Max the pit bull came to us as a young adult from a rescue group out of Houston, and he came to them after having been found tied to a street pole for several days with a note pinned to his body saying ‘FREE PIT BULL’. No one called to report a dog tied to a pole for several days; maybe it was a bad neighborhood, or maybe it’s just that everyone assumed someone else must have called it in.
Where did he come from? Who knows. Just someone callous enough to pin a piece of paper to a dog and dump it at the curb.
He was unhousetrained and acted as though he may never have been in a house, and was fairly thin. He gained weight and learned to live indoors, but remained easily frightened and food-aggressive, rendering him unadoptable, at which point we of course decided to keep him ourselves.
One afternoon, while in the yard, he ate a scarf or some sort of length of fabric that apparently blew into the yard and required major surgery to remove it. And after that he quickly ‘devolved’ into giving up to his unresolved fears. Where previously he had happily allowed his nails to be cut/ears cleaned etc, he turned into a serious fear biter. Where he had previously tolerated roommates, roommate boyfriends, and roommate dogs, he became fear-aggressive and, worst of all, mauled two free-roaming dogs while he was leashed and was approached. When he goes to the vet, he has to be pre-sedated, muzzled, harnessed and then fully sedated (aka unconscious)upon his arrival.
Max went from a dog who had a terrible start in life and had understandable anxieties to a dog ruled by fear and anxiety, who often responded to being frightened by real aggression. We have had many dogs of all sizes and have family who trained police dogs as a trade; we are NOT exaggerating the scope of his fear aggression.
It’s not because he’s a pit bull. It’s because he was neglected at best and abused at worst. Underneath his fears, he is a loving dog who has a lot of ability to be happy and kind. He has two slightly smaller ‘siblings’ he allows to dominate and pinch-bite him, he is now very gentle taking snacks and can eat with the others, loves to be held and cradled, and LOVES to wear clothes and be admired. (When he sees his shirts come out, he wiggles and presents each foot to be placed into the arm holes!) We hated to ‘give up’ on him. We approached SEVERAL trainers and ‘behaviorists’ only to be told sorry, I don’t work with aggressive dogs. So we had basically resigned ourselves to making sure he just stays supervised like a violent felon, crated when visitors arrive, and so on. We found Sensei Rick’s pamphlet and emailed him to describe Max’s issues and noting that we would just like him to be able to see strangers or dogs without flipping out and maybe relearn to let us cut his nails without having to tranquilize him, for his own health. Sensei Rick is the first person who agreed to even meet Max, let alone work with him.
At first, Max DID flip out. Lunging, barking, snarling, the works. He had to be muzzled, because he couldn’t be touched and could not let a session pass without trying for Sensei Rick’s throat at least once.
Over time, he has learned to accept a ‘new’ person coming into the house, responds more often than not to Rick’s commands, and allows himself to be touched and fed unmuzzled. We consider this huge! He has shown himself quieter in the backyard when neighbor dogs are out too, and comes inside when asked rather than having to be leashed and dragged inside when the neighbor dogs are carrying on.
We have even progressed to visiting the dog park with Sensei Rick to watch other dogs from outside the fence and he’s making good progress with seeing them. He has gained enough control over fearfulness that he has successfully navigated the agility obstacles (on leash) whereas before he would certainly flee or buck and pitch around.
On his most recent vet visit (today) he still arrived pre-sedated and muzzled, but allowed the tech to kneel down and stroke his head and shoulders, without even growling, whereas previously he would have lunged at her.
Max is still having lessons because he has a ways to go, but he’s come a million miles. We are hugely glad we contacted Sensei Rick, and we are so happy that someone is helping to give Max a chance to not live under such a thick smothering blanket of fear, so he can be more able to appreciate the things you can clearly see he WANTS to partake of and instead decides to shy away from. He is much more placid and stable than he was at the start, and we have a real hope that he WILL be able to get a new sibling and go to the vet without having to be carried like Hannibal Lecter!
We will certainly continue his lessons and can testify that they have been useful for Max’s needs. Your dog’s issues are likely to be less perilous, but may be equally entrenched, in which case you should NOT give up hope. Have an evaluation and give it a fair chance to work! You and your dog deserve to have a healthy relationship!