Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Start Of A Beautiful Friendship


Today was a big day at the McCarthy house, today is the day that progress was made!!  Just three short weeks ago Wally joined our family and while Faye was thrilled, Leo was not happy with his new brother.   Leo has always done great with other dogs but he has always had problems with intact males, due to an attack when he was a youngster.  Wally had just recently been neutered so he still had testosterone, as it takes time for that to dissipate after a neuter.   So for any dog that would meet Wally, they were still reading him as intact.   For many dogs this is not a problem, but for Leo, it was a deal breaker.   When Leo was 1 year old, while on a walk,  we were attacked by an adult intact male and both of us were seriously injured.   From that day forward he has had significant fear issues around any intact male.  As hard as I've tried he just can not forget that horrible day .  Thankfully we rarely encounter such dogs so he has been able to avoid those unpleasant encounters most of his life. 

The day Wally arrived I knew there was the possibility that Leo would not welcome him with open paws so I took a number of precautions during their initial introduction.  We had both boys on leash in my backyard and just started walking them near each other but didn't allow any formal greeting.  I could tell from the minute Leo got a good whiff of Wally that he was not comfortable.  We then slowed things down and had Leo walking 15-20 feet behind Wally so he could gather a little more 'information', still he could not relax.  Wally of course is a big dog with a puppy brain and all he wanted to do was play with Leo.  After 10-15 minutes we moved the dogs closer and within seconds Leo began to growl, bear his teeth and use very good canine communication to tell everyone how much he wanted Wally to move away.  Fortunately Wally is very dog savvy having grown up with many dogs, he immediately knew that he needed to back off and look away.   Even with distance between them Leo could not relax and was clearly stressed so we moved farther apart.  Just as we were walking away, Leo turned and launched a full fledged attack on Wally.  Thankfully Leo has a very good inhibited bite so there were not wounds but it was loud, lots of growling, snapping teeth and horrible to watch.   Wally was well aware that Leo was not happy to meet him and quickly retreated.

I found myself suddenly living in a potentially dangerous situation and knew I had to take time to think this through.  After everyone calmed down I had a family meeting and informed them that we would have to implement some very strict safety measures while we attempted to work through this.   The first step was keep the boys apart so that things could settle down.  From that moment we were rotating them in and out of crates.  When Leo was free, Wally was in a crate and vise verse.  This was not a problem because all the dogs are comfortable in their crates.  The next step was to purchase a DAP Collar for Leo and plug in a DAP Diffuser.   DAP has a very calming effect and I knew it would help all the dogs relax.    We used ALOT of desensitization exercises, offering Leo treats when ever Wally was hear him, clicking and treating for calm behavior, etc.   For nearly 2 weeks I did not allow the boys to have any contact other than approaching each other in their crates.   For the first week Leo would not even go near Wally crate and if Wally approached him he would growl.   By the 2nd week there was no more growling, he was choosing to sniff around the crate but still would not engage in any way with Wally.  At the start of the 3rd week Leo had made repeated approaches to Wally while he was crated and even began sniffing and licking his muzzle.  I was so excited but still wanted to take things slowly and use precautions.   A few days ago I placed a soft muzzle on Leo and had him outside with Wally and Faye.  He was now able to move about freely with Wally but we had the safety of the muzzle just in case.   It was at that point that I saw things changing, more relaxed body language, choosing to engage with Wally and no signs of fear or aggression. 

Today with drag lines on both dogs I decided to remove the muzzle and let them meet.   As you can see from the pictures things went very well.  The dogs immediately started playing a game of tug and running in the yard.   I could feel my blood pressure lower and knew that we had just had a major breakthrough.   


I've learned alot these past three weeks and as always, I'm in awe of these wonderful creatures.    When given time and the opportunity to resolve conflict great things can happen.  Too often we expect our dogs to 'get with the program' forgetting that they have 'opinions' of their own.    We have to respect what our dog is trying to tell us whether we like it or even understand it.   It's never easy watching your beloved dog behave aggressively,  it's scary and makes everyone feel helpless.  Understanding that aggression is a form of ccommunication puts things into perspective and helps you move past your emotional response and move towards a resolution.    I'll still be keeping my eye on the boys in the days and weeks to come but I think they are well on their way to a Beautiful Friendship!

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