I left off Part I of this series with the question, had we found the jackpot family for Jameson? Let me introduce you to Nancy, Guillermo, and Zack. Nancy, an avid runner was thrilled with the idea of a running partner and we were equally thrilled that Jameson would be fulfilled in such a wonderful way. Guillermo was ready to bring a dog into their family life and wanted to make sure that whoever they brought in was the right fit. Zack, their son, was thrilled to be getting his first dog and is such an amazing kid that I wanted to make sure their relationship would be everything he was looking for. We began “the adoption process.”
When considering placing a dog I discuss with the family how they envision their life with the dog, where do they want to take it, what do they want their downtime to look like, what kind of physical activity will be provided, and how much “dog” can they handle. I schedule out multiple meetings based on the lifestyle they want to create with their dog and treat each one as a full on training consultation, showing the potential new owners how to address any negative behaviors and teach the dog what they’d like the dog to do instead. Since Nancy was looking for a running partner and Jameson has medium-high energy draining requirements we started with the walk. We scheduled out 3 walks and planned to go for a run last (let’s be honest, I was going to stand in one spot and watch Nancy run).
On our first walk we encountered a brave cat that sent Jameson into a tailspin – he was climbing up my
body, hyper focused, and definitely wanting to eliminate the competition on the block. We addressed how to handle this outburst and had many chances to practice as this cat really enjoyed getting a reaction out of Jameson. I asked if this cat is around often or if this was just a one-time visit, they explained he lived next door and I asked, “Are you prepared to address this behavior every time you walk out the door until you don’t need to anymore?” It was definitely something to think about. The next walk we encountered calm dogs, barking dogs, and one that almost jumped a fence. This gave us a chance to see a variety of reactions from both the human and the dog, a chance to go over how our human reactions can empower an already reactive dog and cause the behavior to escalate. We discussed how to control our own reactions so we can teach the dog and help him understand what is and is not a threat. We began to see more and more things that Jameson needed to learn and I explained that this is why we would take our time, so they would be well informed on his behavior, what he needed help understanding, and how to teach it. On the last day, we went for a run – I watched Jameson, with legs that were nearly as long as a humans, transform into a gazelle in front of my very eyes. Nancy came back exhausted from her Jameson wrangling experience, handed me the leash and Jameson immediately saw a dog and became so excited he broke his head halti (thank god for the safety clip that attaches to a secondary collar) and we had to take a few minutes to recover.
As we walked back to their home, I could see Nancy was disappointed – not disappointed that Jameson wasn’t “a better dog” but disappointed that although she enjoyed everything that is wonderful about Jameson, there were glaring red flags that could not be ignored. We hadn’t even started talking about how to teach him to behave in the house yet and we were struggling. We put Jameson in the car and talked. Throughout this entire process I reiterated that if Jameson wasn’t the right dog, we would find the right dog, and that they could explore different options at any time. I had known that Jameson was going to need work, but I had never seen his behavior so intense before. This lovely family was worried they had wasted my time by practicing with Jameson. At no point was any of our meetings a waste of time – we learned a lot about Jameson and it gave them a chance to re-evaluate what they were looking for in their new dog. I see that as saving time in the long run, honestly. We save ourselves the struggle of trying to keep a dog that doesn’t work in our lifestyle. They had learned a lot about dogs and physical technique working with Jameson, and those are the same principles and physical techniques we’d use on a dog with less intense issues. We save the dog from being returned “through no fault of his own,” and we have an opportunity to provide a different dog a chance at a wonderful forever home. We weren’t going to leave this amazing family without the dog they longed for, we were just changing the direction of our sails. I asked Nancy if we could explore another option and we scheduled a meeting for the following week.
I had a dog at home that had been surrendered to me by a close family friend. His name was Vince and he was a perfectly dog friendly, sweet as pie, handsome couch potato. I walked in the front door with this giant teddy bear and saw a HUGE smile on Guillermo’s face, which I’ll be honest, I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever see a smile from him throughout this process. He is the nicest man you’ll ever meet but I knew he was a bit skeptical about this dog business. I brought Vince in and he melted for them it was a full on belly rub, kisses on the face, get down on the floor with the dog lovefest. We went for a walk and everyone was smiling, laughing, and enjoying this goofball’s wonderful personality. At the end of the meeting we had a long talk about the differences between Vince and Jameson. They could have a running partner with a lot of behavior issues or a dog who is better suited for a short walk around the block with no issues at all. Of course, they asked what would happen to Jameson and I explained that if they adopted Vince that a spot would open up at my house so Jameson could get a complete and thorough rehabilitation. That settled it, although they were sad that the handsome Jameson wasn’t going to get his forever home that day, they were so happy to have found Vince. We began the process again. We would meet for walks a few times a week. The next step was having Vince stay with them for two nights and come back to my house. I dropped him off for another weekend visit with plans to pick him up a few days later. As we touched base to plan his return to my home, Nancy asked, “Can he stay a few more nights?” I said sure, then we decided it was best for him to stay there permanently. We use this time to teach the dog how to behave in the neighborhood, the backyard, the inside of the house, what to do when we are watching movies, cooking dinner and more. We focus on creating the lifestyle we want instead of allowing old behavior to exist in the new environment. They asked hundreds of questions during this time which I must reiterate – is never an inconvenience to me. The whole reason I offered them a dog that I honestly had intended to keep was because I always said I’d only give Vince to someone who could give him a better home than I could and this was the family that could do that. A first family dog should be fun and an enthusiastic, positive family did not deserve to be put in a situation with a dog that was still practicing the extreme behavior that Jameson was displaying.
Nancy, Guillermo, and Zack are truly part of the Standing Proud Pit Bull Rescue family – we are so grateful to have them in our lives. They have given one of my favorite dogs I’ve ever known a wonderful home life. He is a part of their family. What is great about this process is we get to know the adopters so well and they learn that they don’t need to be afraid to ask for help, they can call me anytime and with any question and I’ll make the time to talk on the phone or stop by their house just to make sure they have everything they need to stay successful and avoid any small issues from becoming big issues.
With Vince’s new beginning came a new name. This is Tucker and his amazing family. They come to our
events, support the rescue and they always tell people how much time we took to find them their perfect dog. I get updates frequently about how much they love him and his funny personality. Once, they were starting to have issues with him peeing in his crate and after stopping by to help and running out of strategies – I was able to bring in my mentor, Linn Boyke, founder of School of Dog Psychology, and we all learned something new. *This is also why it’s so important to me to have a mentor I trust that takes time to help me become a better behaviorist.
I love the way Linn taught me to do adoptions, I feel like a dog and human matchmaker. Fostering and rehabilitating means we know every detail about this dog and we’ve developed a strategy to resolve the negative behaviors. As Linn says, “If you were taking a final exam and the teacher put every answer to the test on the board and the teacher said, “ You will not be cheating if you use the answers on the board,” doesn’t it make sense to look at the board?” It’s my job as a foster/rehabilitator to educate the humans on how to maintain what is created in my environment. It would be a waste of the months of hard work to adopt the dog out and let the new family learn all about this on their own and be forced to go out and hire help or worse, stay in denial until something really bad happens. It’s absolutely insane to me that people think this level of education can be completed in a one time training session at the time of the adoption. If we had made our decision off the initial successful meeting we would have put this family in a position to spend a lot of money working with trainers, some with methods I know would have never worked for this dog; knowing how lovely they are, they would spend months and years dealing with negative behavior that had bad consequences; eventually Jameson may have come back to us anyways – the same cycle that had happened the first time he was adopted. We avoid that entire cycle and sickness by slowing down and making sure that 1) people are adopting dogs that are appropriate for their lifestyle, 2) making sure people know everything about the dog, and 3) doing everything we can to make sure no one gets returned.
But what about Jameson? Where would we go from here? How could I possibly take this poorly behaved, reactive, gazelle beast and help him become adoptable again?
Aileen Cronin is a dog behaviorist located in Mesa, Arizona known for her work with not only rehabilitating family pets but also for rehabilitating and placing difficult dogs in forever homes. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a consultation or for rehabilitation.