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."