A few months ago, I did an evaluation of Chaco...a very aggressive Aussie/Hound mix. He's as cute as he knows how to be! He's as spotted as a Dalmatian, and has the ticking of an Australian Cattle Dog, but his head looks like a Blue Tick Coonhound through and through, having shorter Beagle-type ears. He's all white, and spotted, with black ticking throughout his body, and both of his ears are brown and black, marbled together. His eyes are not hard, but they're not soft either. He's a seriously scared, anxious, stressed three year old dog!!
His owners are terrific! They foster dogs for a local rescue organization, so they have several "roomers" at any given time. They generally keep a dog for 2-3 months to help act as a segway between the dog's previous situation and his new home. Foster parents often do some measure of rehabilitation, both physical and mental for these dogs. Many rescue dogs are damaged goods in some form or fashion. One of their current Basset Hounds, Louie, is probably 10 years or older and was seriously starved...almost to death, when he came to live at their house. He weighed only 30 pounds as an adult, when the standard weight for an adult Basset Hound is 60 pounds or more. What a loving, sweet guy he is despite horrible, abusive previous owners.
Chaco was found tied to a tree by a rope when he was rescued. That's an absolute recipe for creating an aggressive dog. Dog + Tie Out = Aggressive Dog. Chaco came to them as a foster, but has just never left. His owners have huge hearts and are trying to rehabilitate him. Believe it or not, but he's a wonderful family dog, as are many aggressive dogs. His owners have two young children who can lie on the dog and hug on him, etc., and he eats up the attention and loves them right back. However, if you're a stranger, and you're at the front door or fence, you're asking for a bad bite! At this point in time, he has four bad bites to his name, with puncture wounds and bruising. That demonstrates a very very confident biter, so he's not afraid to use his pearly whites when he's stressed. And unlike a dog whose bark is worse than his bite, this dog doesn't bark...he just bites! He charges at his target and sinks in his teeth with very little warning. No good. A 45 pound biting dog is no fun to live with, and certainly NO fun to train!
When Chaco saw me, he was on leash, and well away from the door. He did a little barking, some vocalizing, and stared at me until his owner was able to break his focus--several moments. We chatted at the door for a bit, and Chaco relaxed a tad, feeling safe enough to look away from me, and relax his body a bit. I tossed him some treats to measure his stress levels, and at first he wasn't impressed with my offerings. He picked one up, mouthed it, and spit it back out. But, in a short time, he changed his opinion, and decided I wasn't worth passing up a yummy snack. He took all of the treats I offered, and became curious about who I was. He ventured toward me to sniff a bit, even at a safe distance, which was all very nice, relaxed behavior, and actually, a good first meeting for a seriously aggressive dog.
As the evaluation went on, I learned that when he had been rescued, his collar was embedded in his neck, so his previous owners didn't care or didn't notice that he had outgrown his collar. That's horrible, tough abuse for a dog who certainly doesn't understand why he hurts or why the people in his world are mean to him for no apparent reason.
He's currently in a really wonderful home, which is pretty stable, except for the dogs coming and going, which probably does stress him out a bit. His owners want to see his behavior change or he may have to be euthanized, as he is a serious liability for them considering the current level of his aggression.
While I was completing my questionnaire, a neighbor came out into their driveway across the street, maybe 25 yards away. Chaco woke up from his nap, sat up, and began to vocalize as full hackles came up from his neck all the way to his tail as a demonstration of his anxiety about the "interloper" who was too close for comfort! And that was at 25 yards away, while he was safely inside a house!! That's some serious fear of people!
His owners have opted to try training him in an effort to save him, so I will have other posts about his progress. Looking at Louie, lying on the other side of the table from Chaco, it's really amazing how two dogs who had seriously abusive pasts are now two completely different dogs in how they are coping with life. Louie has found it within himself to trust humans again, and he's loving and kind, offering me his belly to rub, which clearly made Chaco nervous. Chaco's way of coping with humans is to bite them...although he has bonded very, very nicely to his current owners. Trying to help aggressive, damaged dogs trust again is a hard, hard way to go, and I'm honestly not very hopeful that we'll see a lot of positive change with this dog. He's three years old, has a strong history of bad bites, and is highly reactive, even from quite a distance. These are the cases that humble me and send me to my knees to ask God how to reach these dogs to pull out the sweet dogs buried by years of abuse. This story will definitely be continued...