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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 24 December 2001 Issue

by Judith Marie Gansen
The Saga of Packiee - Part 2
"Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child"  

In my mostly religious right community, this is the credo many live by.  Strict discipline is how problems of behavior are solved.  After all, our military has "straightened out" many at-risk young people using severe discipline, hasn't it?  In my opinion, it has also unintentionally sent some maladjusted people back into society who commit crimes.  A youngster acting up in school is often spanked when brought home.  A mother hits a brother to "teach" him not to hit his sister -- this is logical???  These ideas transcend into how we treat animals that "act up" too.  My best friend who knows the Bible much better than I do says that it is a common misconception that "spare the rod and spoil the child" means to hit.  She says shepherds guarded their flocks and used a rod to GUIDE them, not hit them with it!  A huge difference in interpretation is causing needless abuse in my opinion.  I have always been able to get just about any child or animal to follow me by using positive reinforcement and teaching.  They follow because they want to follow, not because they are fearful of the consequences if they don't.  Kindness and love are so much stronger than beatings or harsh discipline and are much more effective when the "teacher" isn't around.  Fear does control, but teaching is more durable and lasts longer.  People in our society need a license to fish yet anyone can make a baby or adopt an animal with no training and often little thought given as to how to care for them.  Precious lives needing nurturing and love and discipline too but too often discipline becomes cruelty and sometimes people use the Bible to back up this horrific behavior.

After leaving the foster woman's house, I rushed to our vet to have the little guy checked over immediately.  Our vet was wonderful and just as shocked as I was when I told him he was abused while under the foster woman's care.  I found a spot about the size of a quarter under the puppy's fur -- the scraping the vet did proved it to be dumodemic mange -- this can be brought on by stress.  Not very surprising considering the stress he had been under.  We went home with prescriptions but he seemed otherwise okay thankfully.

Our first few days with our new adoptee were difficult.  He wasn't housetrained as I had been told.  He knew no commands except would "situp" when he wanted something -- a strange choice to have taught him when "come" is so much more important and can save a dog's life.  He didn't seem to want to cuddle very much. He would pull away from me.  He did strange things that I have never seen a dog do.  At times I wondered if he couldn't have brain damage.  I prayed for God to help me reach him.  I had to scrape for the money, but I requested a complete blood work up, allergy panel -- yet the puppy's health seemed fine.  After a few months I knew something was wrong.  The aggression was worse.  I was once again told to do "alpha rolls" up to five times a day if necessary -- so I did.  The puppy freaked when I did them.  All my attempts at teaching him and the lavish praise I gave him didn't seem to work.  I felt like we were not connecting as I did with any other dog.  This little guy had tuned me out.  He was on a different wavelength and I wasn't reaching it.  I also noticed he seemed to like my husband better.  Could this be because it was a woman who had kicked him?  My heart bled for him and the trauma he had gone through and yet his abuse was so much less than what other animals have gone through.  He was such a sensitive little dog and came into this woman's home terrified after being abandoned from his first family so he reacted in the only way he knew how -- by biting.  Have you ever known people who act up or act aggressively when scared?  Puppies are routinely taken from their mothers too young -- now they say leave them with the mothers for 8-10 weeks so the mother can continue her training yet few people do this.  I thought about how in the wild a wolf mother gives birth and the family has an area around them they live in.  With our puppy, he began life somewhere, was acquired by someone, then taken to the humane society, then a foster home and then to our home.  Small wonder he was totally stressed by the time we got him and not acting "normal."  How many dogs end up in the pound because we don't realize this important fact?  Being moved that many times a living creature doesn't know where to know that danger is lurking, where food can be found, where it is safe to rest, etc.  Having health issues like worms can also change the personality of a puppy as well so that doing a "personality test" may not always be accurate.  This can cause the puppy or dog to end up back at the pound or otherwise discarded.

I debated about the foster woman -- if I reported her, we would lose a much needed foster home.  The other dogs there were just fine, she fed them quality food, they had freedom to go outside in a fenced yard, they liked her, etc.  She had just never encountered an aggressive dog before.  After much thought, I spoke to the president of our humane society who was defensive and unbelieving.  She said the foster lady "probably meant she shoved him with her foot."  I vehemently disagreed.  My suggestion was to never allow this woman to handle an aggressive dog again.  Also that she had too many dogs at once to care for. I finally convinced the president that I was telling the truth.  I have often wondered too if the woman confessed this to me as a cry for help.  She didn't have to tell me she just basically broke the law and committed cruelty to animals by kicking him.  I later learned abuse in foster care has sadly happened before by sometimes well-meaning people who get overwhelmed and very stressed.  I was told this would be taken care of for sure.

I thought so much about this situation and how the "chips would fall" after I told the humane society about this.  I decided to call Whole Dog Journal, my favorite dog health and training publication, (1-800-829-9165) (Customer Service 1-800-424-7887)  or click: Whole Dog Journal and get a gift subscription for the little guy's abuser. Some may criticize me for this decision and one person told me "you are wasting your money, she will never learn," but remember I did ignorant things where our dogs were concerned too and while not the same situation, I do believe people can change.  I also suggested to the humane society that they do surprise visits to her home if they decided to still keep her as a foster home.  Maybe an aggressive dog was simply too much for her.  I also remembered that she had said that she was "always learning and wanting to learn more" about dogs so I believed there was hope for her.  It was one of the hardest things I have ever done because I don't forgive people who abuse animals.  Being a spiritual person, forgiveness is something I believe in but something I have to work hardest at.  Yet I have been on the receiving end of being repeatedly bitten by a dog after showing endless love and that is certainly not fun either.  Pain can make us feel as though we want to strike back but I believe intelligent people need to ask where is the aggression coming from and why.  I also knew even if the humane society ended their relationship with her she would most likely still have dogs -- if I didn't attempt to educate, what would happen if she got another aggressive dog? This was the only way I could think of to hopefully stop the cycle.  She ended up sending me a thank you card and told me she would make every effort to learn from this gift.  I pray that I reached her.

So here was this pretty puppy with the most beautiful, expressive eyes, and now what do I do?  He was out of control, attacking and biting like there was no tomorrow.  I was getting desperate.  Through a wonderful person and friend (Lisa Marie Tabor, an excellent writer for Animals in Print and very dedicated animal lover), I was connected to a dog behaviorist (Dr. Jill Connor from Boston) who has a PhD.  I spoke to her for a very long time on the phone and she told me to STOP the alpha-rolls.  She said these are mistakenly used in training programs everywhere but in nature in wolf or wild dog packs the subordinate dog rolls over on its own, no one puts it there.  No wonder my little guy was freaking out -- he was terrified and very stressed and here was this giant woman (from his perspective) pinning him down soon after he was just kicked by another giant woman!

She said to change his name so we did -- to Packiee!  She said I have a severely traumatized dog.  I need to do everything different with him so he knows this is a whole new situation --  stop saying "no," for instance.  We decided to use the word "stop" instead.  Changing words with a dog that has been previously owned helps so much because the former owner may have been inconsistent with "no" and so the dog ends up confused.  Do something strange when he misbehaves -- bang on a wall, anything to distract him from the bad behavior.  I was to switch him from a kennel cab to a cage for his private place where he can see out -- this was very important and I noticed he calmed down even more after I did this.  He is the biggest "window dog" we have ever had -- he can't get enough of looking out (I have wondered if he is worried that dog kicker might return to hurt him again).  Dr. Connor also recommended two training tools.  One is clicker training and the other is a video by a Norwegian woman named Turid Rugas (who does an excellent job of observing dog behavior and talks about "calming signals" often misunderstood by us).  I am to this day thankful to Dr. Connor and to Lisa Marie for helping me to help our little Packiee!

When I stopped the alpha rolls Packiee improved dramatically.  I also found the other information and began clicker training.  Housetraining was impossible -- for about 5 months I felt we were getting nowhere.  I decided to try the clicker training and apply it to the housebreaking.  You begin by doing a click and a special treat and repeat until the dog associates the click with something positive (secondary reinforcement).  Then when Packiee would go potty, I would immediately click and treat.  This type of behavior training was used first with dolphins.  Within ONE week Packiee was asking to go outdoors.  One week!!!  I stopped using the clicker after that week for housetraining to see what would happen and he hasn't had an accident since.  It's almost as if a light bulb came on in his little head "Oh, so THAT is what you wanted me to do!"

I later had one appointment with our alternate vet in our vet's practice who told me bluntly that if I didn't "come down hard" on a dog like this, that he will be a problem for them when he comes in.  I was angry and I asked her if she had an abused child would she "come down hard" on one of them?  I totally realize the difference between a living creature being "strong-willed" and therefore needing discipline and one being traumatized.  This dog was traumatized and then abused for his fearful behavior.  How terrible that people can't see the difference.  When we put ourselves in the animal's place and ask how would we feel, it's amazing what can be learned.

Some time ago I spoke to my previous chiropractor, ordinarily an intelligent and reasonable person but also admits to being a far-right wing Christian.  She adamantly believes in "spare the rod and spoil the child."  She told me she had an aggressive dog once too.  After he would bite her, she would beat him with a stick.  She said this worked well despite my alternate, more humane opinion.  When he finally bit her near her eye, she had him put down.  Death due to ignorance I would call that because someone wouldn't take the time to find out why the aggression was occurring.  Everything from allergies to being a puppy mill dog to over-vaccination to misaligned spines causing pain can cause aggression in dogs.  Some of us tend to strike out when we are hurting too -- animals are not really so different than we are.  They differ in that they can't tell us where they are hurting or when they are hurting and it is our responsibility to find out if it could be physical first.  Even vets sadly don't always think to check this out.

It is true that dogs are pack animals and respond to a hierarchy.  In multiple dog families it is best to let them set the levels of order; when we interfere we make things worse.  Packiee gets better every day.  He finally has realized that it is okay to trust people again.  Yet I still see some wariness in him at times.  Maybe a movement I make reminds him of that woman -- he certainly is still overjoyed when my husband comes home!  Our wonderful vet was right -- it took about 8-10 months for him to adjust to us.  He still doesn't like being told to "stop" but after the incident is over I pet him and I am rewarded with dog kisses.  Sometimes he just nuzzles my leg or reaches over and licks me for no reason except affection.

The difference in this story is that I was an animal rights activist.  Not a perfect human by any means, but I try to look at everything through the eyes of the animal as much as I can.  This strong feeling of love forced me to reach out, learn more and not take things for granted.  If I had continued doing "alpha rolls," this dog may have ended up far more aggressive.  With another person caring for him, he may have ended up in a pound or put down for his aggression.  Since I have his original vet records, I know this dog received good care as a puppy.  It took only one week to scar this little dog's life.  Years ago, I once asked a very intelligent, caring vet whether a trauma to a young dog would last their entire life.  The answer was "no, they forget."  He still looks at animals with a well-developed prejudice our society has for them.  Apparently he never heard that in the old days when a horse and buggy would pass something that scared the horse, years later the driver could take the same trail and the horse would shy from the memory.  That fact was known before people discussed animal rights or the movie the Horse Whisperer came out.

Packiee just came over to see what I was up to.  With those expressive, lovely eyes I wonder what he might be thinking.  Maybe something like, "Are you telling them my story, Mom?"  While I am not the greatest photographer, I made a sign and Packiee obliged by donning a cute pose to help get the word out. Animals are special and as we are the stewards of our earth they need our protection and caring. Please never forget that.

Staff: [email protected]

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