When something goes seriously wrong in the foundation phase

2013-08-22 00:00

LAST weekend, a couple brought a 2½-year-old male bull terrier to me for an assessment on his abnormal aggression. He was fighting with an older male bull terrier, and had bitten the wife’s right thigh. They were deep bite wounds with severe bruising.

Instead of a tail, the dog had a stump with two huge sores on either side. When I asked the husband why the tail had been docked, he replied that the animal had mutilated himself to the point where an amputation was necessary.

During the information-gathering exercise, the dog backed up against a wall and jammed his bottom into it. This allowed him to build up a spring-like energy and then he shot around suddenly to nip at his stump. The sound was similar to a cork popping from a bottle. It was sad to see this repetitive behaviour taking place and it is probably the most severe act of self-mutilation I have witnessed. During the hour assessment, if not spinning, the dog was pacing backwards and forwards, or drinking water. It was also obvious that this was a premature litter departure and he was the alpha male of the litter.

During the meeting, the husband was the only one on the dog’s side, while his wife stood with me on the other side of the safety barrier. She admitted to being scared of her pet since she was bitten. In relating the details of the attack, she described how the terrier had shaken her leg from side to side and stopped only when her husband intervened. What made it even more alarming was the fact that they have a four-year-old daughter.

When I introduced my alpha female to assess the visiting dog’s social skills, he sprang up and down in the air, whining and growling, while almost chewing the restraining leash halfway through in an attempt to get at the other dog. Needless to say, I had my pet removed immediately from the scene.

I told the owner to let go of the leash, whereupon the terrier ran to the separating barrier and slammed into it with his head.

Besides the other older male, there were two females of the same breed on the property which were also fighting. None of the dogs had the necessary social skills required for harmonious coexistence.

I told the couple that due to the poor foundation that had been laid since their dogs were puppies, it would be almost impossible to rectify the situation, especially due to his wife’s traumatised state of mind.

I explained to them that resolving the inter-male and female aggression would require a small miracle, and even though I am extremely powerful in modifying canine behaviour, changing dogs like this one is highly unlikely. If he was rehomed, it would have to be to a one-dog home with somebody who has the necessary strength of temperament and confidence.

Readers of my articles will have noticed how often I warn about choosing certain breeds and then neglecting to prepare adequately for a successful human-animal relationship. The effort required in educating puppies is negligible and it is thus extremely unfair that pets are removed, or euthanased due to severe behavioural disorders. I must stress that the fact that the dog is a bull terrier is not the issue, but rather the impact that people have on the puppy’s psyche at the most critical time of its existence.

• Steve van Staden is a canine behaviour specialist and can be contacted at www.dogtorsteve.co.za Advice is dispensed only in face-to-face meetings with owners and their pets.

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