The Ottawa Valley Dog Whisperer
learn, grow, create balance
ON THIS PAGE:
- LEARN ABOUT THE ORIGIN AND
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE BOXER;
- LEARN ABOUT HIGH INTENSITY - RED ZONE DOG
BEHAVIOUR PROBLEMS, ESSENTIAL DOG TRAINING
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
LEARN, GROW, CREATE BALANCE
MY DOG PACK BIOS
MEET ROBBIE...ROBBIE WAS A RED ZONE DOG
On a scale of 1 to 10, he was a 12...people aggressive, dog aggressive, insecure......
ORIGIN OF THE BOXER
The Boxers ancestry can be followed back in time to the Molossus. These were Mastiff type dogs which the ancient Cimbrians took into battle against the Romans. Specifically, the Boxer was developed (in Germany) by breeding the Bullenbeiszer (a Molossus type dog) with the Bulldog.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE BOXER
The Boxer is an exuberant dog with boundless energy. It has been my experience that pound for pound the body weight of a Boxer (compared with another dog such as a German shepherd) is comprised of a greater quantity/quality of dense muscle mass. Their energy combined with their agility and muscle makes for a dog of powerful physic. When other dogs have expended enough energy to relax the Boxer is still ready to go. As a Boxer ages their energy level retains intensity far beyond the level of most other breeds of dog. In there natural state they are happy, affectionate dogs. Boxers are very intelligent, sensitive, and love children. They can however be stubborn at times and in keeping with their heritage they may enjoy a fight.
Boxers can be a real handful. Providing the right amount and type of exercise, structure, direction and correction in bringing-up and maintaining a Boxer is extremely important. The Boxer is a breed that really benefits from a guardian who possesses calm assertive energy. To bring out the best in a Boxer its guardian must teach with firm but calm and thorough direction.
To really understand how the formative period of Robbie's young life had serious impacts on his psychological state it is important to understand the breed. It also helps to understand how humans brought out the worst in him during one of the most formative times in a dog’s development.
Robbie joined my pack when he was about 8 mounths old. Dear Robbie, oh my where to start...I could write a book about you and me and what we have been through together, but this is not the time or place, I will try to keep this as short as I can.
Of all the canines I've had the privilege to work with Robbie was the most messed up of all. I feel it is very important to tell Robbies' story as it provides great insight into how a beautiful dog influenced in the wrong why by humanity can turn into an aggressive, dangerous animal that most people would condemn as unredeemable and best euthanized, yet with hard work, some humility, trust, patience and love (a partnership between human and canine) the dog can return to being the beautiful soul it was born to be.
In order to understand how this could happen you need to know what he was exposed to from early to late puppy hood and something of the breed first (see the section 'A little about the Breed" in the left hand column of this page).
Robbie was surrendered directly to me to either keep or put up for adoption. Upon initial introduction my assessment was immediate - this guy was definitely not adoptable in his current condition.
I knew right then and there that I would do everything in my power to help him and my intuition/heart told me that I would also keep him as a permanent pack member.
No rescue group (including 'no kill' SPCAs) in this area could possibly take him in his condition unless it was to permanently house him for the rest of his life in a kennel. The SPCAs that were not 'no kill' would take one look at him and euthanize him. Issues with his physical state were very minor in nature - it was his psychological state that was the problem.
Robbie was berserk - to say he was wild does not describe the nuances of his state. He was like a bomb constantly going off in all directions at once.
The explosives fuelling this bomb were pent up physical and emotional energy; frustration, intense and constant anxiety, resulting in intense insecurity and fear that was masked and symptomized by extreme aggression. There were no rules, no lines that could not be crossed, no respect and very little trust - no balance. Almost everything Robbie had learned in his early life would have to be addressed and replaced with a completely new set of associations and life skills.
When I agreed to take Robbie all I was told at the time was that the people who had him were not able to handle his energy level and I knew he had been in three homes. I did not find out until many months later more about what he had been through and even then the information came in by drips and drabs, in the end I had to piece together his past from information provided and information I had discerned. Had I possessed the greater part of the information up front it would not have changed how I felt about Robbie and the relationship I was determined to have with and for him but it would have helped to make the road to assessing the depth of his issues a much simpler less intense process.
Robbie was welcomed into my pack when he was about eight months old. His first months on this world had not been good in fact this formative time in his life had been very detrimental to his health and well-being...Robbie had been abused by the people who had first acquired him and his needs had badly been neglected. By the time he was eight months old he had already lived in three homes, my home was to be his fifth. This time was to be different as it would be his safe, loving, forever home.
The people that had abused him and failed to meet his needs had not premeditated or intended the abuse, they were quite simply selfish and caught up in themselves. At the time they were not treating themselves much better. The difference is that for the most part, as humans we have the ability to make choices for ourselves. Our dogs are not so lucky as we usually make the choices for them.
Robbie had been 'purchased' at eight weeks old by a couple of twenty year-olds. I think that their intentions for wanting a puppy were well meaning although not properly thought out as I don't believe that they really understood the responsibility that they were taking on. I also don't think they understood the breed. They named the puppy 'Rocky'.
Names matter - names are one of the ways we subconsciously and consciously make assumptions about a person’s nature.
It is one of the reasons why public personalities change their names. When you are introduced to a dog named Rocky it is (in our culture) a natural association to envision a dog who is tough, strong and dominating. How we perceive someone affects who they are and who they may become.
To me the name 'Rocky' epitomizes one of the essential elements that they were looking for in a dog. They wished to own a dog that would help enhance their image of themselves and to the outside world. The problem was how they envisioned the enhancement - a tough, big dog, a status symbol of domination and power.
Soon after purchasing Rocky the couple broke up and the male twenty year-old moved-in with his cousin...this is were it all really started to go seriously wrong. Both boys had issues of there own that they were not dealing with...these young adults were heavily into drugs with the main focus on cocaine. At this time in their lives not much else mattered.
One in particular had very violent tendencies. Rocky was hurled against walls anytime he angered the fellow. I can tell from his triggers that this occurred when Robbie was excited.
Puppies bark and have loads of energy, they nip and always want to play, they require house training, the need exercise and structure, direction and correction - when Rocky expressed his needs he was cruelly shut down.
Eventually the two boy's parents caught on to their indulgence in drugs. The parents had seen signs of the dog's abuse at an earlier time but for whatever reasons no one did anything about it. The parents took action to get the boys treated for their drug related dependencies and at that time recognized that the boys could not do what was required to look after their drug rehabilitation and the dog as well. One of the parents decided to take the dog, he was after all still a puppy and very cute. This would be Rocky's second, but temporary home.
At this point the damage had already been done and Rocky was not a happy, normal dog - the abuse was now out of his life but the impacts of the abuse were ingrained. Rocky was still a puppy but he was strong and agile. It would take some one who really knew what they were doing to start the process of healing. In the meantime his experiences in his first home had taught him to beware of any one who had weak energy.
The parent that had decided to takeRobbie home with her with the intention of keeping him at least until she could find somewere else for him to go, already had three small dogs and understood the possible burden a fourth and much larger dog could be.
This was Rocky's third home. One of the three little dogs in particular already had accute anxiety issues resulting from insecurity and exemplified by bouts of excited barking and extreme avoidence of anything she was not comfortable with. This made the little dog very weak in Robbie's eyes. The fact that at that time, the dog's guardian could not resolve the dog's issues also made Robbie regard her as another weak member of the pack.
Rocky bullied and dominated the dogs, in particular the little dog with well developed issues - the parent had no idea how to adress this behaviour so it just continued and Rocky's psychological power over human's and dogs was initiated. Robbie used his front legs to 'box' the other dogs, he also used his powerful front legs to wrap around and pin down the other dogs.
The dogs got walks but not every day...Rocky's long held store of energy continued to build-up.
The parent did enjoy when Rocky showed glimmers of his other self - there was it seemed a sweet, affectionate fellow buried deep inside. These limmers surfaced on occassion, but life was made more complicated and often unpleasent by Rocky's presense.
When the other parents let her know that they would like to have him it seemed a great solution for all involved - so Rocky moved to his fourth home.
Rocky's new guardians were both busy with the normal pressures of every day life, their careers and family. They had a small dog. They didn't have time to walk Rocky and the little dog on a daily basis - this was not critical for the little guy but for Rocky it was disastrous. With no opportunity for the high energy exercise he required and no regular exercise at all, Rocky's store of unspent energy not only remained; but was added to on a daily basis. Although this couple intended well they had no experience in dealing with a very energetic, powerful out of control canine. As a result Rocky developed more negative behaviours.
A dog that lives without structure and guidance will make his own rules and will use what power he does have to survive as best he can. As his bad behaviour continued to be enabled by the humans in his life, Rocky's power grew. The woman was the weaker of the two humans in ability to have any controlling impact on Rocky so she felt the impacts of his power more than the man. He would jump on the woman as she went down the stairs causing her to fall and injure herself on multiple occasions. He would grab at her, use his legs to wrap and lock around her and mercilessly bite her hands until they bled.
I never found out in any detail how he was with their little dog but the little I do know about there relationship was not good. These well meaning people were at their wits end, Rocky had to go. All three parents cared about Rocky within the limitations of their capabilities and did not want him to go to just any one. That is when the first parent to take Rocky contacted me and asked if I would take him, either to keep or put up for adoption.
On a day in early February Rocky arrived at my home - what was to be his fifth home. He was dropped off by the parents of his fourth home. The woman was visibly traumatized by her last fall down the stairs and also by her decision to give Rocky up. It was however the best decision they could have made for both themselves and Rocky. It was evident from the minute that they got out of their vehicle with the dog that they could not control Rocky. They passed his leash to me and I started his rehabilitation right away as I had to let him know from the start that he was not to be my alpha, I was to be his. He was wild, settling him down would be no small task.
They left and I began my journey and the building of a partnership with this eight month old Boxer.
The first thing I did within minutes of their departure was change his name to Robby. This was very important for both of us - as I mentioned earlier I believe a name can really adversely affect its owner. I wanted him to have a name that allowed him to be a better (non-human) person; it was time for Robbie to have a fresh start. I never used his original name and never thought of that name in relation to him. He responded to his new name immediately.
When I felt he was ready I had him meet the pack starting out with Jordie and then the other dogs one at a time.
The initial introductions went fine. When I was ready to invite Robbie into the house I wanted him to go explore first with his sense of smell - he proceeded to check things out with the other pack members in tow.
I introduced him in a proper manner to the cats and bunnies as he had never been up close to either species before (the initial meeting with the bunnies was nose to bunny play pens). Later that day I allowed him to meet the bunnies as they hopped around but that was done in a controlled manner to teach him to respect them. The need to respect the bunnies and cats would need to be reinforced more times before Robbie would be trusted unsupervised around them.
Physically Robbie was an extremely attractive eight month old Boxer; he was quite tall with lovely markings. He was on the thin side for sure - with his ribs protruding and his waist out of proportion to what it should have been for his stature (looking down at him his waist was only three inches wide). The depth of his chest was normal. As the couple had taken Robbie to the veterinarian for a check up before his arrival at my home I had no reason to think anything serious was amiss. Over the ensuing weeks he ate well and should have put on more weight than he did - I soon discovered the reason why - he was infested with round worms. I treated him (and had to do the rest of the pack as well as it was possible for them to be infested by Robbie's infestation). Once that was done he started to fill out nicely.
At first, I knew almost nothing of Robbie's background and what he had been through...as that first day progressed Robbie began to exercise his version of social skills- displaying his expert boxing, leg locking, bullying the whole nine yards. I got a first hand look at his high energy level and lack of manners, not a pretty picture. He was one aggressive dominating fellow. I was soon to find out just how aggressive and dominating.
You can't expect a dog with excessive stores of energy to be able to focus on directions or corrections. One of the first steps in his rehabilitation was to help him expend all of his pent up energy as well as his daily store of energy in a structured safe manner. Robbie needed to know that he would have a reliable daily schedule of structured walks, time to eat and time to rest and play. I would also need to gain his respect as a pack leader - he had very little respect for any human.
On the first walk he quickly revealed what his version of a walk was...pull, be out front, weave from side to side, bob and swivel his head around with an intensity that was disturbing. He was going to have to learn how to walk properly. He walked like a terrorist expecting to be attacked at any moment and at the same time looking for something he could attack. Off leash runs to expend additional energy were not an option at this time as you will see when you read below - Robbie associated being off leash with being wild and aggressive - I needed to change how he associated 'freedom' but it would have to wait until we had a bond and he trusted me. For now, I would need to get him use to using a treadmill to burn off what ever energy remained after his several daily walks.
On one of the first walks with the pack Robbie saw a squirrel and he went ballistic - red zone in seconds flat. On a scale of 1 to 10 he was at level 15. A red zone dog is a dog that goes suddenly into rage mode and is completely and totally focused on their prey (be it dog, human, other animal or inanimate object) and the need capture, attack and in extreme cases of rage, kill.
The triggers for this behaviour can vary depending on the individual. When in this state the dog does not hear or see anything but its intended victim and is completely focused on the need to attack. As he was on a leash and could not reach the squirrel he turned on the other dogs for a full out attack (they were all also on leash). In a second flat he locked on Stevie the Sheltie, grabbing and holding him (Robbie wrapped his front legs around Stevie locked on to his neck). I pulled Robbie straight up by his collar and got him off; before I could get him on the ground he locked his legs around me and leaped up for my neck. I had to shut him down very quickly using my state of mind and the right kind of manouver with his leash. I then had to get him down on the ground on his side - fuelled by his rage Robbie had strength in excess of his normal quota.
ALthough I did not know at that time, Robbie had been mercilessly bullied and abused by humans. His experience with humans had taught him to make up his own rules and he had learned from them to be a bully.
If I had not stayed calm and cleared my mind of any and all emotion, if I had not had the mental and physical strength to intervene the outcome would have been very bad indeed.
If I had been angry I would have further intensified his aggression, if I had been fearful I would in his eyes become very weak and strengthened his resolve to make me his prey. I got every one settled down and we continued without nother incident. I now knew a little more about Robbie's issues.
Over the next few days I observed more unsettling behaviour…
For sleeping arrangements I had Robbie bed down with Sarah in a huge crate in my room. My bedroom is large and can accommodate plenty of dog beds for the entire pack and a large 4' x 5' crate. When Robbie woke up in the morning he was not in a peaceful state. Robbie woke up wanting to 'play with Sarah immediately. The 'play' was verbally and physically intense to the point of aggression.
Although Robbie went out side more than enough times to relieve himself, he would do what I call 'long walking pees' in the house. This normally occured when someone was present in the same room as he was. He would look at you and begin to pee while he walked. The result was a ten or twelve foot long pee.
When my dogs run together they respect each others space - they do not ram into each other as they pass one another. When Robbie ran past another dog he would bump into it at full speed - no respect. He would do the same to me. I saw him box and use his legs to lock onto other dogs in his version of 'play'. His leg lock technique was very advanced to the point of perfection. A desirable trait in a wild animal that had to hunt to survive - but very undesirable in a domesticated companion animal.
Once again, he attacked Stevie the Sheltie and I had to use the same technique as during the squirrel incident to remove Robbie. He was targeting members of the pack who he felt were weak (in a state other than completely calm and balanced). In Robbie's current state of being, any one who he felt was weaker than he, was in danger. Stevie (a puppy mill dog) is an exuberant guy who if left unchecked will have tendencies on the excited side of the behavioural wheel. In a situation of pack-excitement, I usually focus on correcting (depending on the circumstance) Sarah, Stevie and or Zoey first. Robbie immediately escalated to aggression if someone came up the driveway, walked by the house or approached the door. I did not now at the time, but I did find out later that Robbie's abuse was inflicted on him when he was excited. As a result of his abuse, Robbie associated any excitement exhibited by others with weakness and danger.
Robbie associated being off leash with being in a very primal state. I was going to have to pull back on off-leash activities until he learned some limits and gained a strong sense of trust in me as a pack leader. I would need to teach him to focus and concentrate - in his current state he was only capable of fixating. I was going to have to desensitize him to small prey animals. I was going to have to change the way he thought about pretty much everything. He would need to be taught alternative ways to behave so he could be a normal, domesticated dog. I would have to expose him to everything he feared and make him face his fears. I would have to expose him to as many new things as I could find. He was afraid of strangers especially men - I would have to take him with me on as many errands as I could manage.
I had to take all toys away from him. He associated toys with prey and power - he possessed the toy, he killed the toy (a toy could be a ball, stick, sqeaky toy, stuffed toy, rawhide). Once in his posession he became aggressive, would not give the toy up and would go to attack if any one tried to take it. He would not play fetch with a toy you threw for him - he would simply take it and go. If another dog walked by him and his toy he became aggressive. Toys would not be permitted until I had a dog who could focus. I got him onto the treadmill and quickly found out that I had a dog who if directed properly had a wonderful ability to concentrate.
I now had a pretty good idea that I had only been told a small fraction of his story and that there had to be something seriously wrong in his past. He was a very sensitive, intelligent, horribly insecure dog. His aggression was a symptom of his intense insecurity.
Because he had so many symptoms that made him dangerous to others, his day would have to start off with a walk - just me and Robbie - to work on all of the issues around the walk and to drain some of his energy prior to being with the pack. I also needed the chance to expose him to situations on his own, without the pack present. He would need two solo walks a day just with me and one or two pack walks under very controlled circumstances.
The solo walks would start on the road and then go to the trail. When he encountered something he feared (for example a road crew, hydro crew, a plastic bag blowing in the wind), he would go into flight mode, when I would not allow flight he would turn to fight, wrapping his legs around mine and lunging up at me.
He would shut down and lock-up. If we encountered a dog charging down a driveway towards the road, Robby would go red zone. If I went to correct another pack member in front of Robbie - he would go to attack them or me.
I had to get a soft open work leather muzzle for him - it gave me the ability to safely take him through the flight, fight portions of confronting the situations he feared. I respectfully and firmly broke the physical lock down, had him approach the thing he feared and encouraged him to use his sense of smell and sight to investigate. He left each and every situation calm and comfortable, thus changing his association of the item. As he became a more confident, happy guy he no longer did 'walking pees' in the house - in fact Robbie is one of the pack members who can do without going pee for a ridiculously long stretch of time.
As Robbie's confidence in himself and trust in me increased he started to show his real personality and his real feelings. When confronted with some of the situations that used to trigger his aggression, he would show what he really felt - if he was unsure or frightened he would pull back and tremble, but allow me to bring him up to the object or person he was unsure of. I would encourage him to sniff, look and relax. Robbie became increasingly affectionate and calm.
When Robbie wakes up in the morning with Sarah they are both calm and quite. When I open up the door to their sleeping quarters Sarah gets up and stretches and Robbie rolls on his back and waits for me to rub his tummy and the underside of his neck before he gets up - the first thing we do together is share calm affection.
He had reached the point were I could take him back on to my trails and work with him to change has aggressive association with off leash activities - I used calm touch to share affection to start the off leash portion of the session and then let him run and recall. He learned to associate off leash with calm, relaxing fun. We still do this together everyday as it is a very special time for the two of us to share and bond. Jordie also goes with him for off leash time. Jordie helped me teach Robbie how to play without aggression. The dog who used to be a terror on pack walks was now the best 'walker'. He not only 'permitted' me to correct other dogs in his presence but often chose to support me by turning away from the dog to assist me in calming the situation. In the beginning I had to separate him from the pack at a certain time of day (prior to the second walk) as his energy level and anxiety re spiked. Now there are many times when I have to go up to him and coax him up from his cozy spot on the couch to go out for a walk.
Robbie is my beautiful dark angel.
I think we went to bed too late last night...I have time for a few more zzzz's...mom's not ready to take me out yet and I think it is going to be a long day.
Here comes mom...
I'd better get the sleep out of my eyes.
I'm ready for my tummy rub...
I get a tummy rub from Mom before I walk out of my crate in the morning, sometimes after my tummy rub I just want to go back to sleep but Mom says its time to get up and go for the first walk of the day.
Here I am with mom and the pack heading out for our morning walk on the road...
Heading out again
We finished the road walk so I get to
go for my run on the trails with Mom I'm just waiting for her to give me the ok to go!
Woo-hoo, lets go!
Mom said I could...
There's a good stick in here somewhere...
Not bad, a little dry though, apple wood would have been better.
Mom's about to ask me to play with her...
Now it's time to play with Jordie...
Gee, I think I'm a little tired...
Seriously Mom, can we quit now?
Almost recovered Mom, I'll be able to head for home with you in a minute.
I'm Getting Sleepy...
Had my morning walk, had my morning run, had my breakfast.
Snuffles is out.
Snuffles is one of my nicknames as I sometimes snort and snuffle like a pig when I am sniffing stuff and I do like to snore.
It's too nice out to stay inside...
Mom's got to do some yard work so we get to relax outside. By the way this is my royal, proud look.
Mom thinks I am beautiful.
Did I mention I like to relax?
Yep, I arranged these pillows...
Pillow arrangement is one of my specialties, I learned by watching Tasha and Stevie arrange pillows.
Nap time - Mom hasn't finished making our salads yet.
Just waiting for Mom to give the go ahead to eat.
Do not disturb, contortionist at work (sleep).
Why does mom call me Mushy Muzzle?
Geez, I worked hard today...now its time to relax...I'm sharing the couch with Mom, Carmen, and Tibby. Mom actually gets to sit down and relax, watch TV, eat dinner...its 10:00 pm.
Yah, thanks a lot mom...
There goes my tough guy image; should I mention one of my other nicknames is Snuggles...yep, bad idea my reps completely destroyed now!
Time to head home for dinner.
Red Zone = aggressive-reactive, over threshold