i_love_freddie: (Giveadamn)
Trust...

Yes, trust isn't something I find easy to give. In theory, I believe that everyone deserves to be given a chance until they prove themselves to be untrustworthy. But in reality? I just have too much to lose. A few years ago I had several sessions with a psychologist who came to the conclusion that: growing up in a violent and unpredictable environment led to develop core beliefs of the world being unsafe and others being unreliable and either absent or dangerously intrusive and abusive.

Don't get me wrong, there are a few people I can trust. A handful of family members, my intimate partners, a few good friends. But on some level, my anxiety makes me suspicious. Human beings, by nature, are unpredictable. People die. People leave. People have their own issues and problems and addictions – there is not a person in existence who stays the same. No one can give me what I truly need... consistency.

**********

I find myself drawn to animals. Whether soft and fluffy, hard and scaly, big, small... animals are so very simple compared to humans. They have individual personalities and quirks, that is true. But an animal will never get jealous, try to manipulate, act maliciously, or abandon you because they have decided they would rather have that new shiny owner next door. If a dog starts acting out of character, it is not just having a bad day and being spiteful – it is scared or ill or hurt.

I seem to have a talent for attracting damaged dogs. Cory, my beautiful German shepherd, was a tiny ball of fur hiding under the table from the big, terrifying world. I heard many times that there was no hope for this dog – what can you do with a dog so scared that he attacks strangers in the street, goes for other dogs, cowers from fluttering leaves, tree branches swaying in the wind, refuses to walk past balloons, plastic black bin bags, snowmen and endless other objects?

And later on I reluctantly acquired Poppy, a little Yorkshire Terrier who had had multiple homes, who had been abused. When she came to me, she cowered and snapped when I tried to touch her. When I picked her up, her little body was stiff. Dominant by nature, she refused to do anything I asked of her and fought me at every single turn. She bit me, she attacked Cory. Scoldings failed, praise failed, rewards failed. What can you do with a dog who is unwilling to even try to work with you?


This is Cory now:

 photo IMG_0331_filtered_zpscs2qe7jw.jpg


This is my Poppy now:

 photo 2015-09-07 13.13.14_zpsasegzl3y.jpg

Both are unrecognisable now - happy and relaxed and confident dogs. They are happy because they know I will never give up on them. They are relaxed because they know that I am pack leader and that I am ready to deal with any danger. They are confident because I have set boundaries in place and praise and reward for doing the right thing.

Me? I am terrified. I have one dog who is so in tune with my body language and my emotions that I can't fool him for a second, and another who is quick to jump on any sign of weakness or vulnerabilty because she feels that our pack needs a strong leader.

Most days, I don't even trust myself.

But they trust me and that is enough. It has to be.
i_love_freddie: (Freddie)
At the beginning of the year, I had an article about me and my German Shepherd dog Cory published in Dog's Monthly magazine. The article was about how learning to handle a very fearful dog forced me to face my own demons, and it can be read in full on my public blog: http://emmaayres.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/how-a-dog-helped-me-fight-my-demons/

Now voting has opened to find the winner of the HiLife 'Best Friends' Trophy 2014 - and we are eligible! But to be in with a chance, we really need people to vote for us. After everything we have been through; to win this would be utterly amazing.

To vote, just email Kathie.L@abmpublishing.co.uk - putting 'Best Friends' in the subject box - and I vote for Emma Ayres and Cory, February 2014 in the email.

Voting closes 4th December 2014.

I will leave this post unlocked; if anyone wants to share it or link to it then I would be very grateful.
i_love_freddie: (Cory)
There is a lot written about dog aggression. We have all seen the newspaper stories of dogs viciously attacking children or savaging other animals. Then the articles and books written by the experts, giving advice on what causes aggression and how to handle it. The endless statistics. The debates about whether certain breeds of dog are more 'dangerous' than others. Of course the latest theory seems to be to blame the owners; that while some dogs do have inbred aggression, vicious behaviour is mostly a result of bad training.

Both things can technically be true. It is a complex issue with many different factors. But I want to look at it from another angle. As a dog owner, what is like to own a dog who displays aggressive behaviour?

******

Despite intensive research, and a lot of questions, and on-going work with a behaviourist, I still have no real answers as to how or why Cory's problems began. Most people upon meeting us for the first time assume that he is a rescue dog with a history of abuse – yet that is as far from the truth as you can imagine.

His problems could have started near birth – he was one of nine puppies and the runt of the litter, all were removed from their mother early because she rejected them. It could have been something genetic, he was nervous and jumpy right from the beginning. Breed could well be a factor, since German Shepherds are known to be quite wary and nervous by nature. It could be that he was my first dog so I was an inexperienced handler, or maybe he picked up anxiety from me. It is quite likely that several of those factors have a part to play.

Whatever the cause, I do know that it is not due to abuse, or lack of socialisation, or because I have somehow encouraged an aggressive streak. Nor is it because he is a 'nasty' dog. People who know him know that despite his size and some of the behaviour he displays, he is actually a very gentle, intelligent and good-natured dog. He is, however, fear-aggressive – though personally I prefer to use the term fear-reactive. His triggers include strange people and dogs he does not know; the behaviour includes barking, growling, lunging and occassionally snapping. It is worse when he is on the lead, most likely because there is a sense of being trapped. Children in particular are frightening to him due to their general loudness and unpredictability, though he will surprisingly act very calmly around babies.

Of course, it has taken many years to work out what his particular triggers are, how he reacts to those things, and how to handle situations where they are encountered. We have tried most training aids and methods with various degrees of success. He is very well trained in obedience and that allows me some control in potentially difficult situations. He is muzzled in public, which gives me more confidence. We attend training classes and walk a lot, and I try to expose him to as many people and new situations as I can. Vibration and spray collars have been used in an attempt to control the lunging and snapping while he is off-lead. I do my best to ensure that I am calm and relaxed when we are outdoors, so that he doesn't feel that he has to protect me.

At one stage I seriously considered medicating him with a mild sedative, but I decided against it. It would have helped short term but would have solved nothing in the long term.

As it stands he is making progress. Recently we have been working on the command 'Look' – to get him to focus on me and be rewarded with a treat when something scary is near. There is still some unpredictability; he will take treats from most people now and even allow some of them to pet him, but he will bark and snap at other people for no apparent reason. There seems to be no real consistency in who he likes and who he does not.

Because of his nervousness and wary nature, he will never be 100% trustworthy and – as a responsible owner – this is something that I need to deal with for the rest of his life. Given that he is only just six years old, I could be keeping these issues in check for another seven or eight years – a daunting task!

In addition to his own issues and my anxiety, I also have to deal with the reactions of people we meet. Quite a lot of people are understanding and simply curious; they ask about the muzzle, they keep a respectful distance so as not to upset him, and some of them even willing to help with his rehibilation process and feed him some treats. Unfortunately, I also have to deal with some fairly idiotic behaviour too.

The muzzle can cause quite a negative reaction. People cross the street to avoid us, others give us dirty looks – particularly people with small children. I once heard a little girl ask her mother why my dog was wearing a muzzle and the reply was: “Because it's a bad dog.” I really had to bite my tongue, I was so angry.

Then we get the people who just seem to have no understanding of dogs. Sometimes we get people reaching out to touch him without asking permission, which makes him go crazy. Others will happily just walk right up to us, only to freak out when he starts barking at them. Then, of course, there are those who just seem to think that the rules don't apply to them. When I say, “Please ignore/don't touch my dog, he's not good with people,” the correct response is not to say, “Oh, but dogs like me,” and attempt to stroke him – because he will snap. Sometimes I wonder if people like this never developed any common sense. Whatever the reason, it isn't helpful behaviour when I am working to train him.

The third reaction that I hate is people not controlling their dogs. I have seriously lost count of the number of times we have been walking down the street, Cory is on lead and reading nicely to heel, and suddenly a loose dog rushes up to us. Sadly we have twice been attacked by other dogs; once a German Shepherd went for Cory's face and I stepped in between the two of them, the result was that I got bitten, the second time a dog came from nowhere and flew at us, Cory's lip was cut and his nose was grazed. So those situations make us both anxious. Cory panics and tries to bolt, I am holding on to him and trying to regain control, while the other owner is standing there and shouting because their dog won't come back. These encounters make me particularly angry because they always set him back and they are completely avoidable if everyone just kept their dogs on a lead while walking on the streets.

*******

As the owner of a dog with aggression issues, I experience a wide range of emotions from day to day. Sometimes we have a good day; maybe he has performed well in class, allowed a stranger to touch him, ignored a dog in the street. Then I feel proud, happy, confident that we are making progress. Then the very next day he might snap at someone, or lunge at another dog and I will experience an overwhelming sense of despair and wonder what I am doing wrong. It is hard not to blame myself, especially when it seems that the majority of society wants to point the finger of blame at me too. It is frustrating having days when nothing seems to make any sort of difference.

The biggest thing is the sheer amount of responsibility involved. I have to balance his needs with the safety of others, and that involves huge effort on my part. I have to be constantly alert and aware of my surroundings when outside. I have to be careful of where I walk, making sure to avoid children – who may grab at him – and off-lead dogs. It is awkward having people come to the house because of his reaction to strangers. I can't go away and leave him, because he cannot be left in kennels and most people find it too hard to cope with him.

And it is hard. It is difficult to explain in words how having a dog with such severe on-going issues can feel. I deal with the behaviour, the judgements, the limitations it places on my life. I deal with the guilt if something goes wrong, the anger, the frustration. I have days when I have wondered 'Why me?' I wanted a friend and companion, and instead I got landed with what sometimes seems to be an insane, reactive creature.

But I know that underneath is a loving and gentle dog, who would protect me with his life. He does not mean to react the way he does, he just finds the world to be a scary place. Whatever happens in the future, we are a team and I will continue to do whatever is necessary to make life easier and happier for the both of us.
i_love_freddie: (Cory)
Sometimes, when I'm out in public with my dog, I see people give me dirty looks. Usually parents with young children, who seem to think that just because my boy is muzzled, that automatically means that he wants to eat their kids. Or they sigh and shake their heads because he has decided to lunge at another dog, or bark at someone who has come too close to us.

I always get the feeling that we are being watched and judged. Bad dog, aggressive dog, nasty dog. And of course, you know what people say. If a dog is badly behaved, or poorly trained, blame the owner.

18 months ago I got into a heated debate with someone online. The woman in question knows little about dogs, yet she decided - repeated - that I was a bad and irresponsible person because I refuse to give up my dog. Her reasoning? Nervous dogs with potential aggressive tendencies should never be allowed around babies or infants. While I have never denied that she brought up some valid points, which I happily acted upon, what right does she have to label my dog as some sort of monster, and call me irresponsible when she doesn't even know us?

In a way I find it inconceivable that some people can be so arrogant, so judgemental - particularly with things they know nothing about.

Photobucket

This is Cory. He is a male German Shepherd, three and a half years old. I've raised him from a seven week old puppy.

This so-called 'bad', 'uncontrollable', 'aggressive' dog? He is good-natured, gentle, and loving. Cory loves ball games, and is clever enough to pick up new tricks quickly. He instinctively knows when I'm having a panic attack, and understands how to calm me down. He comforts me when I'm upset. He also has fear-aggression issues. Strange people scare him, new dogs scare him, so do most loud noises, sudden movements and new situations. He barks and lunges, not because he is badly trained, not because he is aggressive and wants to hurt people, but because he is terrified and wants the frightening things to go away.

As for me, I'm a part time student surviving on disability allowance. But as well as his food, his pet insurance, and all the other random little things, I pay every week to take him to a basic obedience class and to his agility class. For almost two years we have been attending his obedience class, through rain and deep snow and fierce wind - never missing a session.

I cannot adequately describe how difficult it is to have a dog with such a high level of issues. There are still days when I sit and cry with frustration (including one week in the middle of agility class when he just would not stop barking at everything!). Some days I want to tear my hair out. Sometimes I get angry, or wonder 'Why me - why did I end up with the broken dog?' I wonder if it is maybe somehow my fault, that I made him this way. When things happen - like in the summer when we got attacked by another dog - and his behaviour regresses, I wonder yet again how much I can reasonably cope with.

Those people who look in the street and judge me, they have no idea how hard we have worked to even get him to this stage. How much money and time and effort I have put in. They just see a dog who is behaving badly, and can't be bothered to take a minute to wonder why.

But there are successes too, and sometimes I cannot believe how fair we have come. When I first took him to my instructor, he was so reactive that I couldn't take him out in public. These days, maybe two or three times a week something will set him off. He can behave reasonably well around dogs he knows. He will tentatively let people feed him treats, as long as he has space to move away. We do dog agility now, and we can work as a team. And a very big success recently was him gaining his Canine Good Citizen Award.

I hate people who refuse to train their dogs properly, because there is no excuse for it. But most of all, I hate having myself and my dog lumped into that category.

I've been told by my instructor that Cory is probably never going to be 100% secure. There will always be issues. He will always be muzzled around children, he will probably always need time to get used to new people or dogs. It's likely he will never be a dog that you can just approach in the street.

I don't care. I love him, and I will never give up on him.
i_love_freddie: (Cory)
I took Cory to see the vet yesterday, for his yearly injections and a health check.

I was a bit concerned before the appointment, because he's not very good with new people. He's not actively aggressive or anything, just extremely nervous. Sudden movements and stuff make him react really badly - sometimes he freaks out and tries to run away, sometimes he barks... I don't really know why he's like that. But anyway...

He was actually really well behaved. He wasn't totally sure about the vet, but the guy we saw obviously knew how to handle dogs - quietly, calmly, with no sudden movements and a few treats. We distracted him with something nice, and the injection was over and done with in five seconds. No problems at all. He was also weighed and he is now 26.6kg, which the guy said is fine for a dog of his size.

Last time his weight was recorded - a year ago when he was a puppy - he was 7kg! And the first time he was ever weighed (at about 8 weeks old) he was 5.3kg! So he's grown a huge amount in a year. My baby is growing up!

Health-wise, he is fine. He is very active, has plenty of energy and is eating and drinking well. The vet said he has a beautiful coat, nice white teeth and a lovely smile. That is always nice to hear. :)

So, now it's all over and there doesn't seem to be anything to worry about. The next thing is to have him castrated and that is set for the 15th of July - thanks to my mum and my brother who are paying for it.

And because no post about Cory can be complete without pictures, here is one I got of him chewing a stick that he found in the garden. I really had to fight to get that away from him.

Cory )
i_love_freddie: (Cory)
People are always telling me that I should post more pictures of Cory... so here are a few for you all:

Photos )

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i_love_freddie: (Default)
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