It all started when I received a call from a woman about her Irish Wolfhound that was labeled aggressive. The woman told me that her vet and even the rescue the dog came from recommended that the dog be put to sleep due to his aggression issues. This lady lived in an area that I do not travel to, but I had to make an exception because I just can’t handle hearing about a pet being put to sleep when I know most likely it can be fixed very easily.
When I arrived at the home I met with the woman that called me, her husband, and her two boys were there also. I was shocked to hear that the dog would not let anyone in the home deal with him except the woman that called me. We sat in the kitchen and what I saw was not an aggressive dog but rather a dog that was scared to death of everything. The opening of a cabinet would send this dog running. This dog’s name was Fletch, and Fletch had a Wolfhound sister named Fiona.
During my meeting and conversation with the family Fletch remained out of the room but where he could keep an eye on me. Fiona however was up in my face and demonstrating very rude and pushy behavior even though I never acknowledged her presence as I never do when meeting new dogs. At one point Fiona became so pushy that I stood up and sent her away, not with words or corrections but just good old fashion body language and energy. Fiona got the picture and walked away and laid down like a well behaved dog.
At that moment Fletch came into the kitchen and laid down near me without a care in the world. As I was speaking to the owners they interrupted me and said “I can’t believe what I’m seeing”. I said what is that? They replied that Fletch has never been able to relax around anyone but the lady of the house before. You see, what he had here was a very insecure dog, and a dog that was scared of everything. Fletch had no faith in his leadership, his owners loved him and he loved them but that security just was not there for him. On top of that Fletch had a sister that was rude and pushy and was running the household. By me coming in and taking over without anger, excitement, or fear, Fletch had someone that made him feel a little more comfortable. Once I stood up and put Fiona in her place, Fletch had found what he had needed for a long time. A true leader that was willing to take control of everything around him.
Now it was time to get Fletch to accept the other family members and be able to live life like a normal dog. For a long time the man of the house had tried the normal things that most people do when trying to greet a dog or get a dog to be your pal. The hand out, the baby talk, the use of treats. All of this is bad when dealing with an insecure dog. The trick is to get the dog to want and ask for your attention, not the other way around.
So the husband’s task for that week was this. Fletch no longer exists to anyone in this home. There will be no eye contact, there will be no talking, you will not approach or acknowledge that Fletch is even in the home. What I did want the man of the house to do is when Fletch is within eye contact of him, just drop something very appealing, steak, chicken, Fletch’s favorite treats, and just keep walking away. Don’t look to see if he takes it. Don’t try to get his attention, don’t show him what you are dropping. Just continue to do this a few times a day. This will create a positive association without putting any pressure on Fletch.
Within a couple of days Fletch was looking for something to fall from the owner. Getting closer and more curious, the fear had now turned into anticipation. At this point I did not allow the owner to push himself on Fletch, I was still waiting for Fletch to be the pushy one demanding more food from the man just a couple of days ago he would not go near. Within one week of doing this Fletch was going on walks with John, his owner and life was good. This is when I started working with Fletch so we could take him to the next level as a team which we were able to do very easily.
This dog was just purely misunderstood and labeled by people who lack the knowledge or ability to do anything about it. Fear needs to be treated very carefully and a dog cannot overcome such psychological issues through obedience or corrections. It takes a psychological approach to heal the mind.
A few months later I was contacted by the owner and asked if I would come speak to a group of Wolfhound owners and work with their dogs, many of which were rescues with issues. I accepted the offer and that led to my favorite day of training.
So a few months later I arrived at my client’s house to find a bunch of people and 14 giant Irish Wolfhounds in the living room to where I would begin to speak and answer questions about my philosophy of dog training. As you can imagine, it was an impressive sight to see all of these dogs in one house. We spoke for a while and I answered questions about everything dog related but of course behavioral issues were the main topic.
One owner in particular had a lot of questions about her female that was supposedly very aggressive and would attack for no reason. First of all, there is no such thing as for no reason, there is always a reason. I asked where the aggressive dog was and she pointed to the only dog sleeping on the floor in the middle of this giant pack. I just laughed thinking they were joking, but they were serious. I explained to all in attendance that the dog being blamed for all of these fights was by no means aggressive. She may be starting fights but it is not due to her being an aggressive dog, or there is no way she would be crammed into this small space and fall asleep.
Many disputed my claim, especially the owner. At this time my client suggested that we go outside so I could maybe demonstrate what I do with all the dogs in the yard. We all hung out in the yard watching the dogs interact and just be themselves. Whenever I spotted something I did not like I would point it out and stop the dog that was creating the behavior and continue to speak, and watch, and speak, and watch. You get the picture. Nothing major was happening but what I did notice was most of the owners just oblivious to the little things that matter. The behavior and the way the dogs interacted with each other and the handlers but this are common amongst dog owners and even most trainers. Many of these dogs if not all were rescues and a big mistake people make with rescue dogs is feeling sorry for their past and dwelling on it instead of moving forward and providing the leadership that all dogs need.
As I worked with all the dogs, the owner with the so called aggressive female continued to disagree with me about the aggression issues. I informed her that something she is doing or not doing is causing the bad behavior in her dog. As she is getting more annoyed and arguing her point her two other Wolfhounds are very rudely pushing her from behind for her attention and she is giving it. As they continue to push her hand she continues to pet them as she talks to me and now I am seeing the problem. Once again, the other dogs, not the subject dog is creating leadership issues within the household, but I am not saying anything.
Then in a frustrated tone, the argumentative owner tells me that all she knows is that when she acquired the female the dog was in such bad shape she had to give her a great deal of care and she controlled everything around the dog, she did not let the other two get away with anything. At that moment I turned around with my eyebrows raised looking at all the other owners as they all let out a long haaaaa. I looked at the owner and said repeat what you just said. She looked at me and in a more pissed off tone repeated what she said. At that moment the light bulb went off and she started crying. She finally understood that her lack of boundaries and leadership with her two other dogs was causing the female to handle things on her own. It was a beautiful moment.
Shortly after that we were ending our day. Everyone was thanking me and seemed so appreciative. I really felt blessed. As I was leaving just about to exit the yard, I heard a big fight break out and the owners screaming and panicking. I ran back in and started trying to figure out what was going on and separating or stopping dogs from attacking anything around them. I noticed a dog that was attacked in the far corner of the yard being held and coddled by the owners. It was a young dog and was attacked pretty bad and was shaking in fear as the owners were hugging and telling him that it’s ok. I snatched the dog from the owners and went back into the group of dogs, literally kicking or punching anything that came near him. You can’t coddle this dog from what happened or there is a good chance it will cause him big problems in the future, fear base aggression or just plain old fear of other dogs. It all happened so fast, but the purpose here was to show that dog that it did not need to fear anything, I had control of him, myself, and every dog around us. Just as important all the other dogs had to see the same thing. There were no grudges here, everything settled down at went back to normal.
What had happened was that when I was leaving, this young dog put his front paws up on the back of another dog. When another older male saw that, and none of the owners addressed that bad behavior, the dogs stepped in and took care of business themselves. That simple. I if you do not take full leadership and control that type of situation the dogs will, and it will never be good. If any of the owners would have corrected the young male this would not have happened, but to be honest it was a tremendous learning experience for all that witnessed it.
I am really proud to say that recently Suzanne, Fletch’s owner sent me pictures of Fletch and informed me that Fletch is now competing and winning in the show ring. The same dog that the family could not be around. It’s a beautiful thing and I am forever grateful for Suzanne and John for allowing me to be part of this.