After Trainer #1 Jason quoted us $500 to whip Our Best Friend into shape, I immediately contacted Marisa to put OBF back up on her Petfinder site. I was willing to foster/adopt a different dog, if Marisa would just get this anxious, aggressive mutt off my hands.
Placing him, with all his issues, would be tricky. There was one nibble of interest, but the potential fosters already had a dog, and that ruled out OBF. So Marisa asked,
Is there anyway you would be willing to work with his behaviours to keep him? Perhaps I can find someone to help you? pls let me know what you think thanks.
Meeting with a free trainer was a no-brainer. Even if we didn’t keep OBF, better behaviour would make him more adoptable. Marisa introduced us to Jared via e-mail, and we all met in person at the City Centre park.
Because OBF was so impossible to walk, this was the first time we had taken him to the park, which is a very popular spot for walkers, joggers, bike riders, in-line skaters, and of course, their dogs. OBF started barking the minute we took him out of the car. It was mortifying. He wasn’t just barking, he was yelping and jumping and basically behaving like a wild animal instead of a domesticated dog. It was clear we had no control over his behaviour, and I really wondered how wise this outing was.
Jared had two dogs of his own– Brooklyn, a Staffordshire terrier mix who covered our girls in kisses, and Duke, a Boston terrier loaded with character. Both were rehabilitated rescue dogs, but you’d never know it. Neither showed the slightest sign of aggression, and OBF’s insane barking didn’t faze them in the slightest. Obviously Jared was good at what he did.
Jared took the leash from the Spouse, and forced OBF to walk right beside him. OBF whined and tugged, but Jared didn’t give an inch. Finally, OBF lost it, and tried to bite Jared on the foot. Jared immediately grabbed OBF by the collar and neatly flipped him on his back, with his arm against OBF’s throat. OBF struggled a bit, then went limp. As soon as he stopped resisting, Jared let him back up. OBF jumped to his feet, wagging his tail and once again tugging at the leash, eager to be off. Clearly he held no grudge against Jared for pinning him to the ground and trying to strangle him.
The girls took turns walking Brooklyn and Duke, who were so obedient a toddler could have controlled them. The Spouse and I took turns with Jared, learning how to use the leash and choke chain to control his pulling. Every time another dog passed us, he barked and tugged; every time the girls got too far ahead, he really went nuts. He was most calm when all five us (or eight, with Jared and his dogs) walked together as a pack.
At the end of an hour and a half, we came back to where we had started and all sat down on the grass. OBF wasn’t barking anymore, and he lay companionably beside the other two dogs. Just that alone was progress. Jared was confident that with a little more work, OBF would be a terrific dog. “If I didn’t already have two dogs,” he told us, “I would take him myself.”
We took OBF home, buoyed with hope that all would be well. It just took a firm hand and a lack of fear, I told myself. So when OBF ignored a direct command, I decided I would show him who was in charge. Flush with over-confidence, I grabbed him by the collar and pulled. He snarled and snapped at my hand. I released him immediately, walked out of the house, and called the Spouse on his cel. “I want that dog out NOW,” I told him. “He just tried to bite me.”
“We’ll get rid of him,” he answered.
I didn’t speak to OBF for days. OBF doesn’t harbour grudges; he kept putting his chin on my bed and raising his eyebrows, looking at me with puzzled eyes, and then lying down with a big sigh. Clearly I was mad at him, he didn’t know why, and it made him sad. Meanwhile, the girls and the Spouse continued to bond with him, and his protective nature became more and more evident.
Of course I couldn’t stay mad at him forever. When he’s calm, when his anxieties aren’t triggered, he’s a fun, loving, and loyal dog. We decided to meet with Jared again, and it was amazing what an improvement we saw. There was less barking and yelping, and it was much more controllable. When we passed other dogs, he didn’t always bark, and we were able to refocus his attention to us and the walk. A few days after our second session with Jared, the Spouse and I took OBF for a walk ourselves. The pulling and tugging had decreased; we were even able to divert his attention when we crossed paths with another dog. We were thrilled.
I still didn’t want to keep him though. His aggression and anxiety made me too nervous. If we used a tone of voice he didn’t like, or pulled him by the collar, he growled and showed his teeth. I couldn’t run the risk that one day the girls would have a friend over, and OBF would mistake rough-housing for violence and “protect” his girls by biting someone. I love dogs, I want to help them, but I’m not a professional trainer, and owning a dog that might bite is not a risk I’m willing to take. People like Jared who work with these dogs are amazing and brave, but I have small children to worry about.
So we left Our Best Friend’s picture on Petfinder, and waited for someone who would be captivated by his beauty and know what do with a dog with “issues.”