She’s Dog Aggressive, Are You Sure You Want Her?

What if the dog you’re considering might be dog aggressive?  That didn’t stop dog trainer Lynn Stockwell from adopting Clara– who turned out to be a wonderful companion.

Lynn explains:

It’s been made painfully aware to me that I haven’t updated people here as to my recent acquisitions (well, there’s one important item, the rest are just details) and activities. There pictures in here, most of which I’ve tried to resize so as to be more user-friendly to slower internet connections, so be advised if the page loads a little slower.

She’s Dog Aggressive, Are You Sure You Want Her?

Clara, a Boxer cross, came home to live with me back in March 2012, and even before she stepped foot into my apartment she was learning about life with me–or re-learning about life, in her specific case.

See, Clara was picked up as a stray not far, relatively speaking, from where I am living now. The county shelter is the main reservoir for dogs for the local veterinary technician school, and despite the repeated warnings that “She’s dog aggressive, are you SURE you want her?”, the people on the Teacher Dog Choosing Committee had enough faith to bring her to the school along with 2 other lucky pups.

At school, she spent slightly over 2 years living in a kennel environment teaching us students how to perform physical exams, perform anesthesia safely, do dental and catheterization (both intravenous and urinary) procedures, position for radiographs and locate veins for blood pulls. For anesthesia, she was a bit of a booger and needed the Heavy Drugs because of a lost bite inhibition with the main pre-med. With radiographs, she was a pro and pretty much only needed to know what was being radiographed and in what position, and there she stayed with no complaint until the picture was taken. For the venipuncture, her pipes pretty much announced themselves with neon lights, and woe to any student who had trouble locating them.

dog aggressive
Dog aggressive?

First picture I took of Clara at school

I actually fell in love with the dog before I met her. The professor announced the new crop of dogs that filled in the voids left from those adopted out, and mentioned in passing that one of them was “dog aggressive and probably a pit mix.” That was it, and I knew this dog was somehow destined to be a significant part of my life. Not that I go looking for dog aggressive dogs by any means, but her friendliness toward people more than made up for her issues with the other dogs.

Said issues originally seemed to be geared more toward other bitches, which did raise red flags as my parents’ dog is a bitch and they would have to at least peacefully co-exist with heavy supervision if this was to work out. However, her radar did ping on some of the dogs, particularly one of the major dorks who put up a bit of a “I’m all that” front. Observations over the time she was there determined that gender didn’t seem to play a role so much as the individual dog did. I had since put my name on her card as a potential adopter, and so far I hadn’t seen anything so concerning as to convince me to remove my hat from that ring.

They also seemed more fear-based than anything, out of a need for control and the “best defense is a good offense” mindset. This was work-with-able. The whole 2 years she was there, her issues were managed through the use of a popular brand of headcollar as well as mandatory social isolation from other dogs, the latter of which actually helped her to some extent. It didn’t prevent dogs from making googly-eyes and nasty faces at each other, but it kept full-on attacks to a minimum (unfortunately, it also kept positive play interactions to a minimum too, for those who actually played nice in the sandbox).

During quarters when I was interning off-campus, the staff allowed me to come in on the odd weekend day to spend a few hours with Clara as kennels were cleaned and student rotated through other dogs. I was allowed to take off the headcollar and spoil her with chews during this time, as long as I kept her away from the other dogs and students. This continued after my graduation, and we finally arranged a day and time for Clara Freedom Day after a tooth extraction surgery, necessitated by an aggressive cage-chewing habit that snapped off a lower canine and effectively blunted her incisors to the resemblance of small nubbies.

I originally planned to socialize her and help her learn how to be a dog again after 2 years of being a kennel animal, but I couldn’t have been more off in my thinking. Her training began a few days later, after she had caught up on 2 years’ lost sleep from the noisy kennel environment.

This was pretty much the extent of her activity aside from regular walks and potty breaks.

Without going into detail, my “dog aggressive pit mix” passed her Canine Good Citizen test 4 months after bringing her home in March after some intensive obedience training. We were actually ready for it much earlier, but the test was being offered on a certain day, so we waited and continued to work.

See, It’s Hard To Be Dog Aggressive When…

My worries about Clara getting along with other dogs was alleviated when I found the perfect dog around which to put her: Mallory. (I also wish Zeke were around too, as I know he would have been a great teacher as well.)

See, it’s hard to be dog aggressive and put up a front when the other dog just doesn’t care. Well, in Clara’s case it was easy, which made working with the aggression all the easier because she had no REASON to be afraid, as Mallory just rolled her eyes at That Evil Step-Sister and went on with life. Constant visits have whittled away the Best Offense action, setting the stage for one of my favorite pictures of them both, just below. As we’ve progressed, Clara is now trustworthy off-leash around Mallory, and enjoys running around the unfenced yard, which is considerably more space than what we have here. Although there is no interactive play, there is the ability to parallel play–that is, play alongside each other with separate toys, no quarreling and no interaction, which is quite voluntary on the part of both dogs.

Of course, the Master at work in this picture prefers to not use a leash. She in fact gave me quite the nasty look when I suggested she put it in her mouth. That’s not a smile in those eyes!

I spent countless hours building ball drive in a dog that already had one heck of a retrieving instinct, despite having almost no retriever in her. She is an amazing jumper and can get some considerable air when going after her ball. In addition, she’s been introduced to the family farm and the vast amount of space one has to run after the ball. She has it rough, and often comes home and crashes after such days regardless of who’s around!

A happy retrieve

Flying between the trees–a lucky shot on my part!

“Er, Clara…I think we’ve been caught!”
“Yep, just…don’t…move…”

She was working off-leash shortly before passing her CGC. All things considered, not that impressive. I’ve worked a dog that could have passed the test after 3 weeks of work (from SCRATCH too, no obedience background at all!) if only I’d had him tested, and I’ve worked a dog who passed in 6 weeks. I felt it more appropriate to work both obedience and target the aggression issue as well as socialize to life on the “outside,” and combining the 3 goals meant that a 3- or 6-week CGC pass was out of the question. It was the right move for all involved.

As for how she did in a home environment after 2 years in a kennel and no knowledge of her prior background, suffice it to say that someone socialized this dog. I ran the sweeper and she fell asleep with it in the same room (well, that’s unavoidable due to my place being a studio apartment). She hardly bats an eye at the train horns going on at all hours not a quarter-mile from the house. Loud cars, music, TV, construction sights/sounds…no reaction. She passed the Home Depot test, complete with carts, screaming children, lumber equipment and aisle displays, with flying colors. We’re still working on firecrackers and gunshots, but so far things are going well. My housemates absolutely love her, she’s become a fixture around the community due to our frequent walks, and now that Ohio law has changed, the pit bull side of her (well, if there ever was one, based on looks alone) is legal!

Yes, there are some who would brand her mostly pit, but thankfully most see Boxer first

Right now we’re in the polishing phase for obedience, as I’ve slacked off considerably and there are some specific areas in which we need to work. I’m unsure at this point if I want to push more for competitive obedience, or if I want to start her in soft-mouth retrieval and eventual tracking. She’s provided me with lots of good experience, and mistakes have been made on both our parts throughout the process. She’s also very photogenic, especially since her new leather collar got here! Hopefully will be updating a little more frequently and getting back to your regular thought-provoking/critica-thinking programming, now that the cat’s out of the bag concerning this awesome girl.

Purple-on-black leather collar

A nice moment with Mallory and some special effects

Here’s Clara, enjoying the freedom of the big yard and life on the “outside” despite originally being labeled as dog aggressive.