Monday, April 25, 2011

How Trust and Love Can Change a Dog

By Linda Cole

I have to admit, I'm an advocate for any stray dog or cat – even the ones with aggression issues. I believe pets deserve a second chance when they've been lost or cast aside by their owners. Unfortunately, many aggressive shelter pets will never be adopted. But sometimes the right person comes along who makes a difference in an aggressive dog's life. With trust, patience, respect and love, one person can create small miracles and move mountains. We can change the plight of stray pets, one animal at a time, as long as we don't give up on them. It's worth the time to unravel a troubled mind in order to save a soul. I have worked with both an aggressive dog and cat, and that's one reason why I was drawn to the story I'm about to share with you.

When a stray dog shows up in a neighborhood or at a local shelter, we don't know what they went through living on the streets. Their history is unknown and we have no idea if they were mistreated, abused or became aggressive while on the streets in order to survive. When a dog shows aggression, his behavior is often viewed as a lost cause and he's put down. Most people won't deal with an aggressive dog because they don't know how to help him, or simply don't want to deal with trying to change the dog's behavior. A woman named Heike Munday saw something special in an aggressive dog and rescued her from certain death.

Heike first saw Josie on a snowy day in 2008. She was lost, afraid and hiding in a vacant yard near Heike's home. Josie was not looking for a friend and didn't want anyone's help. She growled to keep strangers at bay and Heike was heartbroken as she sat on a cement slab in an alley, trying and failing to make friends with an angry and fearful dog. Finally, Josie was caught by animal control officers and taken to a local shelter. But Heike had accomplished one small victory, even though she didn't know it at the time. Josie was beginning to trust her.

Josie's aggression didn't improve at the shelter and after failing a test evaluating her temperament, she was deemed too aggressive for adoption. With no hope or plans to try to rehabilitate her and only hours left to live, Heike decided Josie had been through enough. She was Josie's only hope for survival, so she decided to adopt the aggressive dog, even though she knew the road ahead would be long and difficult.

Dealing with an aggressive dog isn't easy. It requires patience and giving the dog space until she feels comfortable around you. Heike had the experience to help Josie work through her aggression issues. She knew the first step was to build trust and all of her interactions with Josie were to work towards building a bond and earning Josie's trust. Heike understood how dogs interact with each other and the importance of non-confrontational touching. Instead of petting Josie, Heike used her knees to rub up against her in the same way dogs bump against each other when they're interacting with each other. Finally, after months of patience, understanding and love, Josie learned to trust and a strong bond began to grow.

It's been three and a half years since Heike rescued Josie from the shelter. She spent hours socializing Josie with other people, dogs and situations. On March 3, 2011, Josie proved that a dog could go from an aggressive and misunderstood dog with only hours to live, to a dog who just earned her Canine Good Citizen Award from the American Kennel Club.

Even a friendly pet can become aggressive in order to survive on the street. Between people driving them away from their homes, kids throwing rocks and other dogs or wild animals chasing them, it's no wonder a dog or cat becomes fearful and/or aggressive. Aggression is one way some animals deal with the cards that have been dealt to them.

Aggressive dogs deserve a second chance. They are worth our time and effort to try and help them heal. Changing a dog's aggressive behavior isn't easy and most likely it was a person who made him aggressive in the first place. Treating aggression means changing a dog's behavior. Sometimes a dog just needs someone with the courage to help him learn how to deal with his fears. Dogs act in the way they were taught and sometimes their aggression is what helps them survive, but they have to learn to let go of it to live in our world. An aggressive dog can be healed, and nothing is impossible when you take the time to understand and earn their trust.

Photo by Christian Murdock, The Gazette

Read more articles by Linda Cole

1 comment:

  1. That is a great story about Josie. How lucky she was that someone saw through her rough exterior and realized that with time, patience, hard work and lots of love, this dog could become a polished diamond.


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