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My Dog's Behavior Almost Got Him Killed! (How He Turned His Life Around)

My dog played with another dog!!!

That sounds like such a strange thing to be proud of but you have to hear Gonzo’s story to understand…

I met Gonzo when I was a Dog Trainer/Behavior Specialist Apprentice with the Misha May Foundation. Gonzo was a foster dog who came to one of our classes because he had severe dog aggression issues. And by “severe” I mean that he not only acted like he wanted to kill other dogs, he acted like he wanted to find their whole doggie family and kill all of them. For this, Adams County Shelter tried to get his foster mom to bring him back in to have him euthanized. Fortunately, there was no way she would have done that.

Gonzo walked into this class and immediately sat on my lap and pressed his body into my chest. We had never met before, but the dog OWNED me at that point. Arguably, that’s not hard for a dog to do with me, but this one paw-picked me to be his mom!

Matt and I adopted that sweet guy in August ’13 and did A LOT of work with him. (Read “Behavior Adjustment Training,” by Grisha Stewart for tips and techniques.) I spent hours daily with Gonzo on the balcony of our apartment that overlooked a doggie pee patch. Every time a dog would go to the pee patch, I would use my sweetest voice to ask Gonzo, "Is that a doggie?" while feeding him tons of treats. At first, Gonzo would get all ruffled and stressed and want to kill the pee patch doggies. Over time, Gonzo began to remain relaxed, but very alert when a dog visited the pee patch. Eventually, Gonzo would see a dog at the pee patch, ignore it and look at me like, “Where’s my treat, Mom?”

His behavior was so good on the balcony, but we still had to run away from other dogs when we were on a walk so he wouldn’t freak out. I’m sure I looked like a crazy lady always running away from anything furry, but I had to let Gonzo know I would never force him to be in a situation that made him uncomfortable. Plus, I am highly opposed to dog fighting.

Gonzo got lots of treats every time we saw a dog on a walk and ran away from it. At first he would not take the treat and was only concerned with letting me know that other dog-type thing must surely die for trying to exist on the same planet with him. Slowly, he began to take the treats, but was still pretty amped up. Eventually, Gonzo got to where he would look at me furtively for his treat if a dog creature was in the vicinity. Gonzo now might sometimes whimper on walks when there is a dog around, but he usually makes the decision on his own to ignore the dog and run past it or take a different direction.

We still keep him as far away as possible from any dogs walking on a leash. We’ll either cross the street, turn in a different direction, or hide in the trees or whatever if we’re on a hike. (Not creepy looking at all.) And please notice I said walking past “dogs walking on a leash.” Dogs that run around off-leash are a whole other issue.

In April ’14, Matt and I moved into a house with a nice, big, back yard for Gonzo. Across the alley live 4 dogs Gonzo could easily see. So, of course Gonzo got tons of treats when the other doggies were out. Gonzo eventually started coming inside for his treats automatically when the other dogs were in their back yards. Gonzo never once even barked at any of them even when they barked at him. I was so proud!!!

Gonzo even seemed to bond with the dogs across the alley. It was their alley and NOTHING should be in it!!! Especially not cars or humans! Their job was to protect the alley from those monster machines that drove through and from the humans walking past that were certainly there to murder the dogs’ families inside. Anytime Gonzo heard the others barking, he had to go see what potential threat was coming and find out what he needed to do to protect his family. (And since I've seen some rather sketchy characters in my alley, I am perfectly happy that Gonzo does this.) Gonzo never met the other dogs without fences in between them, but they had seemed to have kind of become their own little clique.

All of that doesn’t even begin to describe all the work we’ve done with Gonzo, but it gives you an idea. Now, to get to the good part…The good part was a full on, unintentional, we-would-have-never-done-this accident! Any good trainer is going to cringe at what I’m about to say. This past Thursday, Gonzo started playing with a dog that snuck into our back yard!!! No, this is NOT how you want this to happen!!! Fortunately, Gonzo has gotten so good at making smart decisions, that he decided this critter wasn’t a threat and could possibly be a friend. I’m so glad Gonzo wasn’t thinking, “Maybe he tastes like chicken.”

Gonzo and his new buddy ran all around the back yard for several minutes with tails wagging, lots of play bowing, and lots of peeing. No barks, no bared teeth, no hackles up, no gory death!! It…was…amazing!!!!

While this was not how I planned to have Gonzo meet another dog, I am so glad I put in the time and energy it took to show him how to make better decisions. Had I not, another dog sneaking into our yard might have been a horribly tragic story rather than a proud mom moment.

(Gonzo giving a high-five)

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