You are making breakfast. Without looking, your sleeve brushes your plate off the edge of the counter, it falls to the floor, and shatters. Some dogs can be shattered. For some dogs, after being attacked by another dog, being abused, or having to defend themselves against a human, the dog changes. What was once a social dog is now wary or aggressive to other dogs or people. I’ve seen it many times. What should be done?
Since moving to the Phoenix area, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of pit bulls. I like pit bulls, they make excellent family dogs, and if you do the training correctly, they are fun to train and can become quite competent.
I remember a pit bull I worked with about 10 years ago in North Phoenix. The dog was social with people and other dogs, until one day, the dog was attacked by an off leash dog on a walk. After that one incident, this dog was no longer good with other dogs, and became wary of strangers. I know of another pit bull, also from the North Phoenix area, that was cornered by an obnoxious person, to the point the dog bit him. This caused the man to hysterically flip out in front of the owner and dog, even though he provoked the bite. This one incident changed this dog towards strangers. He no longer trusted them, and he became very territorial where the incident happened. In other words, in both cases, the dish fell on the floor and shattered.
However, unlike glass dishes, it is often possible to put a dog back together again after this kind of trauma. The dog might not ever be 100% like it was before, but you can go a long way to making the dog safe, or safer, with strangers and strange dogs.
I start with a full evaluation, including the entire life history, of the dog. I know how the ideal dog develops, and what can go wrong along the way to adulthood. I also get a full profile of the owner and the incident(s) that led up to the present condition. Next, we schedule sessions. At first, we usually have to start at the start. We have to get the dog-owner relationship mended. From there, most dogs never are well trained, and neither are the owners. That foundation has to be put in place first, everything from how to put on a leash and collar properly, dealing with misbehaviors in the home, how to give commands, teaching a foundation of the basic commands, and so on. If we are going to get at the root problem, these need to all be addressed first. I can’t get the dog properly set up for dealing with whatever happened if the owner can’t even manage the dog or have a good relationship. We have to be patient and fair before we put any further demands on the dog. From there, we can then do a variety of exercises and techniques to further rebuild this dog. Now, I dig into my “toolbox”, and we start doing special exercises that can glue this broken dish back into shape.
The biggest mistake people make is to start punishing these dogs for being freaked out. For many reasons, there are those who jump to the conclusion that the way to fix this is to strap an electric collar onto the dog, or to start dominating this dog into submission. Look, be sensible… you can’t fix a traumatized dog by further traumatizing it with your ham-handed schemes. It doesn’t work with traumatized people, and that doesn’t work with dogs. This dog is broken, and you have to put this dog back together, a piece at a time. You don’t fix the dog by further breaking the dog down. Yes, there might be a place for corrections along the way, for the safety of the dog and other people and animals, but just punishing the dog for not doing what you think the dog should be doing will never work. You have to lead them out of the trauma.
The second biggest mistake is thinking all of this is going to be fixed without any emotional or financial investment by the owner. A dog isn’t a leaky faucet, where you hire a plumber to install some new parts and all is well. You can’t send these dogs to some 2 week “boot camp” to “reset” the dog. It doesn’t work that way, it never works that way, and now you’ve wasted a lot of money and further traumatized your dog. You are your dog’s last safety line. You can’t do a good job of fixing a dog by breaking that bond. You are either part of the solution, or the obstacle to the solution. Furthermore, getting rid of the dog won’t fix the dog, either. Dogs like this get shuffled a few times between shelter organizations and rescues before they are put down. You need to get in there and rescue your own dog.
Can a broken dog be fixed? Yes. Usually. If you take the time. If you invest in the process. If you care about your dog and do the necessary homework, and protect your dog from further similar traumas.