Peyton is a six month old, blond Cocker Spaniel who came to see me for growling at the children in his family. He had snapped at them, but so far had not bitten.
In the exam room, he was exuberant and friendly with adults, but I could tell that the children made him uncomfortable because when they reached for him he moved away and he never solicited their attention. That along with the owner’s history made it clear that this was not the best home for this pup.
The family decided to return the pup to the breeder. They were not up for the long-term treatment and challenges of working with an aggressive dog. There was a time when I might have judged them, but not anymore.
What I have learned over my lifetime is that as soon as you judge someone, you will be faced with the same decision they were. In other words, don’t judge people because it usually turns around to bite you in the butt.
I actually applaud this owner for making the best decision for the pup. You might be surprised at that, however, it was clear to me that this pup and this family were mismatched. I could see that the puppy was unhappy and that this home would bring out the worst in this pup as he aged. Was he treatable? Sure! However, this family was not committed to treating him, setting themselves and the pup up for failure. I had to advocate for the puppy in my recommendations. I laid out a treatment plan, but we also discussed taking this pup back to the breeder.
It was also important that the owners consider taking the pup back to the breeder before he bit someone more seriously and would not be eligible for adoption. Many, many tears were shed before the pup was returned. This was not an easy decision. The breeder has contacted me and we are working together to find the right home for this pup.
If you have been reading this blog for the past couple of years you know that in December of 2011 I adopted a 1½ year old Beagle from a wonderful breeder. He had been shown to his championship and sired a litter. Now, he was ready for a home.
I have wanted a Beagle my entire life. He was a fun loving dog who loved kids. I spent about four hours with him — some with and some without his breeder. I noticed that the longer he was in a new environment, the more he showed signs of stress, such as lowering his tail and backing away from people who approached him. They weren’t huge signs, but they were there.
I thought that we could work through it. After all, what home was better for a dog than mine? We never grab our pets physically, but use food or previously taught behaviors to get things away from them or to move them. All pets are treated with respect, given personal space and enrichment, immediately given boundaries, and always rewarded for positive behaviors. What could be wrong with that?
So, I adopted Pete. He was immediately great with my daughter. The three of us spent lots of time together pretending to be astronauts, paleontologists and explorers. Unfortunately, over the course of the ten days, I watched that joyful clown of a Beagle turn into an anxious, fearful, unhappy, and aggressive dog. He began cowering in his crate and showing signs of separation anxiety. He snapped at a stranger and then at my daughter later on that same day. I returned him to the breeder the next day. Pete never looked back at me. He was so happy to be home. It was a revelation for me. Maybe my home isn’t always the best home for every dog.
What happened? Pete was used to being one of many at a breeder’s house with no rules for him individually. She was physical with her dogs, picking them up abruptly (Pete always looked like he liked this when she did it).
At my house, he had lots of rules, and that’s a big difference. Now he was being asked to sit before he went outside and stay off the furniture and learn new tricks each day. At my house he was an only dog unable to get away from the stressors of interacting with people. There weren’t any other dogs to take the pressure off of him. My house turned a great dog into an unhappy dog.
Wait, am I saying that dogs are disposable and that you should just return them if they don’t work out? No!! We had a rescue Rottweiler for twelve years as a part of our family. Why didn’t I send her away when I had my daughter? Clearly a fearfully aggressive Rottie is not safe to have with an infant. The difference is that Peanut was a part of our family for eight years when my daughter was born and we loved her dearly. She wasn’t going anywhere despite what people told us to the contrary. The bond was there. Just as importantly, Peanut had nowhere to go. It was us or euthanasia and euthanasia for a behavior problem that I could treat was not an option for our family. My daughter was perfectly safe and Peanut lived out her years with our family with a great quality of life.
So, when to return? When your pup is from a good breeder who stands by the dogs that she or he breeds. When the pup is not right for your family and it is clear to everyone including the pup. When the pup is young enough and the behavior problem is not severe enough to prohibit rehoming.
It is not always the right decision, but sometimes it is what is best for everyone.
Dr. Lisa Radosta