I just got off the phone with a man who was seeking assistance for his four-year-old male Chihuahua/terrier mix. Any time the man is on the couch with the dog and his wife approaches, the dog becomes aggressive toward the wife. The same thing happens if he’s in bed (the dog has slept on their bed for the last four years). Interestingly, if the wife is in bed or on the couch and the husband approaches, the same type of behavior occurs. The dog isn’t guarding one particular person but, rather, whichever person is there with him.
The dog also “throws up about once a month” and will then guard the mess. I asked whether the dog guards his food, bones, toys, or anything else, and nope…just them and the vomit. Well, it’s always good to know you’re as valuable as vomit! No, I didn’t say that, but I did ask whether they had any idea what was causing the vomiting. Apparently, they feed the dog ice cream “a lot.” After a discussion of why that’s not a good idea, mentioning Frosty Paws as an alternative treat to be given now and then, and setting up training, we ended the conversation.
Now, here’s the part I haven’t told you: The man said the dog’s aggressive behavior had been going on for the last three years. So why, you might wonder, were they seeking help now? The man has recently been diagnosed with lung cancer. The doctors expect him to live another six months to a year. He knows that at some point he will be bedridden, and that his wife, who will be his primary caretaker, will need to be able to get near the bed. I assume he will need nurses and other care as well, which may also be an issue as far as the dog’s behavior. The man said he had considered bringing the dog to the shelter, but that he knew it was very likely they would euthanize the dog.
This story makes me very sad. It also makes me wonder about all the people who have dogs with serious behavioral issues such as aggression, who don’t do anything about it until something has to be done. Trainers hear about this type of thing all the time. Very often when asking someone whose dog has bitten multiple times why they’re seeking help now, the answer is that now the dog has bitten someone outside the family, which could mean legal action and a bad end for the dog. Even with lesser issues such as destruction, owners often allow the behavior to continue until something truly valuable is destroyed; I remember being called in after a dog ate the owner’s $3000 hearing aid.
With the economy faltering, everyone multi-tasking, and all the “stuff” that comes up, I can understand why training gets put off. In the big scheme of things, whether a dog pulls on leash or not is not exactly a matter of life or death. But sometimes, especially with aggression issues, it is eventually a matter of life or death—for the dog. We may not be able to foresee the future, but we can certainly address what’s in front of us now. That way, if life throws us a curve ball, we will have done all we can to make sure our dogs will weather the storm as well as possible.