Quite a few of my clients want to know gory details about what I do. Yes, I do indeed work with aggressive dogs, but they tend to be less taxing on one’s patience than puppies. Aggressive dogs just have a few questions that need to be answered by someone they trust, and then they are good to go! Puppies are basically a time loop, where you repeat everything you say or do over and over until you feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.
Yet everyone still wants to know what the scariest session I’ve ever done was. Well, that’s easy. Patty’s session with Buddy! It wasn’t that Buddy was particularly aggressive or anything. He was a Lab. But from what Patty had been describing on the phone, Buddy had some severe anxiety that was demonstrating itself through, as I refer to it, Securing The Perimeter. That’s when a dog who normally wouldn’t be aggressive is acting aggressive through fear. Guarding the door. Guarding the yard. Guarding against, well…..everything. Not the best way to live, in constant fear like that.
Those cases can be a little difficult. I need to leave the situation feeling as if the owner is in the Pilot position firmly enough to answer any questions the dog may have, such as, should we kill this guest before they kill us?
Patty’s situation was nothing I hadn’t handled on very regular basis. The problem was this: I only had one shot at it. See, Patty lived a couple hours away. I had tried to work through this with her on the phone, talking her through it. It didn’t feel right having to charge her for coming all the way out there. She was a good person, who rescued a good dog, and was desperate not to lose her best friend because of aggression. In essence, she was frightened to lose her dog, but she was frightened to be with her dog. What would Buddy do next? It was constantly on her mind.
So I had one shot at this. I drove to her house, nervous the whole way, dragging my Long Suffering Husband, Michael along as Buddy Bait (hey, anything to get the dog react so I can show Patty how to prevent it,right?). But what if it wasn’t exactly as Patty had said and there were other issues going on? What if Patty isn’t willing to listen and utilize what I’ve taught her? What if, what if, what if? To say I was terrified was an understatement. I could not fail these wonderful people!
Michael and I finally arrived and knocked on the door. A huge yellow lab immediately lunged at the door, barking in a possessive manner. The barking intensified (if possible) as I heard someone coming to the door. It must be Patty. She tried to maneuver around the dog, while holding him back, so she could answer the door. I totally relaxed. This would work. I told Patty not to worry, just open the door and let Buddy out at us. My husband gave me a look like, This dog is going ballistic. Are you sure you want him at us right now? Bear in mind my husband is a Comp Sci geek. I usually don’t ask him to come with me on sessions.
Patty let Buddy out, who immediately charged at us full throttle…..and then stopped short, smelled us for a second, and started jumping on us and trying to lick us. We went back inside and worked with Patty and her husband Dan (who had to be the most intently focused clients I’ve ever had) and showed her how to answer Buddy’s questions so he wouldn’t have to do it himself anymore.
We went for a walk past a Rottie who Buddy had gotten into a scrape with just days before (Patty answered Buddy’s question, Is he going to hurt us?, by answering “No” and we moved peacefully along). We practiced Patty answering the door while my husband banged on it outside. Buddy was not allowed to see who was there, but had to trust Patty’s judgement. Mom, will this person hurt us? No, Buddy, I’ve got this.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
I left that session feeling great about myself and the situation I’d left behind. I left with three new friends who I will always admire. Sure, Buddy still needed to be worked with, but Patty did just that, and I still get frequent updates, years later. All of them make me proud of Buddy and his owners’ commitment to their best friend.
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio