The Hopeless Useless Dog

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Sam Basso
PHOENIX , AZ AREA: (602) 708-4531
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This dog was sold as a “Mastiff”. Note this isn’t a Mastiff. Notice also the “cherry eye”

This true story is sad and upsetting. This is about a type of dog that I call the Hopeless Useless Dog.

I received a call this morning as a referral from a dog breeder that I know. I have worked with him for years, and this woman who called me used to live in the same town as he did, so she called him for advice, and he referred her to call me. She introduced herself, and made it a point to tell me that this dog was not bred by this breeder. In fact, the breeder that she got the dog from lives in a different state. I asked what was going on: she told me that her 10 month old male Mastiff attacked her last night, and it was pretty bad.

OK… so, I started asking questions to evaluate the situation and to see what could be done. Here’s what I found out.

She had always wanted a Mastiff. I know the Mastiff breed very well. I’ve worked with hundreds of them and I pretty much understand them inside and out. I also know many of the behavioral problems that can crop up in the breed. So, I knew what kinds of questions to ask.

No Homework: Before she got the dog, she hadn’t done any homework on the breed. She had seen a few Mastiffs in her life, but that was all. Before you get a specific breed, you should do a lot of research. What is the dog supposed to be like? How do you choose the right breeder, puppy, etc.? What are the typical health problems to look out for? Does this dog fit your lifestyle and temperament?

The Breeder: The breeder is a backyard breeder. From what she told me, and from the photo, I am sure that this is just someone selling dogs, not someone who is breeding a great dog, or someone with a reputation for having a proven, well respected breeding operation for a specific breed. The mother of the dog in question was a brindle dog that she said looked like a mastiff (she still isn’t sure what a Mastiff looks like), the father looked more like a Great Dane with dark and white spots. They were selling puppies for $300 each and had run an ad in the paper.

The Puppy: At first, the woman picked the largest male in the litter. The pups were about 12 weeks of age. She told me she picked “the alpha” of the litter, which to her was the largest puppy. Apparently, that puppy had been selected by two previous families and returned because the puppy just slept all the time and didn’t move around much. The puppy also had a hard time getting to its feet, and would rock itself back and forth in order to get up. While she was there, another male puppy came over and sat on her feet. She decided that this puppy had selected her, so she changed her mind and picked him instead. As that puppy was romping around the room, the adult male dog, the father, attacked that puppy.

Medical Problems: She told me that the puppy came home heavily infested with internal parasites. She told me that he walked weird nowadays, and was told that he probably has hip dysplasia. She sent me a photo of the dog, and I could see that the dog has “cherry eye”. She said the dog is scheduled for surgery next week, and it is going to cost around $1,000 to fix.

Behavior Problems: The dog is uncomfortable with her walking in the back yard. As she walks, the dog growls and dodges back and forth, biting at her feet. She also told me the dog has growled at her ever since she brought him home. The dog is also skittish about everything… it runs away if a curtain blows around, or leaves blow across the grass. She said if a guest comes to the home, he will run into the other room, growl, and peek around the corner at them. She said she socialized him as a puppy and took him to public places to meet people, but he is scared of people.

The Attack: Yesterday, she went into the back yard, and she said he came charging at her with his teeth bared. He came close, then jumped back, came in, jumped back. She told him, “No!” He then grabbed at her feet and started biting them. She told him, “No!” again, so he again growled, came in, jumped back, and then things intensified with him grabbing harder at her feet. She fell to the ground, and he lunged for her face. She said she turned her head at the last second so he didn’t get her, and put up her forearm to block the dog instead. She said he has a tendency to jump up at your face. She called out, and her roommate came out. They had previous problems with this dog, so they would toss a ball to distract him if he got this way, so they tried to do that. Instead, he had already bit her on the arm, puncturing her skin through a thick coat, was growling, and wouldn’t let go. Somehow they distracted him and got him off of her. She then took him inside and told him to “Sit!” He sat. As she walked out of the room, he got up, stood there and lowered his head, then lunged for her and bit her hard on the side of her thigh, just below the hip. So, she put him outside in the back yard for a couple of hours. She let him in again. He went into the bedroom, got a slipper, he went outside dropped the slipper and pooped on it. After that, she let him in again, and he jumped up on the bed, and went to sleep for the evening. This morning, when she got up, he jumped off the bed and started bobbing in and out again, growling and snapping his teeth. She then pinned him down to the floor, one hand on his collar and the other on his side, as she said she saw Cesar Millan teach, and held him there. After a time, the dog sighed, and so she stood up, and verbally released him to get up. When he got up, he bit her again on the thigh. She said now the dog will have nothing to do with her, is avoiding her, won’t look at her.

The Photo: I asked her to send me a photo of the dog. I wanted to see what this dog looked like. I asked how much he weighed, and she told me he was about 90 lbs. The photo confirmed what I suspected. He looks to be a dark brindle Neapolitan Mastiff X Great Dane mix. I’ve seen these Neo mixes before, and a lot of them are unstable dogs. Not only is this dog unstable, he is a medical basket case.

What I Said: I told her the following…

1.) She didn’t do her homework when getting a dog. You can’t get a good Mastiff puppy for $300. She didn’t research the breed or breeder. She was willingly naive and let this happen to her. She said she I was right. I told her that a good breeder would have had references, been active in the breed club, had done all the normal health tests, and so forth. I told her this wasn’t even a pure bred dog, and the mixing of the breeds had created a medical and temperament mess.

2.) Her dog has a fearful, unstable temperament. Part of that was probably the mixing of these dogs, and part was that this dog was medically unwell. A total mess. The other puppy she originally had selected wasn’t well, either.

3.) I have worked with dogs like this in the past. I felt it was highly unlikely that this dog could be turned around. I also told her that I couldn’t make a euthanasia recommendation because I hadn’t met the dog. She said she had talked to another trainer who met the dog a couple of months ago, some guy that used to train dolphins, who told her the same thing, that the dog was unstable and she was going to end up having to put the dog down.

4.) As this dog gets older, starting at about 18 months of age, this dog won’t back off, the bites will get more serious, and then she is going to really be in trouble.

5.) She isn’t the type of person to own a Mastiff. If she got another dog, to get a couch potato dog, maybe a Labrador or Golden Retriever, at least 2 years old, through rescue. She said someone else had told her the same thing. I also told her to quit watching TV dog trainers, and hire a professional next time, or she will cause the next dog to also have issues with her.

She thanked me and said she had already decided to put the dog down today, but wanted a second opinion. I reiterated that I couldn’t ethically recommend euthanasia because I hadn’t met the dog, and I was basing this only on what she told me. She said she understood that, too.

There was nothing more to do. This is the Hopeless Useless Dog. I have met these before. Poorly bred giant dogs with unstable temperaments, unhealthy fear biters that won’t protect you, but they will eventually bite or maul you. There is no hope of a turnaround. The dog is useless as a pet or for any other purpose. I think someone decided to make a quick buck selling puppies, or they have some backyard experiment going to create their own new dog breed. She told me that these people are running ads again for another litter from this same female and male. She wanted to know if she should do anything… I told her that there was no solution, and to move on.

There are lots of life lessons here. I think you get what they are…

I spoke to her tonight… she was conflicted and upset. Her veterinarian refused to euthanize the dog: it was against their policy to put a dog down for behavioral reasons. I told her that if she wasn’t sure, to get another in person evaluation done on the dog. I live hundreds of miles away, so I couldn’t do the in person evaluation for her and I reminded her I couldn’t go ahead and tell her to put the dog down.

The next day…

I got a message saying the dog bit her again that morning. Animal control came by and picked up the dog, and the dog was euthanized.

That afternoon, I got another message. She told friends what had happened. At a local pet store, she ran across a former animal control officer from her town… who filled her in the rest of this story… of this dog’s siblings… two died as puppies. Two were abandoned in the desert and died. And two more were returned to the breeder for excessive aggression at 3 months of age.

My diagnosis was correct. That doesn’t make the hurt for the owner any less. And it doesn’t give me any peace having to tell someone that their dog is not going to get better but is going to get worse…

Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.