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Pack issues are amongst the hardest cases we handle.
There are so many unknown factors at play when multiple dogs in a home aren’t getting along, it can be frustrating, discouraging, hard to manage, and sometimes even tragic. These are the cases that most often break up families, so to say that the pressure is on when we are called to help is an understatement.
Penny’s family came to us a few months ago with this very issue. Having adopted four large dogs over the past few years, Penny was the most recent to join. Her brothers, a Shepherd, Labrador mix, and Rotteweiler mix, seemed to welcome her with happy wags to start. But two weeks into Penny’s new life conflict began in the home between her and another one of the dogs, Harley. It wasn’t long before all four were threatening a full blown dog fight and Penny was separated from the group. Penny’s new family had already fallen in love with her sweet nature and love for learning. They were distraught at the concept of rehoming her and were willing to do anything they could to reclaim the peaceful balance that was once present in their home. Unclear on exactly what was happening to cause such scary scuffles between their four large dogs, they reached out to us.
The following few months consisted of a number of changes in their home. We built on Penny’s obedience training to improve communication with her people. We addressed her tug boat mentality on leash so she would get more out of her walks and exercise her brain too. We taught her that resources were shared and not to be guarded. We conditioned her to wear a muzzle so that we could observe her behavior around the other dogs safely. We developed a process for managing the dogs separately – keeping safety and peace amongst the dogs our first priority. And we worked with the other dogs to address some of their unwanted behaviors and bond them with Penny, each getting a chance to develop their own friendship with the new girl in town.
We learned a lot about Penny and the other dogs throughout this process. Penny is incredibly intelligent and embraced everything we wanted to teach her with astonishing speed. Fear, intimidation, and insecurity all played major roles in adding to the static that was present, but none of the dogs were vicious. Acquiring a new family member was a big change for the boys and required a more gradual introduction. Adding balance to all of the dogs’ lives and creating successful play and bonding experiences for the pack ultimately proved to be a winning combination. But there was one very important key to all of this that made it all possible. Penny’s people.
It’s a funny thing about dog people: they are almost always wonderful. Rarely do I visit a home as a trainer and meet anyone other than truly nice and well-meaning people. They have an understanding of loyalty, sacrifice, hard work, and family that surpasses many. Penny’s parents are ideal examples of this. When we first spoke about the issues and I learned of their goals, I told them that I was very cautiously optimistic. That was A LOT of big dogs in one home to manage and train. Many people would not be up to the challenge. Aware of the possibility that they may have to manage their dog pack and rotate in and out of rooms and kennels for the duration of Penny’s life, they were not detered. Penny’s parents went above and beyond to help her reacclimate to their home. They followed their training plan to a tee, they listened to their instincts, and they remained loyal to the dog they rescued – never seeing her as the villain and offering guidance instead.
As a trainer my goal is to render myself unnecessary by giving people the tools they need to continue their training, understand their dogs, and develop truly wonderful relationships with man’s best friend.
I receive ongoing updates from Penny’s family to hear about her progress. They have agreed to let me share:
“… I will be forever grateful to you for helping us with her. When I called you in September I was so desperate. I wanted her to be part of our family so badly but just wasn’t sure we could overcome those obstacles. With the tools you gave us, she has thrived and grown beyond my expectations. My hope used to just be for her to fit into our home on a limited interaction basis. I had resigned myself to the fact that we might have to keep them separate most of the time, but that was still a better life than the fate she was facing in the shelter. Now I think we will be able to have a healthy and happy pack that is a family unit. I am even daring to dream she could get her CGC and get into the therapy program so she can be an ambassador for Rescue Pit Bulls. She is one of the neatest dogs and I can’t thank you enough for giving us the tools to recognize her full potential.”
And most recently:
“Just another update on our girl…
She is still making unbelievable progress. She hasn’t had any issues with her brothers and there have been some surprising situations come up (smoke detector going off, knocks on the door, guests, etc). She even went to a groomer for a nail trim and was a very good girl!!
I am attaching a picture I never thought I would see of her and Harley. Thanks for all of your help.”
It’s truly amazing what you can learn about dogs from cases like these, but possibly even more amazing what you learn about their people. In the dog world where we are consistently challenged with instances of neglect and ignorance. It’s important to remember how loyal and dedicated people can be. Dogs like Penny rarely make it out of the shelter. They are rarely given second chances in homes after a fight. But if we offer them an opportunity to be understood and give them a chance to learn, it can be an enlightening and rewarding experience where the love we put in is repaid tenfold.
Crystal Dunn is Founder and Training Director for Leaps N’ Hounds in Austin, TX.
She specializes in bully breeds, in-home behavior counseling, and therapy dog training.
Contact her at Crystal@LeapsNHounds.com