Tuesday, June 12, 2007

History of Scout, part 4 "Animal Humane Society"

Do you see this cute picture? Scout is grabbing the measuring cup we used to measure out her food. We are on our way to a nice weekend out of town (up north, if you have to know.) And it seemed like just one of those cute puppy moments until a few seconds after we took the picture, when we tried to take the measuring cup away from her, and she growled and snapped at us. Not funny. It was shocking, actually. We were not prepared for this. And it only had to happen once or twice more for us to feel that SOMETHING WAS WRONG. Or, at the least, that We Were Doing Something Wrong. Another time she grabbed a garbage can paper towel, filled with something, and when I tried to take it away -- same reaction. A couple of times she growled when we tried to pet her. I called the Animal Humane Society for advice -- and also to sign her up for class. Maybe the things we would learn in puppy class, even without "puppy play time" would be enough to stop this scary trend before Scout became a "big dog", with a dangerous habit.

The woman encouraged me to sign up my dog for the puppy classes, which I did. I went to the orientation. But, even with my detailed description of Scout's behavior, she wouldn't give me a definitive answer on the phone. She would need to see Scout, one to one, and do an "assessment." What I really wanted to hear was that Scout was esentially a normal dog, but if we just changed something we were doing, we could nip this behavior in the bud. I just knew that whatever was going on, it must be all our fault, because we were inexperienced dog owners and didn't know how to handle these things. I also knew that between these scary incidences, Scout was a happy, outgoing, energetic puppy. She had charmed everyone she met up north, because she was so cute and curious. (The pink cast didn't hurt either).

I went to the puppy class orientation, where I got reams of information on socialization, worried that I was already behind, and was somewhat reassured by all of the stories told about disobedient and annoying puppies. I was sure everything was going to be okay. I also found out that the class -- and a lot of classes these days -- worked off of a "positive reinforcement" model, and used food mostly for training (sort of an issue with my dog's recurrent bouts of sickness).

The night before our "assessment" Scout was sick again. I had no idea what to feed her. The vet, who had, up to this time, told us not to worry, actually said, "This is not normal." They ordered a low-residue dog food for her, with one problem: it was not for puppies. It was for adult dogs. She was actually beginning to look skinny.

The woman at the Humane Society was really nice, and you could tell she loved dogs. She did a lot of tests on Scout that I couldn't begin to understand. Some I was sure that Scout was failing, like when she would hold Scout in different positions and Scout would put up a big fuss. "Don't worry," she said. "She's just saying that she doesn't like it." She also told me that some of the unique sounds that Scout made were "Husky sounds." She said, "Huskies have a lot of sounds -- not just barks." Then we came to the moment of truth. We practiced giving her things and taking things away. Sometimes it went all right. A couple of times when Scout was approached, she would growl, which was a little puzzling. Then the trainer wanted to do the food bowl test. I first had to call the vet, to make sure it was ok for Scout to eat something. Then we put a little food in a bowl, and let Scout approach. She started to eat. The trainer got out the dummy hand and had the hand pet her. No reaction. That was good. Then the hand reached to the bowl. "Can I see it?" The trainer said. As soon as the hand reached into the bowl, Scout went ballistic! She growled and snarled and attacked the hand.

The trainer shook her head. "But she hasn't eaten anything today." I wanted to defend my dog. "Maybe she was just hungry." "No," the trainer said, " she has other choices of behavior." She assessed Scout as engaging in "spacial and resource guarding." She said she has seen other dogs with this behavior, but "it's unusual to see it in a puppy this young."

She also told me that there were options for working with this behavior, but that behavior modification was difficult, time-consuming and expensive. She tried to make me feel better by referring me to a wonderful doctor at the University of Minnesota. She agreed with me that Scout had many fine qualities. She had seen many scarier dogs.

But it was the last thing she said that stayed with me. "If she came in here to be placed, and she tested like this, I wouldn't put her on the floor." I knew what she meant. She meant that if Scout had come to them as a puppy, she would be euthanized.

After her mid-afternoon meal, Scout curled up and went to sleep in the car. As for me, I cried all the way home.

To be continued.... "Scout is not a bad dog."


kim said...

I guess Target was trying to figure out the "differences" between their customers and Wal-Marts customers....yeah, right, likely story. I'm thinking, though, that somebody probably lost their job over this one, because it sure backfired!

It made me sad, reading what Scout's fate could have been. I am so glad it didn't turn out that way. She is a beautiful dog.

mompriest said...

Well. I have two big dogs, both of which were very testy as puppies, in different ways.

Mostly, both dogs (females) were more testy with me and our daughter (females). It was all about the order of the pack and the "puppy" wanted to be higher in the pack than the other females. We had to teach them their proper place. It took a lot of firm work using our voices of authority, etc. Puppy classes were very good and helpful, over all. The food thing can be managed, all you need is the tiniest amount of a strongly flavored dried treat. Ours sold dried liver, which could be broken into the size of a grain of rice, but was flavorful enough to do the job.

In terms of feeding. Does your dog do this with your husband, or only women? (ala my pecking order dogs). Have you tried putting her food in her bowl and then adding (not taking away) an even more special treat which she could eat out of your hand, which is in the food bowl? This might be very tricky since she is already reacting to her food bowl - but it is the way our trainers taught us get and keep our dogs comfortable with us being in and around their food bowls. Be careful. And if the dog reacts less to one of you start there. Also, get her (him?) familiar with eating out of your hand, even if it is the dog food from the vet.

Also, get other opinions. Theories and practices vary widely with dog trainers. And some use "clickers" with food as reinforcement until the clicker takes hold (ie, dog is told to do something, does, "Click" and give treat. eventually the click will be enough to reinforce the behavior as desireable.

Your dog is young.... Puppy's test just like any other "young". And Humane Societies, well, they can be wonderful, but not perfect. best wishes for you and Scout! (

Diane said...

mompriest -- want you to know all of your advice is very good... but also let you know I'm writing a "retrospective" and Scout is not at the same point now that she was then...but yes, she did the same thing with my husband and both boys, not just me.

We obviously had NO experience when we got this dog and the dog knew it.

DogBlogger said...

The first vet we saw with Cub suggested we take her to a shelter in a rougher part of the metroplex than our suburb, so she could go become a guard dog at a junkyard (and I remember thinking at the time, "or a crackhouse. He wants us to put this pup in a crackhouse"). So this story with Scout sounds really familiar. I went home in tears, too.

I'm glad we both have happy endings to these tales!

DogBlogger said...

OH, and I promise I'll respond to your tagging me! Just got back from a business trip (and a surprise RGBP meetup while there) and I've got to catch up on my sleep!

mompriest said...

Ok. Now I get it..."History of..." hee hee hee. That's what I get for "dropping in" without the history...LOL

Well. At least I'm on track with my points. Looking forward to the next edition of the story, er, history of scout...

Gannet Girl said...

I'm so relieved to know this is past history and Scout is still with us. My dd did her senior project at the APL and then worked there all summer a couple of years ago, and I know too well what happens to dogs who can't "go on the floor."

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

Oh Diane - you know it's the people that save good doggies that get the xpress pass to heaven right?

So yeah some would say my theology sucks... (those are the cat people out there.)

Amazing how beautiful creatures can be hurt in so many ways just like us and that hurt manifests itself in bizzare ways sometimes. Glad Scouts got a good home. Mocha Java sends out a friendly "woof" inbetween his snores.

JWD said...

It took me a few days, but I finally followed up on my tag.