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When Tender loving care is not enough Part 1

There is an old saying about humans that we can kill with kindness. We have this belief that if we show lots of love and affection to our pets they will reciprocate in a like manner making them and us healthier and happier for it. Sadly, this is not always the case.

Though most dogs appear to respond this way, sometimes we find some dogs will react differently. There have been many cases where owners have showered love and affection on their dog only find that it became out of control and aggressive. Many such cases have produced a dog that has attacked with the result the owners having to put the dog to sleep.

We also have cases where dogs have been so badly abused by their owners they have in order to survive finally retaliated. Not so long ago I wrote of an abused Pit Bull attacking the husband and actually killing him. The police had to shoot the dog to make him release his grip around the owner’s neck.

It would seem that being overly caring or abusive to dogs it is possible to end up with the same result of an aggressive dog. Being abusive is understandably but why kindness. This next case the dog in question was subject to both.

I have recived an email from young lady who lives in Canada and works for a local dog shelter. Obviously a very caring person she was asking for some help with the retraining of a badly treated large dog. The previous owner had so traumatised the dog by his brutality that it would cower screaming or even lunge at any approaching man wearing a baseball cap. It would prefer to spend its time hiding in his kennel.

There I was hoping I might have had an all expenses paid trip to Canada but alas, it was only a plea for help. The Canadian shelters local behaviourist had seen the dog and accepted the owner had badly abused the dog. His belief was showing it lots of love and care would not solve its problems. His advice to the shelter was it would be better to put the dog to sleep. A dog that cowers away from or lunges at people may well resort to biting if it really felt threatened so it was too much of a risk.

I cannot fault the behaviourst reasoning or his advice but the one thing this dog had not learnt was to actually bite anyone in order to survive. Never the less this possible risk to humans is important in any assessment for re-homing or correcting any dog as well as assessing the ability of those trying to correct it. The good sign was this dog was doing nothing more than warning humans away. The previous owner had possibly taught this dog well that it could not attack humans and win.

In all the years this lady had worked with dogs she had never seen one so badly beaten to the point of having its spirits so badly broken and with everyone suggestion the dog was a lost cause, could I help. Eventually the shelter agreed to her taking the dog home with her to give the dog one last chance.

Once she had this dog at her home, he became her constant companion craving her loving attention like a drug. It was not long before she found it difficult to leave him on his own. All she could see was a very terrified dog that needs cuddling.

My concern was the similar to their behaviourist but the dog had not resorted to biting. My second concern was how experienced were the skills of this lady in retraining this dog. As their behaviourist had predicted the lady’s initial efforts were only making the dogs reactions, worse and soon she could be in danger if she pushed the dog too far.

My reading of her emails it was obvious that this lady was expecting that if she showed the dog lots of kindness it should counter balance the abuse it had suffered. Already the dog was sleeping in a kennel in her room and it had attached itself to her as if there was some umbilical cord. It would not let her out her out of his sight but she could see there were no signs of improvement in the way he reacted to other people. What was going wrong?

Within a short period of living with her things only deteriorated. She could not move round the house without the dog continuously following her nor could she leave the house without the dog resorting to whining and chewing things up. Even when someone was still in the house, the dog chewed up small items but as time passed it gradually progressed to larger items like her settee.

One other problem was she found was that the dog would not go down the stairs into the cellar. It would lie down flat on the floor screaming at any attempt at making it go down the stairs. It would though go from the outside into the cellar and up the stairs into the house without any problem.

What was happening was the dog was becoming too dependent on her as a provider for everything including its food in order to survive. It had been so badly treated that it was unable to make sense of this world but all this loving kindness was totally the opposite to what it had learnt to understand.

Nothing it was now learning fitted into its normal comprehension of how it should survive. Love and affection from humans was only the other end of the spectrum to brutality and neither fitted into the natural way a dog thinks. Both were alien worlds to the dog.

Either way the dog remained dependant on humans whether it was being abused or cared for. You may have read about dogs so badly abused by their owners yet they still willingly protected them. Why is this? The dog has no choice it is still so dependent on its owner for its survival it has no alternative.

A dog treated with so much love and affection still finds itself very dependent on its human owner it therefore cannot survive without them and must remain with them out of fear. The more the lady gave more affection the more attached it became to her because it feared being on its own. On its own how could it survive?

The behaviourist was correct but the reason to have the dog put to sleep may have been that he either he did not know how to retrain or considered it uneconomic to spend such time the dog when there were more dogs in need.

The one thing that was working for this dog is that this lady cared. Most of all she had realised her method was not working so was prepared to reassess her understanding of how dogs think and how she should make the correct retraining.

What she has is a badly abused dog with at least two triggers for fear: the baseball cap and the stairs to the cellar. The more the lady worked with this dog the more she was creating separation anxiety to such an extent it feared her leaving and so it became destructive. How do you correct such a dog with such problems?

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