Sparky, a 1-year-old Lab mix, was a “skittish” puppy when brought to live with the family next door to Donna, one of my readers in the Midwest.
Fearfulness is torture for an animal, and often leads to aggression.
Donna has some dog training experience and offered to help them help their pup to get over his fearfulness, but they declined. The family never socialized Sparky and his fearfulness got worse.
As he got older, he got more aggressive, eventually becoming very intense and serious. He started growling and baring his teeth as he charged the 4-foot chain-link fence separating him from Donna and her 19-year-old Chihuahua, Missy, 14-year-old Chihuahua, Tigger, and 10-year-old, 60-pound mixed breed, Alie.
Eventually, in his apparent determination to attack her and/or her dogs, he started attempting to climb the 4-foot chain-link fence.
Donna got scared enough that she called me for help.
I gave her some suggestions on how to train Sparky through the fence. BUT… my ideas involved feeding treats to Sparky, and Donna chose to ask permission first.
The answer: NO!
“Since I won't feed someone else's dog without their permission, I went next door and asked if I could use treats to try to start making friends,” she says. “They said they didn't want anyone but them feeding their dog.”
I suggested calling Animal Control and she laughed. “There are only 1,500 people here. We have no animal control. The nearest vet is 40 miles away. We have only two cops – the Chief of Police and his deputy. Out here, people are very independent and we take care of ourselves.”
We discussed different fencing options, but before Donna could do anything, about a week later, I got this email from her:
“As I've said, this is a little-bitty town, and I live less than a block from the high school, but my only close neighbors, other than that, are the next-door neighbors, and neighbors across the street. The neighbors across the street have three kids (12, 14 and 16) and two medium-sized mixed-breed dogs. Their dogs are great escape artists, but nobody cares because they know to avoid cars, and are no danger to anyone.
I was outside, starting to go to the store, the teens across the street had just gotten home and were playing with the dogs (who were in the unfenced front yard, as is usual when the kids are due to be home from school).
Sparky got agitated and finally made it over the fence, ran across the street and attacked the smaller of the two dogs who was playing with the 12-year-old girl. He got hold of the dog who was on top of the 12-year-old, and then bit her, a couple of times, badly, when she tried to push him away.
Their other dog got into it; bit and was bitten.
The 14-year-old girl grabbed little sister, trying to pull her away, so she was bitten. By that time, I'd gotten across the street and grabbed Sparky by his hind legs. (Note to readers: this is called “Wheelbarrowing" a dog – one method for breaking up a dog fight. PLEASE don't do this without learning more about it. As we all know, it's very dangerous to break up a dog fight.)
The 16-year-old boy tried to get Sparky away, and was also bitten when he grabbed their dogs by their collars.
Their Dad came out the front door and shot Sparky.
All three of their kids were bitten and I was bitten, but we will be OK. It was a melee, and I'm not sure how badly their dogs were injured. (They're still with the vet.)
Next-door-neighbors are furious at neighbors across the street, and a bit angry at me. WHY ARE THEY ANGRY AT OTHERS, when they're the ones who wouldn't train or socialize, their dog?!
About four days later, the family got another puppy. This time Donna intends to make friends, using treats, regardless.
Moral of the story: Dogs need socialization! Without it, they become fearful which CAN lead to aggression.
A puppy’s most vital socialization period is over at four months of age. It’s OVER! The best time to get a puppy is at eight weeks of age and then make it your mission to properly socialize that pup for the next two months. The work you put into him at that age, pays off for the rest of his life.
An adult dog with serious fear issues can be helped, but not cured. There's a lot we can do though. (BTW, it's not "dog training," it's behavior mod.) Being in a fearful state is torture for any living creature... Torture. They need help to feel safer and more confident, and that makes them safer for us to live with.
I wrote a piece on how to properly socialize a puppy. Contact me if you want me to send it to you. It’s the most important thing we need to know about dogs!
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