I could feel his teeth sink into my ankle. I felt the firm grab and the shake that was meant to sink his teeth deeply, and tear my flesh. Fortunately, that morning, I had chosen to wear my 8″ leather military boots, which saved me a trip to the hospital and a series of stitches. Thus began, straight out of his kennel run, one of my first training days with Buck.

The first time I met Buck, a day or two before the bite, I got the sense that he was going to be a “tough nut to crack”. When he was pointed out to me as one of the longest term dogs at the rescue shelter, one that needed some “attention”, he snarled as I fed him treats through the wire of his kennel run. He had a way of anxiously pacing his run, back and forth, restlessly. I noticed that he took a defensive posture whenever a male would approach. He didn’t take that posture when approached by a female. This was a subtle hint into who he was, and what I was to deal with, as we began to work together. Buck was “male aggressive”, he didn’t like men. In fact, as I watched his  reaction to men, he displayed a seething hatred, giving fuel to his aggression, that was deeply rooted in fear of men. Being a shelter dog with the typical lack of history, I would never know for certain if his behavior had it’s foundation in nature or nurture. However, my bet was that his aggression came by nurture. He had most probably been severely abused by one or more men, for some reason.

Well aware of the above, I developed a training plan to approach a relationship with Buck. The overall goal was to develop and establish  trust. One of the volunteers at the shelter, during a conversation one day, summed it up concisely. She said that most of the dogs that were there simply didn’t know how to behave, hadn’t been taught manners. Buck, on the other hand, had deep trust issues. So I started slowly, with simple  expectations. Each day I worked with him, I’d have one of the ladies who worked at the shelter collar and remove him from his run. He was very affectionate with the girls, so after the hand-off I’d walk him to somewhere quiet, outside the noise and hubbub of the shelter. At first, I threw treats on the ground for him. He’d cautiously approach and eat them, then he’d retreat. With patience and effort, I got him to approach me and take them from my hand. It took several days to get him to eat from my hand, but it was excellent progress.

Running parallel to my interaction with Buck was my conversation with the management arm of the rescue shelter. In retrospect, I can see now that as communication and connection with Buck improved, my relationship with management of the shelter became more troubling. I didn’t fully see the implications until I was well into the conversation. When I introduced the concept of giving Buck, or any dog for that matter, a temperament evaluation, they had never done it. In fact, they hadn’t even heard of it. Further, when I told them about my bite incident, they didn’t want to hear about that either. By the time of my final conversation, when I indicated that Buck should be flagged as a bite risk, things were irreparably sour. The odd thing was that I wasn’t the first person at the shelter that Buck been aggressive toward. I was told that he had taken a bite at the Executive Director, a male. At this point, for me, the denial became undeniable.

There are a multitude of approaches to dog training. Likewise, there are a multitude of approaches to rescuing, rehabilitating, and (re-)homing dogs. It would seem that any approach taken, whether to dog training or rescue, would be best served in addressing that which is evident and obvious. At last word, Buck was being treated for anxiety, with medication. Also, at last word, there was no training plan or trainer in place to address the foundation of deeper trust issues and aggressive behavior. With this in mind, here are what I consider to be the important questions:

  • If you were a member of a rescue organization, would you feel comfortable adopting out a dog that had a known bite history, and not telling the adopting household? Would you feel comfortable adopting out this animal with recommended anxiety medication, knowing that it had serious and dangerous problems without that medication, and not telling the adopting household?
  • If you were adopting a dog, placing your trust in a rescue shelter, how would you feel to adopt a dog and not be told that the dog had a bite history?
  • If you were adopting a dog, and the dog came with recommended anxiety medication, how would you feel to not be told the full truth about how or why that dog was placed on the medication?

The grain of truth in this, for me, is that not all animal rescue shelters or adoption facilities present themselves equally. Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware).

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