Meet Oliver. Oliver is a Basset/Australian Shepherd/Dachsund mix. His dam is full Basset; his sire is the Shepherd/Dachsund mix. As of this posting (Feb. 9, 2016), he is 15 weeks old.
Oliver was purchased for the purpose of raising and training him to be a support dog for my sister. He failed the temperament and stimuli-responses tests right across the board, but he came into her life anyway because he was so thin that his ribs were poking out and she and I both were very concerned about that. We don’t know if he was the runt of the litter and wasn’t able to nurse much, or if the people who owned him were just not feeding him. We only knew that something had to be done; that the pup needed help. So, my sister made the decision to adopt him.
Oliver shares a home with two dogs – Maggie [10 yrs] and Lucy [approx. 7 yrs] – and a cat named Zya [approx. 1-2 yrs]. Zya set the rules for Oliver straight away, and for the most part, he is very good about respecting her boundaries. Maggie doesn’t like Oliver and tends to avoid him as much as possible. Lucy is teaching Oliver resource-guarding and aggression by taking and guarding toys and growling and barking at Oliver or Maggie if they come too close. Lucy’s owner recognizes that this is very bad behavior, but he allows it to continue.
Oliver is 15 weeks old, and he is exhibiting resource-guarding behavior, food aggression, and – as I found out when I took him out for a walk – dog aggression.
Preparing for the walk was an exercise in calm, assertive energy and tremendous patience. Oliver’s excitement was at a very high level and he was fighting the leash, so I started by introducing him to the leash and showing him that it was not an enemy. That took some time. Once the leash was attached, I asked him to “back up” so that I could open the door. He did – and the second the door was opened just a little bit, he rushed it, shoving me out of the way and nearly causing me to fall. I guided him back into position, and began teaching him how to behave around an open door, and to wait to be invited out. This also took some time.
Once outside and walking, it was immediately obvious that he has no concept of how to walk on a leash. He pulled hard during the entire walk, he constantly criss-crossed in front of me – twice, he tripped me on ice and I nearly fell – and when gently corrected and guided into the correct walking position, he tried to bite me. We did encounter another dog – a beautiful, very well-behaved Rottweiler – and Oliver’s response quite surprised me. As soon as he saw her, he immediately began pulling hard at the leash. As she and her handler got closer, I noticed Oliver’s legs were starting to stiffen and his hackles were coming up. By the time she was almost even with us, Oliver’s tail was straight up, he was growling and barking, and he pulled so hard on the leash that I worried he would actually snap his collar. His body language was very clear: He wanted to attack her, not meet or play with her. The Rottweiler immediately looked away from Oliver. When he continued to fight me to try to get to her, she turned her body sideways to him and began lip-licking. She did everything she could possibly do to signal Oliver that she meant no harm and she wanted no trouble. But Oliver wasn’t reading her. He had gone into a complete red-zone state.
The Rottweiler’s handler understood exactly what was happening and supported the exercise by staying where he was while I worked to get Oliver under control. This took several minutes, but when I finally got Oliver into a position where he could not attack the dog, the other handler offered to help with the exercise by passing by us at least twice more before heading to his home. Both times, Oliver immediately went into a red-zone state. This behavior occurred two more times with two different dogs before I could get him into a state where we could head for home. Picking him up and carrying him was not an option; he bites when he is picked up or even held for any length of time.
Oliver is only 15 weeks old. To say I am concerned is an understatement. But, because he is only 15 weeks old, I am confident that these negative behaviors can be turned around and overcome. It’s going to take a lot of time, hard work, and tremendous amounts of patience and calm, assertive energy. But we’ll get there. We’ll get there….