Good dog gone bad

Cooper is a goofily handsome, 3-year-old Irish Wolfhound mix who does a good sit and generally walks well on a leash. He also attacked his owner’s teenage son, biting him hard enough to require 16 stitches to the boy’s face. So, what happened?

Like so many situations like this, the details are sketchy at best. The owner says the boy gave Cooper a “bear hug” while the dog was sleeping and he woke up and bit. That, to me, indicates a parent who did not teach their child to respect a dog.  As a teenager, though, does the parent need to take the blame? Does the kid need to shoulder the blame, although to some he may be the victim? Is the dog, who may have been the one that bit, but is now a victim in his own right, the problem?

The answer to all these questions is yes. And no.

I met Cooper today to evaluate his behavior with a potential adopter. He is living in a boarding kennel, stuck in a puppy dog purgatory. He is unable to run or burn off his energy in any way other than pacing his ten-foot kennel. Every day he is there, it becomes more difficult for him to shake his problems and be adopted. Also, with a bite history, he comes with a high legal risk for the rescue as well as the potential adopter.

He also has a second problem. He is extremely dog reactive.

He was much better behaved than I had expected. The operator of the kennel said he had not been eating and was pleased to see he had finished today’s breakfast. I introduced myself to him and took him out on a walk. He was very obedient, although he did want to pull occassionally to explore interesting smells.

Once we had gotten to know each other a bit, we carefully walked by the other pens. He looked up at me several times as if for direction. He walked back to an area I thought of the safe zone and he gave a few yawns and shakes. All good signs.

When Helen* arrived, he freaked out. She is a retired woman, probably in her late 50s or early 60s with a dog of similar breeding which is what drew her to Cooper. She was a bit hesitant in her arrival and was wearing great big dark glasses, both of which could have played a part in his unwelcoming reaction. She could not take off the glasses as they were prescription, but we forged ahead. I led Cooper by her a number of times, getting closer. I then introduced her to him. She and I walked the little circuit a few times before I handed her the leash. As soon as I did, his demeanor changed. He knew that someone less confident was at the other end and began pulling and refusing to sit. When she tried to correct him(in a manner that honestly made me cringe), he turned and mouthed her hand. I stopped the exercise immediately.

At that point, I had already decided that this was not the right pairing. Helen was a trouper and even though he was not accepting her, she was willing to meet with me and Cooper to work on handling if he would just get along with her dog. Big-hearted, yes, and also foolish, but in dog rescue the two things often seem to go hand in hand. Since I had seen his reaction with dogs he had been watching from the other side of the fence, I did want to see how he responded to dogs he was unfamiliar with. Helen got her dog and walked into Cooper’s view. We had both dogs on leash and two fences and twenty feet separated them. Her dog was only vaguely interested. Cooper went on the offensive. He began lunging, barking and all but frothing at the mouth. The calming signals I saw from him with the other dogs were gone. He was ready to go at it.

That ended the session. I sent her back to her car, safely out of view, and spent a short time walking with Cooper to allow him to end the experiment on a positive note.

I woul like to see Cooper get started on Behavioral Adjustment Training. I would also like to see himin a more active lifestyle as much of his frustration may simply be pent-up energy. But before either of those things can happen, he has to get out of the kennel. It may be safer for him that an animal shelter, but he doesnt know that. To a dog, locked up is locked up. And the effects of spending weeks or months in a four by ten pen can become almost insurmountable.

If you are interested in Cooper, please contact me through this blog or email at

*Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality.


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