MODESTO — Working with clients on serious behavior issues can be quite challenging and, at times, disheartening.
Clients often are unable or unwilling to put in the time it takes to modify a dog's behavior. So it is particularly satisfying to have clients who 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 are schnauzer fans, and they 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 one of our classes 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. Bella made it clear that Jesse's presence was upsetting, and the stress level in the house continued to rise.
Jesse is a 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 Jesse had become genuinely afraid of Bella.
"It was either Bella goes, or Jesse goes," Esther recalls. Their final attempt at fixing this 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, avoiding any interaction, 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; any 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 lots of experience that punishment wouldn't solve this problem.
After one month, Bella was allowing Jesse to pet and hold her a huge accomplishment. 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. She is no longer afraid of Jesse, but considers him to be the primary cuddler and the giver of all things "yummy for her tummy." 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.
It's these little successes that motivate us trainers to push on, and continue to offer positive solutions to often very challenging behaviors.
With damaged dogs, extra kindness along with lots of repetition of trust-building exercises can and do yield great results. Kudos to Esther and Jesse for hanging in there; Bella is now another cherished member of their family.
Lisa Moore's pet-behavior column appears once a month on the Weekly Pet Page. Write to her in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.