I didn’t know I was getting you until the day we picked you up. You were sleepy and not very playful that day. I had planned on doing my own temperament test, but you and your 10 sleepy siblings were not very cooperative. We were told you were a show prospect puppy that would be “perfect” for us. You were Yellow Boy.
Eyes Wide Open
Looking back, should I have seen the red flags?
Like when you threw up in the car on the way to the airport.
Or that you never wagged your tail or gave kisses… ever.
When the sound of a pot softly set on the stove would send you running for cover.
That you refused to eat, no matter what I fed you.
Or when you almost got yourself stuck in the pool gate because you were so frightened by the pool. You were never less than 20 feet from the pool, but yet, you were terrified.
You were just so fearful of everything around you. Why?
The Happy Days
Eventually, you decided life in our home wasn’t so bad. You enjoyed your kids. You loved Burton and the play dates you had with Sugar the Lab.
As a puppy, you enjoyed your walks around the neighborhood. You loved to play fetch and tug with your Kong Wubba while I was busy putting the kids to bed.
Those were fun times for me too. I loved to see you lighthearted and happy.
Confusion and Disbelief
Looking back, could I have done anything differently? Could I have done more?
Like when, at 4.5 months old, you were at handling class and I felt your body stiffen ever so slightly and the “judge” give you a look. Both occurred in a split second as she moved down your body to finish her examination. I will never forget the look on her face. Did she know something? She never spoke of it.
Or when, at 5 months old, you were being petted sweetly by my daughter’s friend’s mom and a few kids and other parents, and you lunged at her barking aggressively. One of the parents grabbed his child and pulled her back and commented that “he is too big a puppy to not be friendly.” I was shocked and apologetic and utterly horrified. I told you NO in that moment and explained that you had never done that before.
I was confused and embarrassed. You were not an aggressive dog. You were just a puppy!
And then, just a week or so later, my sweet neighbor came over to chat while I was getting you and the kids in the car. This was pre – TwistStep, so I needed to lift you in.
My neighbor could see I was in need of help and as soon as she walked toward me, you lunged up and barked at her aggressively. More apologies. What in the world?! Why? That wasn’t the first time you met her. You knew her!
Still no kisses. And no wagging tail.
A Well Trained Puppy And Promising Show Dog
By this time, you had been through Puppy Obedience and Level 1 Obedience as well as many handling classes. I took you to your first dog show when you were 6 months old. We got a courtesy blue ribbon in the 6-9 month puppy class because you were the only puppy. I was just happy to not completely embarrass myself as your handler.
Yes, I worked full time, but you were given daily outings and opportunities for socialization. Trips to Petco and PetSmart, Pet Club and Pet Food Depot as well as evening dinners at numerous restaurants with outdoor patios in town.
We went to your Veterinarian once a week just for a weight check, some treats, and loving attention because I knew that you needed to learn to love the vet. You were never crated for more than 4 hours at a time.
You were not my first mastiff or my first big dog by a long shot. I was not new to raising and training a mastiff puppy.
But you were different. And with that, I was new.
Socialize, Socialize, Socialize
Over the next couple of months, after several more lunging incidents, and being told that all you needed was more socialization, I signed you up for doggie daycare. I paid $300 for 6 days of daycare.
The folks at the day care were excited to meet you. I was so hopeful being surrounded by all the other dogs, you would have fun and learn that people just want to be your friend.
About halfway through the first day, the head trainer called. You would not be able to come back to daycare due to your aggression toward the trainers. She recommended you come for intense behavioral rehabilitation reserved for aggressive dogs.
They assured me they had seen your “kind” before and they believed they could help you, and me.
Over the next 6 months, we spent roughly $4000 in behavioral modification and training.
Fear Aggressive Dog Or Something Else?
But there was no reason for your aggression.
You were never abused or spoken harshly to. Your lunging incidents were not met with punishment.
In fact, some might say you “got away with” your behavior.
By this time I had read so many books about fear aggressive dogs and spoken to numerous behaviorists that I believed people’s reaction to you (backing away) served to reinforce your behavior. If it was true that you feared them, this made sense.
However, you never looked the part of a fearful dog. You never once coward, backed up, or had your tail tucked beneath you.
Aggressive Dog Excuses Or Denial?
Looking back, did I make too many excuses for you?
Like when visits to the Veterinarian became increasingly dangerous.
Despite my efforts to give you an exhaustive walk right before your appointment, the techs you once let pet you now feared you. I don’t know if you remember, but on one occasion the vet actually brought in a muzzle. I remember feeling an out of body experience that day. ME, with an aggressive dog that now needs a muzzle?!
I raised you as a puppy. Was it something I did? Was it something I failed to do?
Or when walks in our neighborhood were wrought with risks. On numerous occasions, people would drive by us and they would slow down to admire you and you would return the compliment with a stiff growl.
I said it so many times I can quote my response “Oh, thank you so much! He’s really a very sweet boy, but he’s still learning. He’s very much still a puppy.” That would usually appease them and they would move on.
The worst for both of us were the folks who insisted on petting you.
I will go to my grave believing the only thing that saved one lady was the fact that she was walking her Shih Tzu and you were exhausted from a two-mile walk. She ran up to us from across the street and grabbed your face and told me how much she loved “these big softies.” You wriggled out of her embrace to sniff her dog and for the next 5 minutes (or eternity) you played with the Shih Tzu.
The entire time she gabbed I thought, “I don’t know who’s luckier right now, you or me!”
Eventually walks had to be done in the evenings by my husband so you had fewer demons to face.
As time went on, we could no longer have friends or babysitters over.
With your basket muzzle on, you viciously attacked one of our best friends. Sugar the Lab’s dad. A man you knew and had hung out with on numerous occasions before.
He called me the next day, obviously nervous and upset, and told me he would not be bringing his family over anymore if you were there because he “wouldn’t be able to forgive himself if anything happened to them.”
On The Road To AKC Champion
I tried C.A.T and B.A.T., desensitization, calming medications, more crating, less crating, more advice from behaviorists…
After all of this, I was told by your breeder what you really needed was a road trip with a handler. Being out on the road meeting thousands of people. You would learn that people are not bad.
I was confused. Had you not learned that already?
Perhaps she was right. A road trip was what you needed.
Two months and several thousand more dollars, you were an AKC Champion at only 18 months old. You had been doing so well and I was so proud and hopeful. Maybe the nightmare was over. Or not.
On the day you were scheduled to take your Canine Good Citizen test (in my mind proof of your rehabilitation), you decided to lunge at two handlers before ring time. You were pulled from the show that day and for the next two days as well.
No Canine Good Citizen test. No Canine Good Citizen. I felt hopeless.
Surprise Or Not?
I drove 25 hours to come and watch you for your last show. I could not wait to see you!
Your handler asked me to wait to greet you so that you didn’t get too excited before going in the ring. I waited across the room and watched you come out of your crate.
There were people all over the place, and look at you! I was so proud.
And then I wasn’t.
I still have the photos and I can hear the sound when I think back. It only took a split second.
My admiration turned to horror as I witnessed you calmly stand to be petted by a sweet young adult woman, then leap up and bite her in the chest. I could see your teeth pull away from the lady’s shirt from her chest. That was it.
One lunge. One bite. Your first bite. And your last.
Choices For An Aggressive Dog
We had choices. I was told we had choices.
We could choose to neuter you and keep you confined to our yard and muzzled around other people. After all, you loved us, right?
We could put you on any number of anti-anxiety medications, and, still keep you confined in our house.
We could re-home you as sending you back to your breeder was not an option.
But wouldn’t re-homing you just shift the risk from one person to another?
With the first two options, would my two small children be capable of understanding why their friends could never “say hi” to you? Was it right for me to put the burden on them should they slip up just one time?
We made a choice. I made a choice and I said goodbye.
I will never forgive myself, but it was the right choice. I am sorry I let you down. I am sorry I couldn’t do more.
You will always have a piece of my heart, my Sweet Baboo. Until we see each other again.
I love you.