Aggression rehabilitation has always been a passion of mine. Working with dogs that have behavioral or medical issues that cause aggression fascinates me. No two dogs are alike and each needs a very specific training plan and approach.
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Katie's Canine Connection is based in Westerville, OH and has a service area of 25 miles.
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What really kick-started my desire to help other people with their aggressive dogs was an English Bulldog/Boxer mix named Gunner. He was a great dog: active, loving, goofy, played well with other dogs, loved playing fetch, loved to cuddle…. until he wasn’t any of those things at the flip of a switch.
Gunner came to me as a client from a kennel. The young couple bought him as an eight week old puppy from the Amish and raised him well, taking him to obedience classes and all. This is what they told me: at about 6 months, Gunner started showing food aggression. At 8 months, he started showing aggression towards women – not men. At 12 months, they could barely take him for a walk without him acting aggressive towards strangers on the street. At 14 months he had bitten the female owner when she took away a blanket he was chewing on. Finally, they decided to get help and went to the Willow Wood where I was head trainer.
He stayed at the kennel for my 15 day program and we made huge strides. It is hard to truly know a dog in just 15 days, but we managed. At first, no one could even go near the kennel without him exploding. After the first two days he and I were really bonded and he didn’t have an aggressive moment towards me. Once the 15 days were up and his owners came back for their lesson, they left feeling much more confident in their ability to handle Gunner with the understanding that he would always have that aggressive tendency.
Unfortunately, a few months later they came back and surrendered Gunner to me. They just couldn’t handle him anymore and I didn’t blame them. Even on Prozac he was a ticking time bomb. Once he was triggered, it was a rollercoaster of a ride to get him “back.” I knew that if they took him to a shelter he would immediately be put down because of his cage aggression. If they tried to rehome him, he would most likely end up with someone else that could not handle him. So, they surrendered Gunner to me and I made a promise to him to do everything I could to work with him and find him a proper home.
I had Gunner for six months. During those six months I tried everything I could. We switched his medications around, tried a holistic approach, I ran and swam him to exhaustion, used different training methods and nothing worked. One minute he was Gunner, the next, he was Cujo; coming at me, growling, ready to bite the closest thing to him. I really could see the change in his eyes as he went from bright-eyed and happy to dull, foggy and angry.
I absolutely loved Gunner and after a long, emotional six months, I knew that the most loving and humane thing to do was to put him to sleep. If I didn’t love that dog I wouldn’t be sitting here writing an article dedicated to him with tears in my eyes. There were only two alternatives, and both were unfair to him: either find a new home for him and wait until I got a call that he bit someone, or, surrender him to a shelter where he would be stressed out in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people, and he would be put down. So, I called my vet and made the appointment. I took Gunner to the kennel that afternoon to play with his doggy friends and his favorite ball. Then we went to McDonald’s and got a big hamburger, a thing of fries and a cup of ice cream – he had no idea what he did to deserve it, but after he finished the ice cream he came up to me and gave me a big, sticky lick on the cheek and I just broke down. We drove to Christy’s, my boss at Buckeye Service Dogs and my extremely close friend and went to the vet from there. Christy and I sat on the floor with Gunner and when the vet came in, she was so amazing and I will always be grateful for her words of encouragement and agreement that I was doing the best thing I could do for Gunner. When she administered the sedation shot, I held Gunner close and I swear he looked at me and gave a big sigh as to say “wow, this is what being relaxed feels like.”
I hear the saying “there is no such thing as a bad dog, just bad people” all of the time. What people don’t realize is that dogs can have mental health issues just like humans. While bad ownership is a more common reason for bad dogs, it is not the only reason. Dogs can suffer from brain tumors, ischemic issues (stroke), head trauma, PTSD, OCD and a multitude of other psychiatric conditions that changes their behavior and overall mentation. There are bad dogs out there and although Gunner wasn’t a bad dog, he was a dangerous dog. As a professional in the dog world, I could not let him go on to hurt another human because no human life is worth more than a dog’s.
Although I had already been working with aggressive dogs, owning and working with Gunner gave me a new, incredible insight into aggression. I gained a multitude of tools because of this dog and I will never regret owning him.
He was a brilliant dog! He loved to be trained and loved to work. I started training him in French just to give him something new to learn.
I loved training him in his good moments because he was so in-tune with whatever was going on and caught on to everything in just seconds.
Among everything else, Gunner had pretty severe food aggression/resource guarding problems. I could hand feed him and eventually I was able to take his toys, but when he had a bowl of food, he was always on edge.
I hate that I was provoking him here, but I needed a video of his reaction.
You can see at the end that he is perfectly fine with me because he knows that there is no food left.
At this point I had had Gunner for 4 months. He was never cage aggressive with me (unless there was food involved).
One of my friends took this video. All she did was walk up to the kennel in a non-threatening manner and was not making eye contact with him.
This was pretty early on. The goal was to not show emotion when he was showing aggression, then to look away when he settled down. It worked well with him.
I took this video from the other side of the door because if Gunner saw me, he would immediately stop.