Sunday, July 11, 2010

Aggression Revisited

Back in February, I wrote a blog post called When Is It Actually Aggression. This post was based on an actual evaluation that I did. They did hire me based on just my ability to control the dogs during that evaluation. For the next 3 months, I worked with this family trying to resolve the issues.

In my original assessment I diagnosed the problem as boredom, lack of leadership and trying to have two different packs in the same house without melding them. I discovered over the next weeks that I was completely correct in my assessment. There was NO leadership, no direction, no consistency and no communication. But this didn't just affect the dogs. I discovered that Mom and the Scotties didn't actually live there and that she hadn't lived there for 5 years. The Scotties were dropped off there every day for Dad to babysit along with the other three dogs. I also discovered that Dad did nothing but work all day and totally ignored the dogs except when they needed to be rotated from room to room so every one had a chance to do their business outside. Yet, Boone was purportedly his dog. There was no communication between the humans either. They kept secrets from each other, blamed each other for every thing that happened and were pretty disfunctional.

For the next two weeks, I worked with Peggy on getting her two dogs (Lucy and Zed) to understand that she was now the one in charge, getting them focused on her so that they would take direction from her, and trying to get the dogs out of their rooms for physical and mental stimulation at least an hour every day. In that two weeks I received at least two phone calls or texts from Peggy daily explaining how the dogs were still acting up and excuses as to why she hadn't take them for a walk or set up the obstacle course in the backyard. On the third session, I asked Peggy why her Mom wasn't there sometimes to help. That was when I found out that not only did Mom not live there, but that Lucy was actually Mom's dog originally. When Mom left, Lucy was given to Peggy's sister who she adored. Then the sister went off to live her own life leaving Lucy behind for Peggy to take care of. That was when the fighting started.

I also learned on week three that Peggy had hired a trainer two years before who hadn't accomplished anything and according to Peggy, the fighting escalated because of what the trainer did. The next night I got a frantic voice mail from Peggy. The dogs had gotten in another fight. Dad had miscalculated when rotating the dogs and Lucy and Zed had been left in a room together. I spent the next three weeks - free of charge - at Peggy's house every other day working with her and the dogs. I purchased out of my own pocket, muzzles for the dogs so that even if they got in a fight they couldn't hurt each other badly. I bought several books on aggression that I hadn't read before, re-read a few that I had, trying to find a solution for these dogs. Peggy in the meantime wasn't doing anything unless I was there. She refused to work with the dogs because she was afraid of them. She still wouldn't take them for walks and asking for help from Mom, Dad or sister was not an option. I was beginning to despair.

Then all of a sudden I started getting rave reports from Peggy. The dogs did this and the dogs did that - all good, getting better every day. So I relaxed and started steering her in the original direction of exercise and mental stimulation. Things were progressing. She and Dad started bringing the three dogs to behavior class on Saturday morning. I worked with her at her house three more weeks which ended the original contract. Peggy said she wanted to continue for a few weeks working with the dogs before buying more hours. All fine and good.

Then nothing from her. Absolutely nothing for two months. Then a text message about how Lucy is now attacking the young boy Boone for no apparent reason. I asked her to write it all up for me, all the details and then I'd call her and set up a meeting so we could work on another program. She never got the write up to me and then yesterday she asked me for a refund.

I think one of the greatest challenges for all of us as dog professionals is that on a daily basis we have to work with other people’s limitations. For the most part, we succeed. People change their lives and their dog's lives for the better. But there are always a few people who challenge our patience, our mission, and their own ability to grow and evolve. And in the end, they make us better trainers.

Limitations are OK. We are all human. But there is nothing worse than a situation where a client attempts to make a case for their negative attributes instead of figuring out how they are going to do the work. This case is the perfect example: “Well, it’s difficult for me to work with my dog every day because it’s only me and I work full time and go to school and I have to have a life too, and it just seems like a waste of time. Can't you just fix the dog right now?”

I don’t care that you’re not perfect and neither does your dog. Neither am I. Ask almost anyone. The only thing I or any trainer will ask from you is that you make a committment to yourself and your dog and not expect your trainer to wave a magic wand. That you bring a sense of trust both for your trainer and for the spirit of the work you do together. That you follow through until the end in helping your dog be the best s/he can be.

The story of Peggy, Lucy, Zed and Boone is sad. She says she has hired more trainers since the frantic text message about Lucy attacking Boone. I wonder if these new trainers are going to have to get out the pliers as I did and pull the teeth of the truth from Peggy one tiny piece at a time. Maybe someday, I'll see a blog post about Peggy and the dogs from some other trainer and how this time tried and true methods just didn't seem to work.