Why wait?

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.


7 Responses to Why wait?

  1. Nicole says:

    I think most people choose not to get help for their dogs because

    1. They’ve already assumed it’s too expensive.
    2. They are afraid that the dog trainer or behaviorist will assume that the owners are abusive when they aren’t
    3. The recession and economic crisis has encouraged people to calm down.
    4. They think it’s a waste of time and can not believe that anyone can help their pet.

    It is sad that both the dog and the family have been living like this for the last 3 years, but at least they’re willing to get help now. Better late than never I suppose.

    It is very sad to hear that this man has lung cancer. Perhaps a miracle will occur and he’ll be able to live out many more happy, healthy years with his wife and newly trained, well behaved dog.

  2. This is very typical of my dogs and babies prep class participants. Something is a long term serious issue and it’s the coming baby that’s the wake-up call. BUT, money is tight, there’s no time, etc. so people are left pretty much to “hope for the best” when it never even had to be this way.

  3. Jen says:

    If it’s a chi mix, he’s probably small enough that they thought it was “cute” for a long time. Of course, I’m making assumptions. But really, if the man’s condition wasn’t what it was, you probably never would have gotten the call. Very sorry for your client 😦

    • wildewmn says:


      Good point, and I completely agree. If this was a 200 pound Rottweiler I’m guessing they might have called a lot sooner! 😉

      Take care,

  4. Not to be picky, but I’d guess that location (bed, sofa) guarding, rather than person guarding is at play here. Jean Donaldson’s guarding protocols in “MINE!” work very well for these kinds of cases.

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Gallivan,

      You’re not being “picky” at all! 🙂 It’s obvious the dog isn’t guarding one particular person and could be, as you said, guarding the location. Or, it could be status by association, the dog is high up on something (okay, first I wrote “high on something”–that would be a whole different problem) with a person to back him up, regardless of who it is. But regardless of the reason, once the man is bedridden, whether in a hospital bed or his own bed, you know that dog will be in bed with him. So the problem needs to be solved either way. I agree that Jean’s protocols can be very useful in many resource guarding situations.

      Take care,

  5. callofthecanines says:

    I think another issue is that many people don’t recognize the early signs of aggression, or if they do, they don’t think that they are “a big deal.” I’m always shocked by dog owners who think that dogs who growl and snarl at them are funny! Remember a few years back when one of those funny video shows had a winner who taped their dog growling at his own back leg while chewing on a bone? The audience thought it was hilarious.

    I had a personal experience with this 2 years ago when my very young foster dog was showing what i thought were serious signs of aggression. All of my family and friends told me I was overreacting and that he was just being a puppy. Then he bit someone. Yet I was STILL told that I was blowing things out of proportion. Thankfully I had the sense to ignore them at that point and call in some professional help, but many people don’t 😦

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