I am writing about a pet relinquish.

My family adopted a pit bull after arranging for her to meet us and our and current dog. We gave both dogs a short, neutral introduction period, followed by some concentrated outdoor playtime and felt comfortable with their interaction upon first meeting. We adopted her after an additional meeting with her and my family, and a second introduction to our other dog. Prior to adopting our pit bull, I had done an extensive amount of research on their type and their specific needs. I was prepared, upon adoption, to take the steps necessary to ensure her maximum chance at success in our family environment. I understand implicitly that the drive to fight other dogs is inherent in this general breed, and whether they are assessed as cold and dog-friendly or dog-selective or dog-aggressive, the standard rule of thumb is to never assume your pit bull will not fight. Setting her up for success started by ensuring we were pairing her up with an altered dog of the opposite sex, from another breed, and in another age bracket. She and our other dog met all of these initial criteria. My next step was to introduce the two dogs on neutral territory once we brought her home as opposed to marching her directly into our home upon adoption. I allowed them to get more acquainted outdoors before bringing them both into our home together. Once inside, we introduced her to her crate. It would become her main space for the next month, following the recommendation of one pit bull advocacy group…essentially, we allowed her to absorb the sights, sounds and scents of our house from a position of safety while allowing our other dog (already identified as dog-social) to become accustomed to her. For me, this part of the introduction process was one of the most difficult to enforce, because I want to have our new dog with us, interacting with us, and becoming an immediate part of the family. But I knew it was most crucial in lessening the likelihood of serious dog aggression with pit bulls and adhered to it without deviation. My other mantra was to move as slowly as possible in acquainting the two. For the next month, her life with us was routine and consistent. She was permitted out of her crate to relieve herself and to have a little exercise. For the first two weeks, I hand fed her all meals in her crate. She and our other dog could see and smell one another but they would not have access to one another until the four week time had passed (four weeks was arbitrary -- it was recommended as a minimum). This also gave her time to acquaint herself with my family in the safety of her crate, without scaring her. Her crate was always wherever we were; we moved it from room to room depending on where the family was congregating.  When we adopted her, she was identified as gentle and calm (which she seemed to be); what I feel I was witnessing, however, was an extremely shut down dog. When she was introduced to us, she did not approach us confidently, with her tail high and her eyes bright. She was cautious, crawling toward us on her belly, desiring closeness to the point of sliding onto our laps. It is an endearing, yet heartbreaking situation for most people to experience, myself included. And so, while my brain said, "This dog will require a rebuilding of trust," my heart said, "I can do that for her." i believe shutdown is a common feature of many shelter dogs' rehoming experiences. Our pit bull was the fourth dog I've owned in my adult life. From what i've found, gentle, calm and consistent routine are the keys to helping the real personality of the dog emerge comfortably. In my other dogs, the process has taken about a month. In shutdown mode, we've observed the dog won't necessarily eat at first, they may "velcro" on to me, their provider, and they make themselves smaller in new situations or may refuse to be part of a new situation initially. It seems the longer they've been without a home, the more apprehensive they may be. Her shutdown period was profound. She was deeply afraid of entering our home (in my experience, this has happened with dogs who either have not been permitted inside or dogs who have never known a home). Once she was inside, she was terrified of our stairs. In addition, she needed to be taught to climb up and down the stairs (again, i've experienced this before, and again, because the dog may never have experienced multiple stairs). Usually they pick it up quickly after they overcome their fear of the unknown. She absolutely refused to come up

the stairs on her own. She very reluctantly -- and very slowly -- attempted it with me next to her, regularly, for about two weeks. After two months, she became more proficient with the stairs, if not especially efficient. (For such an agile, athletic dog, she kind of stumbled down the steps each day. It was the only place she ever did that... everywhere else she was very graceful.) The very first thing i experienced with her that gave me pause was that in the few times she was out of her crate in her initial month, she took the opportunity to give a clear, low growled warning to three people who approached her at different times. The first two occurred within her first week with us and the three different people had no similarities in either their person, their circumstance or their approach that allowed me to identify any individual trigger in them that set her into a frightened warning state. The first was my mother-in-law, who had walked into the room where my spouse and I were standing with her. The second was my father, who had walked into the house last after two other people to whom she did not growl at. Now all of the people in our immediate sphere had been instructed to initially walk calmly and confidently past our new pit bull when in our home. They were instructed to talk to her low and quietly, which is what my own immediate family was doing. It kept a consistent level of calm in the house that would not jar her fragile confidence. I attributed the two first growlings, initially, to her uncertainty in the situation (even though she did not growl at any of us when meeting her in the shelter), and considered that she might be even starting to resource guard me, since I was the consistent factor in each incident. The third person she growled at was my young son. I worked training exercises with her twice daily in a mudroom adjacent to our kitchen. I was keeping the main door open so the sun could shine through the glass screen door because she likes the warm, sunny spots. She and I had a 15-minute (approximately) routine that we would work through at each feeding. When she graduated from being hand-fed in her crate, she would be hand-fed with me in this space. She saw my son playing in our backyard through the glass screen door, acknowledged him without initial aggression (no raised hackles, no rumbling growl, no lip curl), and then several minutes later walked over to the door and adopted a challenge stance and started growling and barking at him. He didn't know what she was doing from outside, and when he started walking toward the door, I cautioned him to not come through it and instead enter from our front door. Once he was inside, she was introduced to him with my supervision, and the aggression was gone. i chalked it up to resource (space) guarding. i recognized early that this was something on which I would need to diligently work with her. My informal training method with all of our dogs is the n.i.l.i.f. approach (nothing in life is free). Everything my dogs get comes from me. They are required to wait at the door until all humans go out before they follow, and it must be calm. They eat after our family and are not permitted snacks from the table. When we do treat them, it is after they've performed a task for us (sit, stay, lay down, shake). My family is accustomed to this approach and all are very adept at it, right down to my young daughter. It empowers them in a positive way, allows the dogs to recognize the proper hierarchy of the home and gives them constant interaction with us. In addition to their scheduled training, we enlist n.i.l.i.f. training throughout the day for fun and reinforcement. Our pit bull was introduced to n.i.l.i.f. from day one, and I stepped up my hand-feeding training immensely when I recognized the resource guarding. With us, she learned sit, stay, lay down and stay down, leave it, touch, come and focus. She learned to sit before she left the house and she learned to sit and wait to be welcomed back inside. She's smart and extremely food-motivated and it was her intelligence and motivation for food that led to the next experience I noted with her. After two weeks, I started training her in my mudroom, where I also keep the dogs' food and water bowls. My dogs are fed twice a day, in a mealtime approach; they do not graze. We have one of those reservoir containers that holds the dry kibble and the bowls screw into the top. It has survived 14 years of our previous dog and the last 8 months of our other dog without incident. Our pit bull figured out how to get the food bowl off to reach the kibble inside the reservoir her first day in the mudroom. I had just shut the door to the room, she was still on leash (I kept her on

leash with me when out of her crate in the beginning). She had already upended the bowl and had buried her head in the mother lode of food when I noticed her. I called her in a come command. She looked up at me, didn't move from her position, and growled low and consistent. I noted in the back of my head that the guarding extended to food. (This didn't surprise me. She seemed skinny when we adopted her; the medical records on file from a previous veterinarian listed her as underweight, if I remember correctly.) I understand guarding issues and understand implicitly how the same behavior can extend over many resources, from food to people to designated space to toys to high value treats. But I had also implemented strategies beforehand that would lessen the opportunity to guard, as they were part of my dog-aggression diffusing arsenal. So I moved the food storage so she would never have free access to it again (solving an immediate problem), but also never allowed the dogs to have free access to any high value item without my consent and supervision. The growling incidents and the food guarding with me were noted and my next step was to focus on some of the pit bull-focused online resources I had been utilizing in my research of the breed. They included Bad Rap, Animal Farm, Pit Bull Rescue Central and The Real Pit Bull. I interfaced with the online volunteers at Pit Bull Rescue Central and discussed the two things I noted. Their recommendation was to enlist a local trainer, so I did. I requested individual training sessions, and the trainer came weekly over the course of three weeks with one initial evaluation week beforehand. In addition, I continued in my process of acquainting our pit bull to as many different circumstances as would present themselves. I knew socialization was a key component to increasing her confidence in new situations, so there was a core group of about 7 different people she saw regularly in our home. After she appeared to have evolved out of her resource growling (at people), we had an additional isolated incident, where she growled at one of the people she regularly saw and recognized. This person asked what she should do and I instructed her to walk calmly past our pit bull without making eye contact and go to her desk. She did, very calmly, and without fear. Since the dog was leashed with me indoors, I carefully re-introduced her to this person, and again, upon re-introduction, she sat down and waited to be petted by them. I understand pit bulls to be big personality dogs. I understand their temperament to be sound and their approach to people to be friendly and engaging. Ours was cautious. She was submissive in her approach to people during a good portion of time we had her -- tail down, ears back, crouched as small as she could be. Again, it seems very endearing, and it was heartbreaking for me to observe. But it is not indicative of the breed and is atypical of sound dog behavior in general. I was convinced that with trust building, socialization and lots of positive experience, she would eventually emerge from this shell. And in time to come, little glimpses of her did emerge. We had experiences where she showed us her zoomies, where she'd get excited and run in happy circles. She liked to cuddle (though in doing so, she made sure our other dog was not permitted close to her object of affection as well). She had short periods where she would act like a typical young dog -- exploring the trash, finding a piece of tissue and sailing through the house with it, things I equate with the euphoria of puppies and young dogs. The bursts of happiness and contentedness were fleeting; it was almost as if she was not comfortable in a relaxed dog position. By the end of the first month, she and I were regularly taking three-mile relaxed leash walks in our neighborhood (in the last two weeks with us, she had learned to walk beautifully on leash together with our other dog). We were using her morning meal time to practice her training and she was having regular time outside to do her duty and explore, on leash, but off heel. As we were approaching the end of the first month, I had been lessening her crate time. She was slowly becoming acquainted with our other dog, and I was very proud of her first steps with him. She adopted puppy play stances, to which he enthusiastically responded. She and our other dog would have limited access to each other, and with good experience, it was slowly being increased. By the beginning of the second month, I had weaned her out of full crate time and down to open and available crate daily with only bedtime closed crate time. Her routine was mostly predictable and pleasurable, with morning walks, lesson with breakfast, supervised play with our other dog. This

was when i started instituting my callout --I used the phrase "dogs stop" to call them out of play at random intervals. This was a critical next step for me in ensuring the safety of both dogs, as I knew play could easily escalate. Within weeks, both dogs were able to call out of rambunctious play with just a firm voice command of "dogs stop". I alternated praise with treats in training to ensure the consistency of their response, and both dogs excelled.  And then I introduced her to "down time" with me, that is, time after dinner when I would read, watch some tv, catch up on some work, or whatever. It was often a rest time for the dogs. It was around this time that I observed her taking more of a dominant role with our other dog. I watched it carefully so I could know he was comfortable with his new role in second place, and he was. I observed him defer to her on a more consistent basis when they were together, and I continued to be in the lead of both. She had decided at one point to claim our sofa as her own, in spite of my instruction that it was off limits. (again, not so unusual, and more likely with a smart, bull-headed breed). I refocused her on an ottoman that she could sit or lay upon. Once she lay claim to it, she took full ownership of it. This set up the next experience, again, in resource guarding. She growled twice at me when I approached the ottoman. It was at this point I noted that she was also giving our other dog serious "what for" if he got too close to her space. This behavior appeared to emerge as she became more empowered and confident in her place with us. I understand the propensity of her breed toward tenacity and dog aggressiveness. However, resource guarding needs to be addressed in any pet, and the fact that her guarding tendencies did not halt at the dog, but stepped over and onto her humans, is an aspect of her emerging personality that I did not take lightly. I continued to be in constant communication with various online pit bull advocates to direct me. I continued to report any incident like this to my trainer, so they could teach me how to curtail it. And I continued to be diligent in my monitoring of high value triggers as well as dog time together. The dogs were never left alone together. They were crated separately when we were apart from them and they were crated and rotated on days when unexpected visitors would drop in, since I was not yet entirely confident in our new dog’s ability to cope with strangers. For a good part of her time with us, she and our other dog would settle into a daily routine with me of a little play and a little rest. When we had guests, they were crated, so we didn't incite one to unintentionally redirect on the other in excitement. The kids were only given supervised time with one or the other, because I was taking as much time as i needed in developing her trust of them. By her last week with us, their arrival home from school was starting to elicit a positive tail wag from her, though she was still postured for protecting herself -- her mouth had not yet opened in a manner indicative of trust and her ears were often down. One thing we learned early about her was her desperate fear of certain noises, which caused her to bark uncontrollably. It was a frightened bark, i am certain. Again, i am no stranger to this behavior, and my approach is to calmly talk to them and massage them while the sound is going on, in the hope it can show them they have nothing to fear by the sound. I was able to refocus her away from our morning alarm clock (it took about two weeks before she was comfortable with it; by the end of her time with us, she was unfazed and no longer frantically barking at it). She was also crippled by our hair dryer, our garbage disposal, our washing machine and dryer, our dishwasher and our vacuum cleaner. I enacted the same approach for all, and it took approximately 2-3 weeks before she was able to be in the company of any of these triggers in a calm state of mind. About a week before I gave her up, she attacked my upright vacuum cleaner when i turned it on -- she attached with such ferocity that I was stunned by it. We had worked hard and with measured success at overcoming those fears over the last couple of months, which is why I was comfortable in using the vacuum around her at that point. (The sound fears were ongoing from day one, so we worked them every day. We were also always anticipating and/or discovering new sound triggers). She attacked the vacuum quickly and efficiently. I turned off the vacuum. I gave her the "leave it" command. She did not respond the first time or the second time. The third time she did and I sat her down and calmed her. Then, praising and treating her for calm behavior, I pushed the vacuum back and forth away from her. I continued to reinforce the "leave it" command. She followed it. I then turned it on to its lowest setting, continued to treat her and give her the "leave it"

command while it was moving back and forth on its lowest setting. After a little longer time period, she followed it as well. I felt that was enough for the day and decided against vacuuming around her at that point. Please note that for one month, when she heard a noise, she was safely in crate. She barked, and I soothed and praised her for calm, quiet behavior, but she had no ability to attack from her vantage point..  Several hours later, I went back to vacuum the room and decided she could go into her crate where I could see her and calm her while she saw me doing it, but not so close as to freak her out. This time, for the first time, she lunged from her crate and tried to force her way out of the crate and at the vacuum. I never vacuumed again in her presence.  And this incident was a big note for me. Prior to it, her anxiety was addressed by frightened barking, first in her crate, then later out of her crate, but it never progressed beyond that. By the time I had the vacuum cleaner incident, she seemed as if she had moved past specific sound fears and appeared to show no lasting anxiety around them, which is what gave me the confidence to vacuum in her company at all. It marked an increased awareness for me because while I understand the differences between dog-on-dog aggression versus dog-on-human aggression with pit bulls, a redirect onto a human in a state of fear is still a very real option and her decision to finally attack what frightened her marked a concerning turning point in her behavior. We were still learning her triggers, and the fact that she had graduated to addressing at least one fear with fight instead of flight reminded me of my need for diligence with her. Moving forward a couple of days…she was due for her second round of heartworm preventative. She received it at the end of our morning breakfast/training session, on a full stomach. She and I both came upstairs to the studio, she laid down and then got up and vomited on the floor. It was not yet digested, and she turned around to begin reeating it. I allowed her to do this because I knew the heartworm meds were in that pile. But the moment she started reingesting, she threw up again and began to walk away. I came over to clean it up, and as i started to pass her, she snapped at me. I walked calmly over to her and put her in a sit/stay, which she did. I leashed her and removed her from the room for about 15 minutes. When I reintroduced her to the room, she was meek, even though there was no punishment of any kind beyond her removal from us. She was never struck by any of us, she never endured harsh language in her training with us and our focus was entirely on calm and happy. I know pit bulls to be sensitive even as they can be bullheaded, and really believe that positive reinforcement works, especially with this breed. This startled me. Even though she was able to pull out of it after a calm-down period, I searched unsuccessfully for the cause -- I could only assume she was feeling sick to the stomach, hence the vomiting episode, and may have been off-color at that moment and she clearly recognized the vomit as hers -- again, resource guarding. But it had progressed from a slow, low growl in her initial guarding episodes to an aggressive snap. Keep in mind too that my concentrated efforts focused on her resource guarding seemed to produce continued positive results in training. When put into practice, during critical junctures, her instinct overrode her training. Now two months of even intense training is not that much, and I realize this. My dogs are constantly reinforced, which strengthens their bond with us as well as their power to make the right decisions. She seemed to go in the opposite direction with some of this critical stuff.  She was not at all a raving dog in our company. She seemed to be growing from a shy and frightened dog to a dog willing to take a dominant role between the two dogs, but still primarily submissive and gentle with my family initially. As her confidence continued to build, the frequency of these localized episodes grew, as did their ferocity. I was beginning to get increasingly uncomfortable with the turn she seemed to be taking when in the midst of one of these episodes, but I kept telling myself that she was not yet out of her shell. My trainer noted her personality without any comment from me at first meeting. She asked if our new pit bull was tired or had some reason to be so calm during our training sessions. I told her she was like that pretty consistently but that I sensed she was still very shut down. But we knew she also had endured the trauma of a full-term

pregnancy early in her life -- from her documents, she may have been as young as 6-8 months, and it appears she carried 8 pups and delivered 7 live pups. Her teats were still hanging low when we adopted her, and I believe she could very well have still been in physical recovery mode during her entire time with us. My trainer believed that to be the case. It was at this point that my pit bull contacts recommended my enlisting of a behaviorist. They felt that some of the traits and behaviors I was describing required an adept animal behavior professional, as they were not traits indicative of sound temperament in pit bulls specifically, and in any dog, generally. I have learned again and again with every advocacy group I encountered (and i can almost recite it verbatim) that "a human-aggressive pit bull is atypical of the breed and should be humanely euthanized." I understand why these folks believe this and stand by it -- pit bulls as a breed are not necessarily highly adoptable in the general population to begin with. A stable pit bull with a good owner can be an enormous ambassador of goodwill and better understanding of the breed. A fearful pit bull is an unpredictable pit bull, and can spell the danger that the pit bull community has worked hard to eliminate. And I was troubled that our pit bull was getting dangerously close to a serious occurrence of human aggression, even though it had only presented in little bursts thus far. My spouse, who walked her every night, reported an incident with our pit bull during a walk with her two weeks ago. She has superb leash manners. While the result was a positive experience for us, I don't believe her manners were trained as much as this was an extension of her shut down mode. I am fairly sure of this from watching her body language -- she paid no attention whatsoever to any outside noises when she was finally comfortable enough to do a full walk with me (we took the walk in stages, until she was comfortable, from the end of my driveway to the end of my street to around the block, etc., over the course of weeks). She also did not show any response or knowledge of any other dog either approaching her or in a yard by which we walked. Again, it would seem like a dream come true, especially for anyone who has had a leash reactive dog. But I knew it was because she was in a zone from which she had not yet emerged. Sure enough, as she got more confident, she exuded more posturing as we approached other dogs. This started with subtle body changes; it did not happen all at once. We took proper precautions in light of our knowledge. Not surprisingly, the next on-leash thing we noted was that her sound fear emerged with new outdoor sounds -- light carpentry work, a car speeding up, a horn, etc. We learned the tools to get her past the behavior and were regularly implementing them on our walks (which was easy to do, since we did daily walks with her). So her incident with my spouse started when a neighbor's dog, who is known to be territorial, challenged our pit bull with a bark and stance when my spouse came outside with her. And for the first time, she responded to the challenge with a stance of her own. My spouse quickly assessed it and removed her from the line of the other dog's vision. She responded to my spouse by redirecting her aggression onto two children walking by her on the street. Because we never had her off-leash, even in our own yard, the immediate concern for the children's safety was quickly quelled. My spouse did acknowledge it, though. I had decided to contact my vet to put me in touch with a behaviorist, if they knew one. I had started doing some online research earlier that week. Which brings me up to the eventual fight which ensued between her and my other dog. It doesn't matter who started it. I understand that the pit bull is hardwired to finish it. And ours acted true to her breed. We believe she became agitated when our other dog sniffed at a toy with which she had recently been playing. My spouse and I were actually reaching out to grab the toy to avoid exactly the incident we encountered, but it was lightning quick, as dog fights tend to be. The difference, of course, between a dog fight and a pit bull fight is that when our other dog was called out and responded, our pit bull recognized her advantage and drove home her attack. She did not respond to our practiced callout at all. My spouse could not pry her off of our other dog, who had given up completely and was lying on his side. The only thing my spouse was able to do to minimize the damage was to hold her head in place from shaking back and forth, so she couldn't tear his ear off. Eventually, my

spouse was able force her off of our other dog, at which point we sped into action to separate them behind closed doors while we addressed their wounds. Our pit bull sustained a cut above her eye and a cut between her eyes that we could see immediately. She would not allow us to clean her up. My other dog sustained several punctures in one ear, a laceration under his front leg and a cut on his shoulder, but otherwise, both seemed fine physically. My other dog was terrified our pit bull from that point on. And after all of her progress with us, our pit bull went into a shutdown mode more profound than when we first got her. She refused to walk at all. When my spouse brought her to bed that night, she needed to be carried because she couldn't negotiate the steps, even though she appeared to have no physical damage to her body. I cozied up her nest in her crate for her and she retreated to the furthest corner of it. I sat next to her crate and tried to soothe her with touch and talk through that entire night. In the morning i phoned my vet. I knew after that dog fight that we could not safely keep her. Had we kept her, I don't believe she would have immediately attacked our other dog again, nor do I believe they would have immediately started fighting. I do believe that the barrier had been broken in spite of my attempts to diminish the likelihood. Never trust your pit bull not to fight. They are words I know to be true. She was simply acting out what her breed was hardwired to do. Yet, my world rocked when I realized in spite of the intensive training, her fight instinct overrode everything else, and I had no means of controlling it. I identify our pit bull as dog selective, learning toward dog aggressive. In sitting next to her crate, I reflected on the type of owner she'd need: One with extensive pit bull experience. One who had lots of time and patience to help her through her fear difficulties, preferably in a home with no other dogs and no other pets. Possibly in a home with no children. Always, in the back of my head were the culminated incidents I have described above, any of which might be written off as no big deal. Together they tell a story of an unpredictable dog with very high fear levels. And then my spouse told me about (and showed me) the bite she redirected when he tried to separate them from their fight. A redirected bite can perhaps be classified as not a true show of aggression. I disagree. I understood that pit bulls who showed this capacity to redirect a bite during the height of their early dogfighting days in Europe were systematically culled from the breeding lines. If I understand correctly, pit bulls are the only breed of dog to have human-aggressive individuals so routinely culled from breeding lines, which resulted in a dog who was trustworthy and solid in temperament with people. I am told pit bulls who redirected onto their handlers were identified as "manbiters" or "mankillers" and were shot on-site. So, the next morning, I visited my vet's office. I called them to warn them that my two dogs had a fight the night before, their wounds were not life threatening, but we'd need to address them. I also told them I wished my pit bull to be euthanized. This decision did not come to me lightly, nor was it a kneejerk reaction to the fight of the evening before. The pit bull that was emerging before me did not seem to be exhibiting any of the aggressive inhibitions toward humans that we equate with sound temperament dogs. Because she attacked our other dog with the determination only her breed can muster, and I was unable to quell it alone, I knew I couldn't keep her. Because she had no problem redirecting that aggression onto my spouse, combined with too many isolated incidents with other humans in her world that centered on aggression, I am concerned that perhaps she is not adoptable. I am not dismissing that there may be lots of folks who want to help when a dog needs extra attention. And I don't want to diminish the fact that there may be people who meet her, and upon learning of our experiences with her, want to give her another chance. I do not jump to the conclusion of euthanasia lightly, nor have I ever considered it a solution to a behavioral concern. I feel that her initial demeanor can be misleading.  My veterinarian felt, and correctly so, that she needed to be returned to the shelter for assessment Because she exhibited only her most outward personality -- which is one of overwhelming fear (and even more so that day)

-- I know her appearance was certainly in conflict with what I tried to describe as our experience with her. We did bring her back that same day that the vet recommended. She was still completely shut down when the shelter staff brought her in from my van. I have cried more tears than I knew I had, because while I never wanted this to be the outcome with this little dog who captured my heart, I am concerned that because many of her more overt concerning traits we experienced were slow in emerging, someone could be caught off guard.  I did suggest that euthanasia would be the kindest outcome for her She appeared, to me, to be battling demons early on, and while I desperately wanted to give her all she needed to live comfortably with us, there was an unpredictability in her demeanor leading me to believe that while she might be fine in some circumstances, her fears are too unknown, at least to me, to accurately predict all of her triggers. And too many times, she turned to fight instead of flight in the face of her triggers.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful