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Buddy’s Rehab 2 – What was Buddy’s Behavior like when I brought him to my home?

Updated: Feb 7

The orphanage contacted me and told me they were ready for me to take Buddy to my home so I could work on the things discussed in “Buddy’s Rehab 1”. So I prepared the house (set up a crate in the living room, got out the leashes, potty pads, and other dog supplies, dog proofed the house, etc), prepared the car (blankets and potty pads, just in case), and I went to the orphanage to pick up Buddy.

The orphanage set me up with everything I would need, including food, flea and tick preventative, Buddy’s anxiety medications, and of course Buddy. I spent a little time walking Buddy so he could get used to me again before putting him into the car. When it was time to go, the orphanage helped me get Buddy into the car because he did not want to get in. He was a nervous wreck as we drove home, shivering and pacing back and forth most of the time, but we made it home without him getting sick in the car, fortunately.

When we got home, I put the leash on Buddy and took him inside. He was so scared, basically frozen in fear. I took him out to the backyard to potty and walked him around out there for a while – he was a nervous wreck, darting around in fear, reacting to every sound he heard, thing he saw, and even the wind. When we came inside, I kept him on the leash and just sat in the living room on the floor with him. For at least Buddy’s first several weeks, he would be on leash at all times with the leash attached to me. This is something I recommend doing with any new dog when bringing them home for the first time. Changing a dogs environment drastically like this is very stressful for them, so it is important to be with them to constantly monitor them, make sure they are safe, and provide them direction when needed. For at least the first week, the only room Buddy would be in would be the living room. After he becomes fully comfortable in that room, I would add the kitchen, etc., until he becomes comfortable in all rooms of the house. Depending on the dog, this could take a month or so (in Buddy’s case, it took 5 months before he was comfortable walking into all rooms of my 1500 sq ft house).

For hours I sat on the floor in the living room with Buddy on leash. I turned on the TV, and that actually seemed to distract him a bit from his nervousness. I fed him kibble by hand piece by piece. Spoke to him calmly and softly to provide him with comfort, and just repeated this process all evening. One of his previous owners had reached out to the orphanage and asked them to have me call them, they wanted to offer information about Buddy. I called this previous owner and we had a long discussion about their time with Buddy, during which I learned some things the orphanage had not told me. A side effect of that conversation was that Buddy could hear the previous owners voice and, since he had become comfortable with this person during his time with them, hearing their voice seemed to calm Buddy down a bit. When it was time for sleep, Buddy went into his crate and I shut and latched the door. For as long as it would take Buddy to become comfortable in the living room, that is where I would sleep also. For the duration, I would be sleeping on the couch…

The next day I was able to start assessing Buddy’s behavior. Here is what I found:

Buddy was afraid of just about EVERYTHING ! When I say he was afraid, I mean these things really set him off. He would be darting around, frantically pacing, shivering, etc. It was extreme.

The things outdoors Buddy was afraid of (and I am sure there are things I am forgetting):

  • The wind and the sound the leaves rustling

  • The rain

  • The umbrella

  • The sound of birds chirping and singing

  • The sight and sound of cars driving by

  • The sight and sound of people walking by

  • Neighbors talking or even just coughing

  • The sound of children playing

  • Dogs barking

  • The sound of neighbors mowing their yards

  • Basically any sound at all

Things indoors Buddy was afraid of:

  • The “tink” sound an incandescent lightbulb sometimes makes

  • The sound of All the appliances (dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, water softener recharging, the sound of the salt shifting in the water softener, furnace turning on, refrigerator compressor turning on, etc)

  • Any sound at all

  • His reflection in the oven door, stereo cabinet door, windows (he would snarl at and attack these items, I had to cover them to prevent him seeing the reflection so he wouldn’t get hurt).

  • The doorbell

  • The sound of the phone ringing

  • Any and all grooming tools

  • Being touched

  • The bathtub

  • Anyone other than me coming into the house

  • My hand near the crate

  • Stepping even one step outside the area of the house he was comfortable with

Buddy was also terrified to ride in the car. After that first ride home, anytime I put him into the car he would pace, pant, hyper salivate, and if the ride was more than a couple of minutes, he would vomit.

If Buddy was exposed to multiple things that he was afraid of simultaneously (wind, truck drives by, I touch his foot – for example) it would really set him off, and I have been bitten in these situations.

Buddy also definitely had a toy guarding issue. I did not find him to be food aggressive, BUT if he was in a situation where he had multiple stressors (multiple things he feared) going on simultaneously, he would react aggressively were food was concerned. When there are multiple stressors, he has a very short fuse and can react to something he normally wouldn’t react to…

Things Buddy was not afraid of:

  • Oddly enough – he was NOT afraid of the sound of the vacuum cleaner, and he would just stand in my way while I was vacuuming (?????)

  • The sound of the sewing machine (this actually seemed to soothe him)

  • Thunderstorms

  • Fireworks

  • The television – Buddy was mesmerized by looking at the television, it seemed the changing images and colors held his attention. He was mostly ok with the sound of the television, except if a show had a ringing doorbell, or a dog barking.

Now for the worst thing I learned about Buddy’s behavior.

Buddy’s bite level was much higher than I was told. Buddy was NOT a level 1 biter. Unfortunately, on day 2 Buddy “went off” on me. He did not just air snap, and it was not just one snap. Buddy went into a full on attack, he made multiple strikes during the attack, his canine tooth caught onto my pants (I was wearing very baggy pants, so he didn’t get my leg because I pulled away, but if he had, there is a good possibility he would have bitten into my skin), and when he was attacking he was shaking his head. This took me by surprise. Since he didn’t actually get my skin, I wasn’t able to assess the true level of the bite, but it was at least a 2 (since he made contact), maybe even a 3. When I spoke with one of the previous owners, they told me they had also witnessed Buddy make a similar attack on someone at the orphanage, so this was not an isolated incident, and it was not something new. Unfortunately, later on in the rehab I was able to learn the true severity of his bite when Buddy went into two consecutive full on attacks, each with multiple strikes, with one of those strikes being a level 4 bite to my leg. See the bite scale in “Buddy’s Rehab 1” for an explanation of a level 4 bite.

The reason this is very bad is because, what it tells us, is that Buddy most likely never learned “bite inhibition” when he was a puppy. For those of you who are not familiar with this term, bite inhibition is learned when puppies play with their littermates. When they are playing, if they bite too hard with their needle like teeth, their littermate will yelp, and this tells the biting puppy that they bit too hard, so they learn to bite softer (this is why puppies have needle like teeth). If a puppy never learns this, they never learn how to communicate safely with their mouth, and they end up puncturing when they bite as adults. It is VERY difficult, and VERY dangerous, to teach an adult dog bite inhibition, so this means a dog without bite inhibition will ALWAYS be a risk if they are in a situation where they feel they need to use their mouth to communicate (or more accurately put, if they react to a stressor).

So when this happened, I had two choices:

1 - I could have done what Buddy’s previous owners did, and brought him back to the orphanage. After all, the orphanage knew of the attack that occurred there, but neglected to tell me about it. However, I knew bringing him back there would not be in anyone’s best interest (except mine). If I returned the dog, Buddy would suffer greatly, as that environment was far too stressful for him, and he would only continue to get worse. Based on what the orphanage had told me about Buddy’s behavior and how they were trying to correct him, they clearly did not have the knowledge or training to manage this dog (most people don't), which is why he was only getting worse there. And, worst of all, if the orphanage sent him to another home, someone was going to get hurt. If they decided not to adopt him out, he would either be euthanized or relegated to life in a cage in that stressful environment with people who did not have the knowledge or training to manage or rehabilitate a dog with this level of aggression. I just couldn’t bring him back there with a clear conscience.

2 - I could continue to work with him for the 2 months I committed to, even though he had a bite level exceeding my experience level (at this point I did not know he was a level 4, I received that bite after this decision making period).

I decided to go with choice #2. My reasoning was, even though Buddy was a higher bite level than I was experienced in, I don’t know of anyone in this area who has experience with rehabbing a dog of this level. I had spoken with many local trainers (we have no behaviorists in this area), and the methods they were telling me they would use would only compound the problem. The majority of trainers are NOT trained in behavior, so they are not trained in how to properly rehab a dog like Buddy. The orphanage had proven to me both in our conversations, and in their actions, that they did not know how to deal with this dog. I told them they still needed to find an appropriate home because I did have to go back to work at the end of the 2 month period that I committed to work with Buddy. They understood and said they were working on it. I then reached out to other organizations trying to find someone who could advise me, and I “hit the books” to figure out how to rehab this dog. The orphanage did not want to spend any money on specialists for this dog, so I was on my own to figure this out.

In the next blog post (Buddy’s Rehab 3) I will explain how I started working on Buddy’s Rehabilitation.

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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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