Taming the Anger in This Beast

Working with clients on serious behavior issues can be challenging and, at times, disheartening for us trainers.

Clients often are unable or unwilling to put in the time it takes to modify a dog’s behavior. So it is particularly satisfying when clients are willing to do whatever it takes to resolve an issue. Such is the case with Esther and Jesse and their dog Bella.

Esther and Jesse have had numerous giant, standard and miniature schnauzers over the years. When they adopted Bella, 3, a standard schnauzer, they knew she had not been properly socialized. In fact, she had spent her life in a rural kennel setting, with little interaction with people.

Bella immediately bonded with Esther, in a rather unhealthy way. Frightened and insecure, she guarded Esther and growled at anyone who tried to get near her, including husband Jesse. Esther enrolled Bella in a class for some socialization and manners, and Bella did very well as long as no one paid her any direct attention. But at home, Jesse was the enemy.

Jesse is kind and gentle, and it made little sense that Bella was so frightened of him. When he entered the room, Bella would often growl at him and slink away, or growl, lunge and nip at him when he approached Esther. After nearly two years of this, Jesse had had enough. The final straw was the third bite.

“It was either Bella goes, or Jesse goes,” Esther recalls. Their final attempt at fixing the issue was scheduling a behavioral consultation.

After getting a complete history, we devised a plan. I had Esther withdraw from Bella as much as possible and Jesse became a human slot machine that spewed treats like crazy when he and Bella were in the same space. In the beginning, Jesse didn’t look at Bella or even speak to her; he just tossed cookies at her frequently. He also took over feeding her and was the only one available for affection and interaction; attempts to gain affection from Esther were ignored. Thankfully, Jesse had never resorted to correcting or punishing Bella when she growled or snapped; both he and Esther knew from experience that punishment wouldn’t solve this problem.

After one month, Bella was allowing Jesse to pet and hold her. After a few more months, Bella began sleeping next to Jesse on the bed, freely gave him “kisses” and genuinely enjoyed spending time with him. The growling, nipping and fearfulness faded away.

Now, six months later, Jesse and Esther have a peaceful, loving relationship with Bella. No longer afraid of Jesse, she considers him to be the primary cuddler and the giver of all things “yummy.”

Esther now feeds Bella, and Jesse is no longer required to be the human slot machine, but is always receptive to Bella’s overtures for interaction and affection.

With damaged dogs, extra kindness along with lots of repetition of trust-building exercises can yield great results. Kudos to Esther and Jesse for hanging in there.