Before I can introduce you all to Tex, the latest member of the pack, I have to go cover my female human’s past. First, I was not the first biter my human had shared her life with. That honor went to Sunny, a very abused cocker spaniel who was never socialized as a puppy. She spent many days alone in an apartment. Her pack was made up of her and two human doctors who both were finishing up their residency when she was a puppy. Why they thought getting a dog was a good idea when they had no time for her is beyond me.
By the time Sunny was two years old, she was pretty unstable from living in solitary confinement. Then her humans had a human baby and everything changed. Suddenly they were home a lot more and the baby would not stop crying. Sunny didn’t bite the baby as she actually likes babies but she did attack her humans after she decided that the baby needed to be protected from everything. Sunny bounced around from home to home for 2 years, biting at least one person in each new pack before they’d return her. Everyone was told her history but everyone thought they could handle her. She was also just so cute! My human’s mother took Sunny as a foster for rehab the day before she was going on a one way trip to the vet. Sunny was in a no kill shelter too.
What I am going to tell you is not for the faint of heart NOR should you ever try this at home. My human’s father worked at the animal shelter. He was not an inexperienced dog handler but Sunny bit him multiple times over the years over many different things. Sunny bit my human too just a couple of months after she was introduced into the pack. My human asked Sunny to get out of the car. Telling time wasn’t something she was good at and she thought the pack was going to the train station without her. She always went to the train station twice a day to pick up my human’s father. All she could think was, “DO NOT LEAVE ME ALONE!” and defended her spot in the car by biting my human multiple times on the arm. My human still has the scars thirty years later, although they’re pretty faded. It took about 6 years, three times as many years as it took to screw her up, for Sunny to adjust to pack life, stop having emotional outbursts at everyone, to really feel safe, and to stop biting. Up until that point, her biting was managed through a set routine.
When I got to the Rainbow Bridge, I was overwhelmed by the number of animals that knew my humans but the first one who wasn’t a part of the pack who came up to me and said, “I love your human” was Celestia*. Her story needs to be told and I promised her I would share it.
Celestia is a wonderful dog. She was still in puppyhood when she was adopted from the local SPCA but almost a year old. She has the most amazing fluffy coat with curly fur around her ears. Her fur is a mix of white belly hair, a golden body, and red highlights. She really is striking. The best guess about her breeding is a gold retriever/chow cross. She has a cute birthmark on her tongue but I’ve been told that is just a sign of a hard birth. She doesn’t remember being born so she has no idea where her birthmark came from.
She is also an amazing hunter with a strong prey drive like a greyhound, she is incredibly fast, and her bites hit her mark the first time. She hated the rats that would live in the wood piles around the house and would wait for them like a cat. As soon as they stepped into the sun, she’d be on them, chasing them away from the house. She’d grab them, shake them dead, then toss them in the air, and bite them in half when she caught them. The rat would be dead in less than a second. Her humans were very alarmed at this behavior and would yell at her whenever she’d chase a rat. She never hurt any chickens, goats, sheep, cats, horses, or other farm animals. Just the rats.
When she was about 18 months old, she started doing 4H obedience classes at the local county fair grounds. She was great at competition obedience. She had a wonderful competition heel, staring deep into her human’s eyes rather than caring to look forward, and just had complete trust in her human to keep her safe. When they competed, it was never Celestia who made a mistake, always the human. They collected a fair amount of ribbons though.
Celestia hates loud noises. Gun fire really bothers her and due to scheduling, my human was often home during the day when various neighbors would be shooting rifles. Celestia would come knock on the back door, then let herself in, and climb up on the couch. She was afraid but knew that my human would comfort her. They’d sit together on the couch and my human would do TTOUCH hair slides and clouded leopard touches to help her calm down.
Just to go down a bunny hole for a second: I’m sure you’ve been told to never comfort a dog who is afraid and that is just a stupid thing to say just like saying not to pick up a crying infant or you’ll spoil the child. Sometimes I think God wasted thumbs on humans. Let me be clear, you don’t want to panic with your hound but you do need to acknowledge their emotions and try to help them face their fear.
Celestia’s pack did a lot of entertaining. People were always over to visit and often with children of various ages and temperament. Not all of the children were well trained. One day a boy decided to stomp his foot at Celestia while she was trying to eat. She didn’t like the loud noise and tried to get away from him but the child continued to harass her and cornered her. She eventually growled at him when all other options had been exhausted. Her humans didn’t punish the boy, they punished Celestia.
The next time the boy was over, he started to bug her again. She growled. She got punished. The cycle repeated until Celestia realized her humans didn’t like her growling. So growling wasn’t allowed. The next time the boy was over, she barked and snapped at him. Now the kid told his parents that the dog bit him. She didn’t bite him, she snapped at him and told him he was rude. Celestia was punished again. From her point of view, “The mean, spoiled child comes over and my home is no longer safe!” This is much closer to the truth than the spoiled brat’s version. The truth is painful. Ignorant humans who don’t understand their responsibilities to keep the pack safe ruin the lives of dogs when they punish their dog for being a dog.
The humans tried to “break her” of her “aggression” over food and they just made it worse. Celestia was no longer feeling safe in her own home and was on edge all of the time. When people were over, she was obviously uncomfortable, stiff body, clenched jaw, with big moon eyes. No one was realizing what she was trying to say. Eventually, the stress and bad training created a resource guarder who bit without much warning for the uneducated. She bit her humans and drew blood but no stitches were required. She grabbed the boy who tormented her when food wasn’t even involved. Just the sight of him made her anxious.
The vet suggested euthanasia. My human knew that Celestia was a misunderstood dog but was just beginning to learn about behavior and learning theory. The internet was still hard to get on at this time but she went to newsgroups and joined every mailing list she could to find a trainer who could rehab Celestia. No one would take her. She was deemed just too dangerous.
Although I was given a death sentence from the law and my former pack gave me up to keep me safe, Celestia’s pack made the decision to euthanize her. They took her to the vet and Celestia shook the entire way there. She knew it was a one way trip. Her humans held her long past her last breath and cried the entire time. Celestia was so young, just barely 3 years old. She lost her life due to human ignorance and a poorly trained child.
*Not her real name.