In the NHSPCA Training and Behavior Department we see many dedicated and passionate dog owners looking to do right by their dogs and their families, we wanted to take this opportunity to feature one such dog/owner team that we have seen come so far in the past months.
Here is Violet’s story in her owner Sharon’s own words:
We adopted Violet at 4 months old, a jet-black lab/hound mix rescued from the South. She was timid, but friendly with people and our two young children. I was thrilled that we had found a puppy who seemed like a perfect fit for our family. That’s why I was completely caught off guard the first time Violet saw another dog walking down our street. At the other end of my leash my sweet puppy turned into a growling, lunging, fur-raised ball of fury trying to attack the gentle and calm dog who was walking by. I apologized profusely to my neighbor, who hurried her surprised dog past us.
My heart sank. I hoped it was an isolated incident. But it quickly became clear that it wasn’t. Even when Violet heard a dog bark from within another house, she stopped dead in her tracks and started growling, her fur on end. I couldn’t even walk her around the block. Violet was clearly afraid of other dogs, and I was fairly certain that her behavior was in part an effort to protect me. She was my shadow and I was her primary provider of kibble. She considered any other dog a threat.
With two young children in the house, I knew having a dog with these behavioral issues wasn’t safe. It also didn’t fit our lifestyle – how would we camp, hike, and go on ski trips and other vacations with a dog that couldn’t be boarded with other dogs on occasion? I had clicker trained my cat, but I had no experience with aggression issues in dogs. Giving up my puppy that I had waited so long for wasn’t an option I wanted to consider, at least not without giving it everything I had. Violet and I were a team and we were going to tackle this together. We just needed a coach. I started calling trainers.
One of the first trainers I talked to suggested Violet wasn’t a good fit for our family. I was discouraged, but decided to keep looking. I realized that the SPCA must have dealt with an issue like this before, but I figured that Violet couldn’t handle a group lesson without disrupting the entire class. I called, talked to the New Hampshire SPCA trainers, and started to feel a glimmer of hope. I booked a private session, during which Violet and I learned some techniques that I started implementing on our walks around the block. Thanks to that, a clicker, and roasted chicken, Violet and I began to make progress. Instead of growling, when Violet heard a dog she started looking at me, clearly expecting chicken in exchange for calm behavior.
We also began attending the Saturday morning puppy play group. Violet spent several classes cowering behind an exercise pen. It took time, but gradually the growling subsided, the fur relaxed, and the tail even started to wag a little. And then one day Violet started venturing out to play. At first as soon as another dog approached she’d high tail it back into her safe area. But gradually she started building confidence and began playing with the other puppies.
I figured we were ready for the next baby step. Violet and I signed up for the Puppy Play and Learn class. Joining a group lesson felt like a huge accomplishment! Violet slowly, but surely was starting to greet other dogs in a friendly manner. Violet handled the class just fine and we graduated to the Adolescent Dog Class.
Violet has now started attending a doggie day care on occasion. She’s shy at first, but warms up quickly, and so far she’s doing great! Each time I see her playing happily in a pack of dogs I’m proud of her beyond words. She has conquered so many fears in such a short time!
We still are working on Violet’s confidence levels and exposing her to as many new situations as possible. But it’s clear that we are going to be just fine. I am so grateful to the SPCA, and especially the trainers for all their help and encouragement! ”
The New Hampshire SPCA Behavior and Training Center is here to help you with behavior issues and challenges. Contact us today for a private consult or sign up for one of our behavior training classes.