The Truth About Owning a Dog
Our family has always had dogs. We grew up with dogs, often rescuing them from the side of the road. Our dogs were always treated like family and we never gave a thought to dogs not liking one another. However, dogs are pack animals. They are very social and they learn from one another and they lean on one another. We never took the time to slowly integrate one dog into the "pack". Usually I was the one bringing all of the dogs home so I just brought him/her (and sometimes more than one) home and let them work things out. If it got to rough on the newbies, I took a more active role and kept them with me when I was home.
What happens when you adopt or buy (from a breeder) that one dog that just does not fit into your "pack"? Well, that's exactly what happened to us and we learned many things along the way.
We had an established pack with 2 dogs, Bauer, the alpha and Layla. Bauer was a chocolate lab rescue that we got when he was barely 8 weeks old. He was brought into our home with 3 other dogs and when our Alpha shepherd passed away, he took over as lead dog. Over the years, we lost the other two. So, when we got Layla, a pure breed German Shepherd, her pack leader was Bauer.
Layla learned everything from Bauer because she was 6 weeks old when we brought her home. There was a very clear order to things, although we didn't realize that until later.
When Layla was nearly 3 years old, we introduced a new male puppy, Apollo, into the household. Apollo was also a pure breed German Shepherd from the person who provided us with a our beautiful and wonderful Layla. As he had done with Layla, Bauer established the boundaries, set the rules and began teaching Apollo.
Apollo learned quickly but was much more reflective and quiet than Layla. He didn't stray far from me and over time would follow me everywhere, much like Bauer did. He didn't seem to want the independence that Layla demanded. We also realized that Apollo was going to need a more rigid type of formal training than we had needed to provide with the others.
While our other two dogs were both reward based learners and eager to please, Apollo did not operate in the same way. He would do anything I asked for a treat, or play time or whatever reward. However, once the reward was gone, there was no incentive for him to behave. And he began to resource guard everything, including me.
Over time, Apollo's behavior placed a stress on both of the other dogs. Bauer was becoming less tolerable to the puppy and no longer wanted anything to do with him. Layla was still playing with him but not as often.
We sought out a trainer with behavior modification skills and dealing with multiple dog households. Apollo did very well in training. The weekend Apollo was set to come home, Bauer was diagnosed with a late stage heart and lung illness. He passed away 3 days later, before Apollo came home.
That weekend we brought Apollo home. He was now 9 months old. It was amazing how much he had learned and how calm he was. We were excited for Layla to have her playmate back, believing that now she would establish alpha and we would need some time for them to adjust without Bauer.
Little did we know that Bauer's death had changed everything. Layla refused to have anything to do with Apollo. She was looking everywhere for Bauer so she just retreated to her crate. She also wouldn't take over as alpha. She just began to retreat to her crate rather than deal with him wanting to play. So, as dogs will do, Apollo began asserting his dominance. He would grab her and pull her which created problems.
We worked with the trainer to help Layla. She was stressed and becoming aggressive where she had never been anything but sweet. I kept them both active together and apart, giving each their own time. They both loved to swim and this helped - until they weren't in the pool.
Resource Guarding Can Include You
Apollo had always been prone to resource guarding over toys. As a result, we removed toys unless we were playing with only one dog at a time. However, I never considered myself as one of his possessions.
Many breeds of dogs are protective of their owners by instinct. They will protect the entire family in their home but often a dog will imprint onto one person in the family. It isn't always the one who feeds the dog. It may be the one he spends the most time with or the one who gives him lessons or who asserts authority over him/her.
In our case, I was the one who did all of these things due to our work schedules. As a result, each of our dogs has bonded with me, but are equally loving to my husband and son.
Apollo was no different. He was loving, playful and protective of all of us. However, he began "guarding" me as a resource and this is when we knew we had to make some changes.
How did we know?
1. He would literally tear his crate apart to get to me if I was spending time with the Layla and not him.
2. He would jump Layla if she sat next to me and he was close by.
3. He would become a barricade between me and Layla.
4. He would start to circle her if she got under my feet.
What did we do?
For awhile we tried working with Apollo. Finally, it was obvious that there was going to be a dog fight (near me) and someone would get hurt either breaking them up or trying to move out of the way. When two large dogs fight, having it take place at your feet or right beside you is a recipe for disaster.
I reached out to others in our group who had the breeds from our breeder as well as our breeder. Our breeder is top of the line and she takes great pride in her dogs so she was very upset to learn of the situation. Others in the group messaged with with suggestions, but slowly the message was becoming clear - you have to rehome him.
It was one of the hardest decisions we ever had to make regarding a dog but we knew we had to find Apollo a new home while he was still a puppy. Fortunately, we have stayed in contact with many other dog owners and one with a background in training took him in for us.
Over time, our breeder sent him to become a K9. He is going to have special needs and one of those is going to be having a true work and mission. It became apparent after he left that we did not give him what he really wanted - work, work and more work.
Boredom can cause a dog to lash out in very strange ways. Apollo may need to be the only dog in the family and it will be important that he receive attention and more exercise than a pool can give.
I am so happy to report that Layla is back to herself, guarding the home, working on activities like her nose work and swimming.
Over time we rescued another lab mix. We did this after Layla had her time to
grieve losing Bauer and adjust. She and the new dog, Neo are best buddies and when they do get into disagreements, it doesn't turn ugly. It's a lot of noise followed by licking and kissing one another.
Layla never has truly stepped up to being the Alpha which surprised us. But she IS happy to allow Neo to take that role and they share a lot of the guarding and protecting responsibilities. They play together and nap together. Neo does not like to swim so she happily has my attention all to herself on that.
We were often asked during our situation:
- How do you know he wasn't just a bad dog? First of all, I don't believe there is such as thing as a "bad" dog. I think bad breeding can lead to some issues in a dog's temperament but that wasn't the case with our dog. He came from a highly reputable breeder who prides herself on following up on each and every puppy, its care and any issues. Furthermore, he is a wonderful, loving dog who greets people with hugs (literally) and kisses once he is given the all clear that he is allowed to do so.
- Won't this work itself out in time? No. If anything it will only get worse and it will lead to a dog fight. At the time we made the decision, the two dogs had not fought hard enough to cause damage but that's because I was constantly watching and aware. At some point, there would have been a major fight and Apollo would have likely killed Layla or harmed her permanently. In spite of me being the ultimate Alpha in the home, I wasn't going to wait.
- What caused the major change? Losing Bauer so suddenly absolutely had a major effect on this entire situation. He was the one that kept them all in check. The younger male did nothing without his approval. In addition, we were grieving his loss and so was our female, who had known him her entire life. It threw everything off.
- What would you have done differently? Well hindsight is a beautiful thing but without having that luxury, we couldn't have done much differently at the time. We brought Apollo in at a perfect age. We integrated him slowly into our home. Losing Bauer really did change the entire dynamic and sometimes those losses can never put things as they once were.
- What would you advise someone in this position who just recognized that there is an issue? If you have a breeder, reach out to them first. Ask for a reputable trainer for your entire household and take an active part of that training if possible. Training is key. But try NOT to allow your training to use the e-collar as the sole method. Dogs will learn to hear the beep and behave but not if they quickly learn your pattern (and they will). If you find you need to rehome a dog because it's truly not fitting in (rare but it does happen), ask your breeder or rescue group to help you locate the perfect home. Make sure your dog is going to the right place or it will mess him/her up even more than the confusion he likely feels already. Also, if you are going to rehome, do it as soon as you realize this is an issue. If we had waited any longer, I know for certain there would have been a major fight and that's unfair to the dogs. One of them would have been harmed and the other would need to leave.
It is OUR responsibility at the end of the day to ensure their safety in our homes. That includes protecting them from people or other animals that will harm them. They give us NOTHING but love and companionship. We owe it to them to see to their daily (and sometimes, hourly) needs.
Finally, if you can not spend the time or effort or if you don't have the resources to care for a dog, hold off getting one until you do.