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Help please: Special Needs Fear Based Aggressive Reactive Dog - Calgary

Muziqal
June 6th, 2006, 12:32 PM
So...here I am now in the final week before I put Zea (pronounced Zee-ah) down at the vet. She is an amazing, affectionate, sweet, beautiful, playful and athletic 55 lb. 1 year old shepherd/heeler x...but only with us at home and to those humans and dogs she knows. She has an unnatural fear of everything unknown and she lashes out with aggressive behaviour because of it...and she can't be cured.

It's been a long hard year with her.

We adopted her from the Cochrane Humane Society (we live in Calgary) mainly to add to our family and so our 90 lb. 2 year old lab/terrier x, Cisko, wouldn't be alone during the day anymore. We adopted her at 5 months of age. She couldn't be adopted with her litter at 8 weeks because of a heart murmur they had to investigate (turned out to be mild enough that she was eventually considered adoptable). When we met her, we could tell she had training issues...we couldn't tell how bad or why...but we thought her lack of socialization because of the medical problems might have been the issue. Her walks with us, and Cisko, at the park went well enough that we decided to adopt her. We thought socializing, ordinary training principles and Cisko's influence and example would do the trick.

Well...it's gotten progessively worse. It used to be that she would react only to dogs that would instigate the aggressive behaviour. We're now at the point where she won't wait to "kill" small dogs at the park (no more off-leash in our lives...or Cisko's), she has bitten 3 adults (never puncture wounds, but my neighbour did receive a deep enough scratch that broke the skin on his leg from her teeth during the last incident), and we don't want to take the chance of having her near any children (she reacts to them on-leash and in the car).

We've been through the aggression classes at the humane society here in Calgary. While informative, it was tailored to the group and not enough to Zea's problems, we felt. She was, by far, the worst case in the class. Her problems can't be solved by shoving a mouth full of chicken in her face when ever there is a problem. First off, sometimes you can't expect or see every problem from a mile away. Secondly, she just isn't food motivated enough. She ignores the chicken and goes into "kill" mode.

The techniques we learned and equipment we started using (muzzle, leader, etc.) have helped us handle her...but haven't solved the "problem".

We then took her to a well referred behaviourlist in Okotoks...she has been prescribed "calming" drugs and has begun the initial cycle. Some great info and behavioural insight, but the same managing techniques as in the class...and the same conclusion...if some humans can have their wires crossed, so can some dogs.

We know we can't keep her. We know we're not living the lives we want and we know she isn't either. The statement that we agree with and that keeps coming to mind is "a pet is supposed to add to our lives, not take away from it". We know she loves us more than anything...and we love her. My g/f can't handle the stress of handling her and the possibility of something worse happening (ex; her biting a child, etc.) which heightens her reactivity when we're out (and my g/f is a pretty strong female who works with youth at risk and street kids). The inevitability of us having kids in the near future is coming closer and is a scary prospect (we just built a house and have moved to the burbs...it's getting closer to that point). We know we will have to say goodbye to her at that point too because we simply don't trust her with children.

I want to exhaust every effort before having to euthanize her on Saturday (she's my little girl and my running partner...Cisko will not run...in fact, he goes for 5 min and then falls like dead weight to the pavement and will not move for anyone or anything, beit cars, me or anyone trying to walk on the sidewalk). We know she won't pass the assessment test at the humane society. If we surrender her, they will put her down after she spends a couple of weeks in a lonely room. We know we can't just give her away because of the liability issues with a "biting dog". We also wouldn't want to find out, some day in the future, that she really did hurt someone.

She is a working dog...you should have seen her herd when she accidentally got loose behind hind our house in the land where these cows roam. She had them going for a half an hour before we could catch her again.

Is there anything else I can do to give her any more options before Saturday? Does anyone know a web-site to find a farm who needs a dog like this? Does anyone think that even a farm would take on the liability of a dog with these "special needs"?

Or am I fighting a losing battle?

Lucky Rescue
June 6th, 2006, 01:05 PM
I feel so bady for you!!:( This is a terrible situation.

It sounds like you have gone above and beyond what anyone else would do to help this dog, and you must not blame yourself.

Some dogs are just not "right". The dog aggression is one thing, but biting people for no reason is another and you're very lucky none of those people decided to sue you.

I think your only options are to shut her away from everyone forever, or euthanize her. :(

If we surrender her, they will put her down after she spends a couple of weeks in a lonely room. We know we can't just give her away because of the liability issues with a "biting dog". We also wouldn't want to find out, some day in the future, that she really did hurt someone.


You're right. Sending her a shelter is not humane. You also cannot adopt her out. With countless dogs, who would never bite, being killed every day for lack of homes, no one is going to want your aggressive dog unless it's a person with bad intentions.

No farm is going to want a dog who wants to kill other dogs, and who unpredictably bites people either. Her future would be very grim if you take that route. In other hands she will no doubt end up either abused, dumped or spend her life on a chain - all fates worse than a gentle ending with people who love her.

I"m really sorry, and can imagine your pain.:(

erykah1310
June 6th, 2006, 01:09 PM
I just replyed with the longes post known to pets.ca and for some reason i was not signed in anymore :mad:
I am not going as into detail again, but here s the jist of it!

Well...it's gotten progessively worse. It used to be that she would react only to dogs that would instigate the aggressive behaviour. We're now at the point where she won't wait to "kill" small dogs at the park (no more off-leash in our lives...or Cisko's), she has bitten 3 adults (never puncture wounds, but my neighbour did receive a deep enough scratch that broke the skin on his leg from her teeth during the last incident), and we don't want to take the chance of having her near any children (she reacts to them on-leash and in the car).
Imo, and experience, she is actually herding, you say she is 1 year old , well she is protecting her herd! Herding dogs with such a strong desire to herd are very hard to understand. As far as her "nipping" that is how she intends to move the "cattle or sheep" ( which to her is all people are , they just are balder and walk funny) She is herding them. I have a BorderCollie who displayed the same problems, after working with him for 4 years he is just now , a dog that i am comfortable takeing in public.

she just isn't food motivated enough. She ignores the chicken and goes into "kill" mode.
IS she play motivated? Again wit Meiko, he will respond to a toy over my voice any day, he could be in mid "attack" and i just have to squeak a squeeker from a toy and he will "Drop " what he is about to do. Most herding dogs with a strong desire to work, dont react well to food training. They are bred to work, and eat later!
Does your dog have a job around the house? Meiko, has been taught to take my clothes out of the dryer with me. IT sounds pathetic, but he is SOO happy to do it. Outside he is a guardian of his "flock" and stands guard of the chickens and so on. ( I am aware that you dont have this option );)

erykah1310
June 6th, 2006, 01:18 PM
I have decided to split this reply up, before it tells me im not signed in agian LOL


We then took her to a well referred behaviourlist in Okotoks...she has been prescribed "calming" drugs and has begun the initial cycle.
I cant believe that calming drugs were prescribed!!! that is a quick fix and NO there is no quick fix! Meiko has been a " work in progress" for 4 years now.
but is doing well. I no longer fear the day i have children, I have faith that he will be well mannered now. When children come to my house they play fetch with Meiko, thats all that has to be done for him to become YOUR BEST FRIEND!

I want to exhaust every effort before having to euthanize her on Saturday (she's my little girl and my running partner...
Im sorry but you WILL Not find a suitable fix by Saturday! If you want the problem solved instead of "masked" it requires alot of understanding and one on one with her. If Saturday is "THE DAY" there is no answer that can be given to you that is going to work 100% by then. SORRY

Does anyone know a web-site to find a farm who needs a dog like this?
Most farmers who are working their dogs adopt pups that can be trained to do the job properly, just because your dog will chase the cattle for hours, doesnt mean she will understand where she is supposed to chase them to. Meiko is lucky enough to "voluteer" with our neighbour, he helps his Austrailian Cattle dog, with cutting and rounding up stray cattle, however when it comes down to the cows going where the farmer wants them, thats the Cattle dogs job, not Meiks. He jsut doesnt understand what is expected of him, so instead he just keeps an eye out for strays or unruly cattle that dont want to go.
But this is a once in a life time opportunity IMO for Meik. I dont think another farmer would allow an innexperienced dog after his livelyhood.

Prin
June 6th, 2006, 01:28 PM
I had a super aggressive dog once too. What we ended up doing with her was keeping her in our yard and home and that's it. If we brought her out, we'd have to be so alert to see any dogs before she did. She did get into many fights, but my family all learned how to break them up- it was par for the course with her. She got along with our other dog and that was it. We didn't feel restrained or trapped because of her, but then again, she wasn't out to get kids either. And with her there was never a doubt that she brought more into our lives than took out of it.

From what I know about working dogs, they are hard to mix with kids. It's not impossible, but you really have to know your herding dog's instincts and how to train them in spite of them. And if you already aren't sure about this dog, throwing kids in the mix will be a disaster.

What a hard decision to make.:sad: I'm sorry.

Muziqal
June 6th, 2006, 02:47 PM
Thanks for all of the opinions and advice. Believe me, this has been a far from easy decision to make and has come with a lot of emotion, research and discussion. For about 2 months now we've been toying with the decision after the neighbour biting incident. And yes, we were lucky he was the nicest guy ever and didn't sue. Saturday has been a long ways away before this post.

You make good points about the working dog's instincts and tendencies. I should have added that we have tried distracting her with toys as well as chicken (tried this on our own without being taught). But to no avail. She would rather protect her herd than play fetch. If she won't listen to us, then I have never wanted to test it out on a kid (here kid, take this ball for me and throw it...if she goes for you, just curl up in a ball, k?). Don't mean to be sarcastic, just injecting a little humour into a tough topic. She doesn't have a job at home, per se, but she is my running partner (4 runs a week for 30 - 40 min). We play mind stimulating games with her. Haha...and her other job is to motivate our lazy, cuddling dog. I don't see him move as fast, ever, other than when she is chasing him around the house to play. The plan would be, if we made the decision to keep her, would be to place he in agility classes. They do have agility classes tailored to aggressive dogs. But, again, how much of my life am I willing to change for my dog? Am I willing to sacrifice a lot of things in my life to take care of this animal? Because that's what it comes down to. As you said, 4 years of hard work. I do feel guilty for not wanting to put this level of commitment into her...but I also know we don't have the lifestyle to be able to do this. If one of us didn't work...if we wanted to not have a social dog life (parks, hikes, etc.), if we didn't have any kids come over, or social gatherings at our house...etc., etc. When do you decide that quality of life isn't what you expected?

As for the drugs, I think that's a debatable topic (as Tom Cruise and Brooke Shields might have debates over them too). Like I said, my g/f works with FAS, ADD, and mentally unhealthy kids. Of course the drugs are not a cure...but they take them to help their situations. I also mentor a boy who was in juvenile prison here. His meds are a means to controlling his violent nature. He feels like he's more in control when on them. Granted, a human can communicate that they fell alright on them...a dog can't. But if a dog's problems subside and taper off because of them...then I see nothing wrong with medication in this instance (hence my decision to put her on them).

I feel reassured that other pet people feel this may be the most humane way to go about it. My g/f agrees with you. I am sitting on the fence. These are my first pets and I've never had to make these types of decisions.

I do want to do everything possible...but working with her for, maybe, 15 years, keeping her isolated (as well as us), and putting the amount of training time we now know it will take to even have her be half responsive is not going to work.

I am very appreciative of the information and thoughts about the reality of her not becoming a farm dog. being a city boy, I was pretty naive about this. At least I know I sought more information regarding the possibility...but you're right...just because she has herding instincts doesn't mean she will know what to do with them.

Thanks for all of the advice.

Muziqal
June 6th, 2006, 02:47 PM
double post

erykah1310
June 6th, 2006, 02:54 PM
If you are sure that training and so on is not going to help, then i am sorry but her quality of life will not be great. Its not fun for a dog especially one who is so active by breed to be confined to her yard and house while the family goes out and enjoys themselves, I would not opt for euthanasia but thats just me, in the end what ever decision you make, will be the one best suited for you and her. Definately dont rehome her though, thats too much to ask from the potetial home you put her in.
Im sorry that you have to go through this, but then again with her being a rescue dog, you dont know what her parents, grandparents ect are like, its the chance you take. These are my first pets and I've never had to make these types of decisions.

Its the hardest decisions to make and thank you for considering other options and trying, not just surrendering her to a rescue or tying her in your yard to " rot" You are truely a great pet parent and I hope that in the end, you feel confident that your decision was for the dogs best interest.
Im so sorry again that you are going through this.:grouphug:

doggy lover
June 6th, 2006, 03:06 PM
I met a woman with a heeler at a park one day and that dog was agressive too, she had a behaviourial trainer come to her home to help her out as she could not take the dog to classes. She stayed a distance from Tucker and I but the dog did behave and she was very happy with how he was getting along. How about trying a Heeler Rescue maybe they could help you out or give you some info.

It sounds like you have a dog that has a real problem and I can't say that I wouldn't do the same thing as you are thinking of. I would be worried to death that your dog would get hold of a child. In the end you might just have to have her pts. I too belive that some dogs are just not wired right.

Lucky Rescue
June 6th, 2006, 03:15 PM
not just surrendering her to a rescue or tying her in your yard to " rot"

Right. No rescue is going to take a dog with a bite history like this and risk a lawsuit.

She has an unnatural fear of everything unknown and she lashes out with aggressive behaviour because of it

Dogs whose aggression is triggered by fear can be the most dangerous. You live with this dog and know her. We don't and therefore I cannot give you any suggestions on what to do about it.

Just from what you say, it sounds as though there is a possibility that the dog's problems could be genetic.

Muziqal
June 6th, 2006, 03:24 PM
Right. No rescue is going to take a dog with a bite history like this and risk a lawsuit.



Dogs whose aggression is triggered by fear can be the most dangerous. You live with this dog and know her. We don't and therefore I cannot give you any suggestions on what to do about it.

Just from what you say, it sounds as though there is a possibility that the dog's problems could be genetic.

Thanks...both ARF and the Calgary Humane Society have said as much and agreed with you. The assessment test at the CHS is pretty in depth and, from the sounds of it, we don't think she'd pass. And you're right...we don't want to pass these problems on to another person and find out she wasn't cared for better than we have, that she wa abused or that she actually hurt someone seriously.

The bahaviouralist agrees with you also - that the problems seem to be genetic.

Man, I never knew I'd be so attached to an animal and then have to make this kind of decision...again, I appreciate all the responses. They are helpful.

jesse's mommy
June 6th, 2006, 06:18 PM
I don't have much more to contribute here because everyone has already said so many good things. I just wanted to add that I'm really sorry you have to make this decision. It's such an awful situation to be put in. You really have done above and beyond to help and it's a lot more than most people would have ever done. Whatever decision you make will be the best decision you can make. Good luck and please keep us posted. We are here if you need anything else. :grouphug:

Esaunders
June 6th, 2006, 07:47 PM
My heart goes out to you, its an awful situation.

Sometimes it takes courage to do the kindest thing, the courage to try and to persist and the courage to bring an end. It truly sounds like you have tried all feasible routes and know that you are down to the last choices.

There are worse things that can happen to a dog than a peaceful end with his people around him. It is the hardest choice for the person, but sometimes the right one.

Death is not the worst, neglect, suffering and abandonment are far worse for they only know the now.

OntarioGreys
June 6th, 2006, 07:52 PM
My recent adoptees have been spooks, they can be a handful and I need to be very much aware of their stress levels and my own body language, I have to do gradual very much planned introductions to things the fear that can take months and years to help them overcome, if I move to fast and overstress them it can cause major setbacks, I am familiar with my dogs pedigrees and as stated genetics does play a role, my first girl did overcome her fears my current girl is improving after 2 1/2 years but still lots of work to do.

one thing I am going to suggest is have a vet run a thyroid panel, often fearful dogs will have fairly low T4 levels and that can cause behavioural issues, supplemenatation to correct the hormone levels is very inexpensive, if this is what is going on you should see som e improvement within a couple of weeks.

coppperbelle
June 6th, 2006, 08:48 PM
The first thing I want to say is that I completely understand what you are going through as last summer/fall I was going through the same thing. I rescue goldens and 5 years ago rescued a then 10 month old girl (Chloe). We have been to hell and back with her but the real problems began about 2 years ago. She bit my nephews girlfriend and then one day bit me. Last summer she began snarling at everyone and became very aggressive with people and dogs we would meet on our walks. One day while at the cottage I heard a truck coming down our driveway so I put her on the deck. The UPS guy got out of his truck and when she saw him she went balistic, jumped over the railing, a drop of 8 feet and kept running for the guy. Fortunately he knew not to move and she didn't bite him. I work with children in a school and one day while walking we met up with some kids from my school. One of the boys who knows Chloe reached out to pet her and she bit him. Thankfully it didn't break the skin but that was it for me. I came home in tears and after much soul searching decided to put her to sleep. I didn't have the courage to do it right away and stopped walking her and kept her inside the house most of the time. I kept thinking what right do I have to end her life, she wasn't sick but I knew in the back of my mind that I had to protect other members of our family. One day during this difficult time I received an e-mail from someone about a group study on thyroid problems and aggression. A light went off and I started doing research. I had her tested and the test came back that she was borderline. She began taking medication and it took a full six weeks to begin seeing a difference. At about the same time I began obedience training but with an excellent trainer. She knew goldens, had trained them for 25 years and diagnosed Chloe as a bully. She recommended and I know that I will get flack for this but to take a magazine, roll it up and put tape around it. When Chloe would lunge at another dog in class I was to bop her on the nose. It did not have to be hard but it was enough to startle her. It took a few times and she eventually learned to lunge and duck. After 4 classes she was no longer lunging at other dogs or people and at the Christmas party was so well behaved I couldn't believe she was the same dog. My confidence increased and I no longer panicked when another dog approached us. This I believe was a huge factor in her bullying. She thought it was her job to protect me. The classes and obedience taught her that I was her protector and that she could simply be my companion. I am not one to believe in corporal punishment and it was difficult for me to bop her but seeing that the alternative was death made it easier.
Your girl may have some mental problems and all the medication and training in the world won't help. Whatever you decide please don't feel guilty as I know you are not taking this decision lightly. Please feel free to e-mail mail me privately if you wish.

Muziqal
June 6th, 2006, 09:13 PM
Thank you for all the kind thoughts, comparable storeis and consoling words. I shared the fact that I posted on here with my g/f a few minutes ago and she was taken back by the warmth here too. It's going to be very hard, but we know in our hearts that we have to make the decision that's best for all of us. It's nice to know so many people don't take it lightly either. God I love her...but I took good care of her while she was here. That's what is beginning to matter to me most. This type of support will hopefully make it a little easier.

Good night.