Discussing dog breeds, dog-adoption, and the human-canine connection.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Behavior Modification or Time to Rehome?



This past week has been a slice of h*ll.
Between my health, including a very negative physical reaction to a new medicine, topped off by people and dog guests, the routine and peace of our home took a big hit. Normally I wouldn't mind that. But as they say, crap trickles down. Gracie has become even more protective of me. This week she started guarding me from the other dogs in the house and when she and the Chi man had a disagreement about this, the poor little Chihuahua got bitten in the face.



As if that were not bad enough, Gracie seems to have decided that the Chihuahua should no longer live here. Of course, that isn't her choice to make. And now I have to step up my game to remind her that I decide who lives here and who doesn't and the tone and limits of behavior. My extended family is worried that this is too much stress for me, given my ongoing health issues. I've waivered.

This morning I had a mini-epiphany.
Before I get to my insight though, I thought it would be a good idea to review the differences between times when a dog is in need of behavior modification/further training and when a dog may need to be rehomed.





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First let us also clarify - some behavior isn't necessarily modifiable to a safe point. When a dog has a strong prey drive for example, that dog may never be totally trustworthy around smaller animals that make a sudden movement. I would argue that there is a difference between the instincts that are wired into a dog and the behaviors that a dog is trained for; some of the hardwired stuff is difficult to train around and some of the hardwired stuff may always come out, no matter the level of training a dog has.

doglers.com





There can also be a conflict between a dog's natural personality and training. Regardless of their respective levels of training, a nervous dog who lacks confidence is going to be more reactive than is a confident dog, or a mellow dog. If one ends up with a dog whose personality doesn't fit into their living environment, then even training may not make the fit between dog and human a good one. I've seen this with dogs who were too dominant for their handlers, and dogs who were overwhelmed by handlers who were too dominating for a gentler spirited animal.



Now let's turn to Gracie as an exemplar of where the line might be between training and rehoming.
Gracie has a strong personality, which is actually one of the things I love about her. Early on I recognized that one of my weakness as a dog handler is my low tolerance for dogs that tend to cower. While I can work with them in short bursts, it takes a lot more of my energy to be the low key, quiet person they need. I'm much more comfortable dealing with stubborn dogs than with dogs who flop over on their backs the minute one looks at them. Personality wise then, Gracie and I work.



Next to consider is prey drive, since the 'issue' in our home isn't just how Gracie and I get along but how she does with other animals. Gracie has moderate prey drive. All terriers do. It was bred into them, as all the terrier breeds were designed to hunt something, and some were then bred to be more aggressive in an attempt to get them to fight each other; prey drive varies by breeds generally and individual dogs specifically. Gracie's prey drive, for example, is much lower than her 1/2 sister's was. I discovered this when we temporarily fostered her sister, who would have happily killed our pet rabbit, while Gracie was content to gently sniff noses with the rabbit.



If Gracie had a very strong prey drive, my concern would be that she sees the Chihuahua as an item of prey and that she was going to kill him if she had an opportunity. There actually is a difference between a dog fight where the smaller dog gets hurt, and a dog who starts out with the intent to kill. If one is living with a dog who will kill, then one should not attempt to keep what that dog views as prey, as a pet. That isn't fair to the other pet; not only are you placing them in danger but you're also placing them under stress. Animals have a pretty good sense of when a predator is eyeing them up and that's a harsh way to live.


I've had two large concerns over the last few days: 1) Gracie was creating too much tension and fear for the senior dogs in the house, 2) Gracie was too worried about me to enjoy her own life and was becoming a tense ball of growing aggression.

Confession - I am seriously considering if Gracie would be calmer and happier as an only dog in another home. I'm also considering: would the senior dogs in our house be safer and calmer if she left?

Even while one considers though, one must live in the moment with the dogs under one's roof and care. So while I've posted an ad to tentatively explore rehoming Gracie, I've also adopted new training and handling routines. Gracie is learning to wear a basket muzzle while sitting quietly, not because she will need to wear one often but because she needs to remember that other animals can be around without her reacting to them.

 She is on a leash which I hold when she isn't in her crate or outdoor run. This reminds Gracie that I'm in charge, that she is to look to me before acting, while also requiring her to move when I move. This disrupts her pattern of deciding when she will nap and when she will charge around the house watching out the windows, or deciding who should be allowed or excluded from the room.

She is no longer allowed upstairs - that is the senior dog zone. This is not a ghetto for seniors; they still come downstairs regularly, but they also have entire rooms to hang out in where Gracie isn't allowed. Jenny's favorite room is actually upstairs and now Gracie can't interupt her long peaceful naps there.
At the same time, when I decide to sit down and work on my laptop, Gracie can either be in her run, or on the couch next to me - no more independent wandering around the house. And just the two of us take walks, as her energy level is different from the other dogs and I want her to keep moving, not casually strolling, or stopping to sniff a lot.

In fact, it was early this morning that my mini-epiphany struck me. The rest of our quiet little village still seemed to be asleep, as we walked down the middle of the side street we live on and Gracie bounced happily along watching the world. Then she began grumbling and snorting as a single other person crossed the street behind us. Gracie looked a bit funny, walking sideways, snorting and moaning but she didn't bark or growl, and continued on with me. The other walker and I both smiled at how silly she seemed. Right about then, I realized I hadn't actually been for a walk in the past few days. I hadn't realized how much I had started to let my physical discomfort and weariness draw the edges of my world in.


The other dogs enjoy strolls but Gracie benefits from a brisk walk. Actually, it's almost a fast march. The other dogs are fairly easy going, low maintenance. Gracie is not. Or when she is allowed to 'fly under the radar' too long, she seems more likely to act out. Chi chi and Jenny both have medical concerns and are aging rapidly. Gracie is healthy and likely at the midpoint of her life. She has years left and they can be good or bad, pleasant or not. Gracie is not a simple dog to live with but we understand each other. That's when I realized: I need Gracie because Gracie needs me.


  • Gracie needs me to get up and walk her and I won't get up and walk unless someone needs me to; it's too uncomfortable so otherwise I will put it off. Her need motivates me, my own does not.
  • Gracie needs me to remember to take my medicine so I can function well; I was drifting towards indifference, tired of the side effects but now I'm reminded how important attention to these details are. 
  • Gracie needs me to be alert so that she doesn't have to be so vigilant. When I slack she's eager to help and she can't be left to her own devices in running our household.
  • In the wrong home Gracie could be a bully or bullied. She needs me to provide the balance that both keeps her in line but also recognizes how sensitive she is. 

Gracie needs me and that is what I need right now, that is really what I've always thrived on, a dog that saves me by allowing me to feel that I'm saving them.

Saved by dogs - funny how after all these years I'm yet again reminded why I chose that title for this blog.

















21 comments:

  1. It sounds like a great life plan you have worked out--for you, Gracie and the seniors.

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    1. I'm trying to remember that the best plans are flexible :-)

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  2. We have a Gracie, only she's called Polly. We have also have Remy. I see I can't add a photo but both are EBTs and Polly is a fawn smut who looks very like Gracie. Both are rescues, but Remy came to us at 9 months almost tgree years ago and Polly at 5 years just at the end of this past March. While Polly will accept Remy on the lead outside, she will not give him any slack in the house....I think she came in feeling a bit vulnerable and has taken it out on him. We've tried everything we and others ( trainers) can think of to help them get along but it's not working. Luckily, the rescue group she cane through has found another ( only dog) home. But it breaks pur hearts and we feel we've failed her and Remy, who woukd benefit greatly from having a companion. So this was a particularly interesting read and I wish you and Gracie many years of joy together.

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    1. I understand what you've been through - when we fostered Gracie's sister, no amount of training or rearranging would allow them to live happily together after a while. They also could walk side by side outside, but could not get along inside. When I started working with EBT rescue, I learned that "sibling rivalry" between two EBT in the same home is not uncommon (and obviously doesn't require the dogs to be related). Sibling rivalry doesn't go away or resolve and the dogs remain constantly competitive for who will be top dog, adding a whole new level of stress to everyone's life. Sometimes, there really is no option but to permanently separate two dogs.

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    2. Thanks for your very kind answer. I'm glad to see in your lates post you've found a way with Gracie now and I truly hope you're feeling better. Polly went to her new home but her new mother decided not to keep her because of work hours. The rescue asked us to take her back temporarily but the situation was so difficult when she was here my husband refuses to have her again and I can't do it without his help. My heart is broken. I lovedher very much and I miss her viscerally. I am working to help them find her the right home, as she is an amazing dog on her own.

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  3. Well, you've got me in tears. A truly lovely bit of writing. As you began I felt such dread. Hate that your health is giving you such challenges and my heart began to break at the thought of you needing to re-home Gracie and that you're been forced to even consider it. Sigh... then the loving reminder to all dog lovers who are saved by dogs every single day. Gotta go get another tissue. Sending you love, my friend.

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    1. Thanks much Sue :-) This morning I considered not walking, then I looked at Gracie and off we went, and though my right leg was hurting something noticeable, I was glad we were out and moving. Don't know what I'd do without my sledgehammer of love.

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  4. It sounds as though you understand Gracie very well. I hope you can keep working things out together.

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    1. Clowie, don't you find that all the most interesting relationships take work? ;-)
      Life with Gracie will never be boring.

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    2. Yes, indeed. My bipeds say that I'm stubborn and opinionated - like they've got room to talk! They say that training me was tricky, but we get along very well and the relationship is special.
      I think the bipeds find it a bit tricky when a relation's dog comes to stay. It should be easy - one of the "eager to please" breeds, but the dog spends the first hour or two keeling over on her back every time they look at her.

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    3. Excellent point - I'm sure Gracie would say I'm the stubborn one and she would point out how much time I spend making up silly rules that seem pointless to her. I'm beginning to think we live to make each other's lives more interesting.

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  5. WoW, this was very powerful.
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

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    1. We're having a vibrant sort of life lately.

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  6. Such a thoughtful and very real post. I could feel your conflicting feelings. I'm so glad you've worked out a plan that sounds like it makes a lot of sense for both Gracie and the seniors. I wish you much success with it. It comes across clearly that you and Gracie have a special bond. That's something to cherish. Good luck!

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    1. Thank you Jody. I am very grateful for the special relationships I've had with dogs over the years and Gracie will always be firmly planted in my heart.

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  7. It sounds like you have figured things out very well. We had an issue with Freighter and Thunder (yep 2 intact male Chessies usually can't live together and they can't). Freighter was always on edge and his behavior toward us started to be bad as well because he was trying to be the over us if he couldn't dominate Thunder. We thought oh no our situation may not work out. He can't be so miserable all the time and we did not want his behavior to turn aggressive.

    We made a couple of changes right away. Hubby was training him for field so he mostly understood hubby was boss. I started walking him daily and in no time he seemed to understand that I was also boss. We separated him from Thunder and Storm and almost immediately he became a happy dog again. We use gates to separate them. Freighter gets the front of the house and the other two the back. They can see each other through the gate and they behave correctly if they are next to it which is good. I think giving Freighter his own sense of space took whatever pressure he was feeling off. It sounds like you did similar things with Gracie. I guess you would say we are both managing our dogs' behavior/interactions.

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    1. Yes - I think there are a lot of dog people who end up managing personalities in part by providing separate spaces or zones. I've heard of more than a few Bull Terrier people who have several, just not in the same space at the same time.

      I'm glad you found a way to balance Freighter and Thunder's needs too. I was just visiting a friend who has Goldens and we were discussing how much less "managing" might be necessary, if one is drawn to breeds with softer personalities - but those have never been the breeds that I'm as attracted to. What does it say about those of us who like a little more determined dog? ;-)

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  8. This is so hard you have a great plan. I rarely speak of this but when our bulldog was young he went through a phase of attacking our pugs. This was 7 years ago. My husband was badly bitten a plan and more structure around feeding and eliminating stresses, Bob prefers to stay home rather then go on a ton of outings. He likes park walks but not crowded events calmed the situation. He has now Mellowed beautifully. However the experience has led my husband and I to choose dogs of closet size in the future and more passive temperaments. It's just easier for us. I adore Bob though and am so glad we worked it out. You will too
    Retro rover

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  9. Lots of people have to leave their dog home alone during the day (or night) while they work. They worry that their dog is lonely while they're away. Perhaps you feel guilty about leaving your dog home alone. Maybe your dog cries when you leave the house. Or, maybe your dog has some behavior problems and destroys things while you're gone. Sometimes people think that if their dog had a dog friend to play with while they were away the dog would be happier. What's the real story?

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    1. Answering this question will require a new post; but the short answer is, it depends on the dog.

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  10. Are you celebrating National Dog Day? http://www.nationaldogday.com/

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