Monday, June 27, 2011


I had a scary incident with our big, half livestock guardian dog, Keenan last weekend.  She is pretty tall, lanky, 55 lbs and 8 mos old.

Her personality is very different from my little Toe dog and it's expected.  Livestock guard dogs are not overly friendly or social... they need to be wary of new people/dogs/situations in order to guard their property and livestock.  We don't need her to be super social and outgoing but we do need her to accept new situations and behave in an acceptable way.  She doesn't have to like new dogs or people but she has to learn how we expect her to behave around them.  I know livestock guard dogs can be difficult...I've met many that aren't but I know they can be. 

She's been to a dog show while I was in the ring with Toe... she accepted all of the dog show commotion, people and dogs calmly, laying at Furry Husband's feet. 

We took her to my sister's house with people and dogs she didn't know... she was happy and relaxed. 

Furry Husband takes her to play disc golf at local parks and she is relaxed and obedient.

She goes to doggie day care two times a week - more to help burn off puppy energy than anything else.  While she is there, she interacts with staff and many dogs in a controlled environment - they've never had a problem with her.  She plays all day long and likes to nap with the small dogs when they have their quiet time.

She goes to agility class with strange people and dogs and is accepting and happy.  

She is typically shy with new people and if they ignore her, she approaches them, takes treats, wags and warms up to their attentions.... she is still a puppy after all and who can resist puppies?  We never force her to be social because I don't want to turn her into a fear aggressive dog.

I took Keenan and Toe to my friends' house last weekend.  T & L have a loud, excited, happy German Shepherd.  He barks and carries on with enthusiasm but wouldn't hurt a fly and is not the least bit aggressive. 
I pulled into their drive and Norman began doing his thing - barking, carrying on. 

Keenan went ape shit.  She turned into friggin' Cujo before my eyes....

It was scary and I'd never seen her like this in any socializing situation.  She was so "out there" and agitated - lunging, snarling, in full-on kill mode that I had to break her focus from Norman and get it on me... I ended up stringing her up with the leash - frankly I didn't care if she passed out because she was that "out there".  She wanted to go after one of my friends who came over to see if they could help and I know she thought about biting me when I was trying other things to get her focus on me.  

This was a life or death situation. 

If a dog bites a human, it's a death sentence.  Right or wrong - these are state laws.  Human safety is first and foremost.  Humans mean more than dogs and biting is never allowed.  (I'm not talking puppy playing and mouthing - I'm talking full on dog bite with intent to harm)

Once she looked at me the leash loosened and she got praise... if she lunged and began Cujo'ing out she got hung with the leash.   I had no other option at the time - it happened so fast and it surprised me with how very out of character she was.

Once she was calmer, we went into the yard - Norman was on leash lying quietly.  Keenan stayed on a loose leash lying at my feet.... she was not happy, grumbling and hackles still raised but she was not Cujo anymore. 

We got a squirt bottle and if she growled or moved toward Norman in any sort of aggressive way, she got a squirt and a "Leave it"... she eventually relaxed and could be near Norman, she wouldn't look at him but she would tolerate being near him, standing next to him etc.  She could be near my friends while remaining relaxed, wagging while they petted her and gave her treats.  She got lots of praise and cookies while she was relaxed.

It freaked me out.  I talked to the owner of the training/dog daycare place to see if we needed a consult with our dog. We worked with Keenan in a head halter, otherwise known as a gentle leader or a  halti.   Much better option - provides lots of control while their mouth is unable to open wide for biting vs. hanging your dog with a leash...but hey, the first situation was desperate, surprising and I was unprepared. 

I took Keenan and Toe to my friend's house this past Friday night armed with treats and the halti.  We were trying to recreate the situation that happened the weekend before.  Norman was barking and excited just like before.

Keenan was perfectly normal.  Totally and perfectly normal.  So normal that after watching her interact with Norman for a while and seeing her remain relaxed, we took her off lead and took the halti off.  She was relaxed, happy, and the dog we know and love.

So what the heck happened?  I know dogs go thru fear stages around 8 mos... did something that day strike her in her fear stage just the right way?  Of course we always watch her and are aware she can be shy in new situations but after last weekend....   I worry a switch will get flipped and she will turn into Cujo.

A friend of mine at the barn confessed to me,  her dog a Border Collie mix did this same exact thing around 8 mos and she was also terrified he was going to turn into an aggressive dog because he was so "out there" when this happened.  Just like Keenan he was lunging, snarling, freaking out.  He was at the vet office when he turned into Cujo.  She worked with a dog training friend along with her vet to work him through the fear, and now he absolutely LOVES going to the vet.  You would never think this dog could act this way - he is happy, friendly, playful and obedient.  He hasn't exhibited the same behavior again....

I haven't had a young puppy in a long time and I haven't really had a breed that can be difficult in a long time either.  You forget about all the work that goes into them to make them sound, sane dogs in all sort of situations when they are adults.


DebH said...

yikes! I bet you were nervous and still are. Hard to say about the reaction though, seems when they go into the protect mode it can be pretty fierce. Even at there own expense. Any dog can be like that, so just make sure she knows YOU are the Lead Dog always.
I had Atticus go after DJ my older dog just about a month ago. I've never seen him be so aggressive and meant to kill. I didn't think about myself and took a board with me to get his attention. He is 130lbs and nothing moves him. I finally had to thump him hard along the butt to get his attention and he turned to growl at me. Saw who I was and quick got it under control. Good thing, cuzz he almost scared me...and I didn't want him to know that! They can see it in your eyes. By then I was just pissed at him and chased him around scolding him hard. Everytime DJ slunk off to lick his wounds...Atticus went after him...I kept right after him though and he finally caught on that I was not giving up. He hasn't acted that way since. I do know if he met up with a coyote or a dozen though, he would not be stopped. Its in his blood. I think I would chalk it up to young blood and keep a good eye on her.

Shanster said...

Hi DebH - thanks for commenting! You made me feel a lot better... I'm sure she got into protective mode. Yes - if she was really protecting me or came across a coyote? That sucker, man or beast, would be a goner for sure! She's my first guardian dog so it's great to have your input. Yes - think she knows we are boss and we will make sure she continues to know! Glad you think it was an age thing ... that is what I was thinking too. Thanks DebH!! I appreciate your input!

Funder said...

Very, very scary! It sounds like you did the absolute right thing in that situation, though. Hanging your dog by the leash probably isn't ideal but it sure worked.

Shanster said...

Right - not like I want to beat or hang my dog but ... when you got nuthin' else and they are wanting to kill your friends and your friend's dog... you gotta do sumthin.

She's gonna get really comfy with her gentle leader from here on out... grin!

Cheryl said...

Wow, reminds me of when my sisters tiny three week old bichon got attacked by a massive bulldog. She almost had to put him to sleep. but unfortunately the dumbass owner of the bulldog refused any responsibility (This was in NY). Harry (the bichon) is alive and well now and still fearlessly runs up to any dog he sees.

Shanster said...

I'm glad Harry is healthy and happy!

I had a dog that didn't like other dogs a long time ago... I always heard, "He's friendly!" as someone's dog came bounding over and my dog was bristling and ready to fight.

I alway has to yell back, "Mine's NOT!" He was always leashed cuz I knew this.

Many don't realize not all dogs are friendly and will attack if another dog runs up to them.

I LOVE leashes and control! grin. What's that say about me? ha.