and never taken onto public property. The dog is extremely reactive and stressed around (some) people and so walks would probably not be much fun for the dog anyway. Confining the dog to a fenced yard is not safe; the dog may not be able to get out but people (children) may be able to get in.

Level 5 & 6: The dog is extremely dangerous and mutilates. The prognosis is dire. The dog is simply not safe around people. I recommend euthanasia because the quality of life is so poor for dogs that have to live out their lives in solitary confinement without physical affection from people.

To add further perspective: Each year in the US, dogs kill approximately 20 people — half of them children. However, most years in the US, approximately 2000 children are killed, not by dogs though, by their parents."

Note: I only copied the portion that discusses bites to people, Dr. Dunbar also discusses dog to dog bites in his bite scale.

Note and disclaimer: All information in the blog posts on this site is my opinion based on my own experience rehabilitating an aggressive dog. I am not a professional behaviorist or otherwise involved in the Veterinary profession. If you are dealing with an aggressive dog, I recommend you seek the advice of a Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist.

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