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Adopted Dogs Suffer Needlessly

August 25, 2010

Rescued on the Streets of Europe, This Hungarian Sheepdog Had a Rough Life Start

Sugar Bear peered out at Doc Truli from under tight, curly white furry eyebrows.  His gigantic, round curly white furry tail and rear end wedged between a black leather chair and a black wooden side table with a box of white scent-free facial tissues teetering half-way over the gold gilded table edge above his enormous white tight curly furry shoulder blades.

This Kommondor was not taking his examination lightly.  Rescued from the streets of Budapest when he was only a 4 month-old puppy, he had been a grey, wet, matted, filthy, hungry, and suspicious of people.  Abandoned on the streets and kicked and yelled at by people who just wanted to chase him away from piles of food thrown away in the alleys behind their bistros, the puppy learned to distrust everyone.

When she saw him on the street, his (future) mom tried to call him over to her.  Kicked too many times, hungry and cold, he snarled and ran behind a car.  She knew he just needed food and love.  Starting with the food, Sugar Bear sniffed cautiously from behind a car tire.  He snatched the food and gobbled it behind the safety of the car.  For days, his mom visited the alley and brought food until finally, the lonely puppy let her approach and pick him up.

Tens years later, 180 pounds, snowy white curly fur, and immigration to the United States turned Sugar into a mostly trusting soul.

“He won’t bite you,” said his mom.  Hmmm, the start of many fateful examinations…..

Part Early Abuse, Part Misbehavior

Many people rescue their dogs from a shelter, the streets, or another household.  Dogs can have a rough start in life and turn out perfectly behaviorally normal.  In VirtuaVet’s story about a Rottweiler mix that the shelter deemed vicious and almost refused to adopt out, the dog became indiscernable from a normal, happy dog.  While no one knows for sure why one abused dog retains biting and nervous, suspicious traits, and another dog forgives and moves on with a happy life, the fact remains, it can go either way.

Far too many people give up and assume their dog as abused and will always have some “issues.”  If your dog snaps, bites, shakes, hides, growls, and attacks you, do you think your dog is happy?  Really?

Sampson Turns Around

Sampson was a white with tan spots wired-haired Terrier nixed breed dog from the animal shelter.  He was about 10 months old when his mom adopted him.  The first time he came to the animal hospital, he tried to bite Doc Truli.  He really tried in earnest to take some flesh off of the hand that was helping him.  He snarled, lip curled, fur up over his shoulders (indicating aggressivity, not just fear), and he lunged.  His mom was a quiet, mild-mannered gentle person.  Doc Truli doubted he would be handled well.

“I recommend you hire a personal dog trainer.  I can recommend a great one to come to your house immediately, tonight if possible, and get Sampson started off on the right foot,” said Doc Truli.

Sampson’s new mom agreed, much to my surprise!  Still, most people who hire a dog trainer do not listen, do not follow-through, and generally, waste their money.

Rottweiler looks relaxed but sideways eye glance reveals tension

Rottweiler looks relaxed but sideways eye glance reveals tension

We placed a “severe caution” red sticker on Sampson’s file and went on with the day.

At the next check-up 3 weeks later, the nurse got the muzzle ready when Sampson’s mom said, “You won’t need that.”

Now, just so you know, almost everybody with a nervous biting dog says, “They never bit anyone before,” or, “He’d never bite you,” or sometimes, “My poor baby, you bad doctor, you!”  These objections precede someone getting bitten, restrained hissing instead of cursing out loud, bandages, blood everywhere, and a chagrined dog parent apologizing while we politely say,”It’s okay, he was just afraid.”

FYI that’s why they use the muzzle at the animal hospital!

A study done a few years ago at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine found that the number one indicator of whether a worker would be bitten was not what everyone expected.  We expected long shifts with tired caregivers, inexperienced staff, or severity of illness to be a greater risk.  It turned out, the only thing that would accurately predict bites was this: if a pet already had a note on the file that they were a “caution” animal, and you ignored it, you were likely to get bitten!

In Sampson’s case, his mom was right!  Doc Truli has cared for Sampson over 5 years now.  Sampson wags his tail, says hello, gets excited, and wiggles his bottom like any other dog.  He never even thinks about biting anyone.

Belgian Malinois sittin' pretty

Belgian Malinois sittin' pretty

Sampson proves: early, proper, dedicated intervention can help your dog overcome bad first experiences.

Get Help for (You and) Your Adopted Dog

  1. Do not accept the idea that your dog was abused before coming to you.  Fight for a happy, healthy, sane dog.
  2. Hire a reputable, good, gentle, positive reinforcement trainer.
  3. Be certain your dog gets plenty of exercise.  Outside.  With olfactory stimulation, too!  (This means 20-40 minutes heart-pounding exercise for most dogs in most climates, work up to it, not all at once!)

Your adopted dog can be happy.  A little guarded at the vet’s, but terrified, no!  Do not accept it.  Train your dog.  Exercise your dog.  Desensitize the dog.  Teach the dog to relax.  Work at it consistently and your dog will be a happier, better adjusted individual.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 4, 2010 10:56 pm

    I have 11 cats 1 dog in my house 🙂

    • September 5, 2010 9:52 am

      Doc Truli grew up with 25-30 cats and usually 1 dog at a time. Mom was a Himalayan and Shaded Silver Persian cat breeder. Plus, many mornings, there would just be a box of kittens on the front doorstep, sometimes with a note, sometimes not. Our family members and the neighbors all knew we would somehow raise and find homes for the kittens!

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