Rhodesian Ridgeback Reprieve

I am relieved to be able to say that we are now thinking we can keep Gandy after all. She has shown considerably better behavior in the past few days–not entirely free of snarky or otherwise obnoxious behavior, but stopping herself before things get out of hand. She has turned a corner (is turning at least) that is partly nurture and partly nature.

For our part, we have realized this dog (by breed and by her own personality) can’t be “broken” of the aggressive behavior in the same way a dog like a lab might be. We’ve done better NOT engaging her when she misbehaves, but ignoring her, the re-engaging with extra affection, and she is responding.

For her part, a lot that is changing for the better is likely the result of normal maturation of her nervous system. Early impulses are protective, quick, unchecked. In the wild, that is the way it must be: mistrust, self-protection, caution. Then, as the young animal ages, the “reaction” circuits are over-ridden increasingly (learned, with positive reinforcement) by the inhibitory circuits that raise, rather than lower the threshold of protective response. Gandy is learning to put the brakes on her innate tendency to strike out against possible threats. The stakes are higher now that she might lose attention and treats with inappropriate behavior.  We were not sure she would ever care.

We are doing better at the NOTHING in LIfe is Free approach, though Ann’s tendency is to just give the dog things to “buy her off” rather than take a little more time and make the dog do something RIGHT to get food, treats, belly rubs, special toys and outside exercise.

We are supposed to start obedience training (hopefully tomorrow) that will not solve the snappiness but can go a long way especially to make Ann comfortable with the dog and to bring us all to sing (or bark) off the same page.

Yesterday, Gandy and I went back and forth between the pasture and the wood pile in the truck. She felt like quite the farm dog, you could tell. We had our first game of FETCH with a stick. She tires of such silliness pretty quickly and wants a REAL job. She is far more energetic than any lab we’ve ever had, and so we’re glad warmer weather is coming and she can help with gardening. I’m thinking we won’t need a tiller, hoe, or maddock if we have a GANDY in the garden!

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. So … when you say “obedience training” might you elaborate upon that subject a little more. Our Chewy, who is approaching six months of age and surgery (spaying) is also slowly improving her behavior but we are not able to train her to the leash so she can be walked outside of her fenced-in back yard. We have such high hopes for her and I’m not quite sure why. Are dogs affected by positive thinking? Her constant shedding is becoming a terrible problem. She hates being brushed and won’t even consider allowing us to vacuum the hair off. She won’t stand still for it. HA! Anything that makes a whirring noise must be avoided and I seriously doubt that behavior training will change that fact. Is training expensive?

  2. Fred, obediance training will probably help a great deal, and check too with the trainer who will probably have some good tips for reining Gandy in. I so hope you are able to keep her.

  3. Clarence, I think rather than “obedience” to come from these sessions (one each week for 7 weeks) it will be the socialization w other dogs and people that will benefit Gandy and her humans. She is not great on the leash either, but far better than at first when she could not tolerate the presence of her collar; she wears it all day long now and doesn’t seem to notice. Gandy does not seem to be bothered by noise, though last night she commenced to barking a human characters moving on the computer monitor.

  4. I am thrilled with the good news. I have owned two dogs who never stopped snapping when threatened, but they usually made it just a warning, and didn’t clamp down on flesh. We eventually realized they couldn’t be “broken” either. We just had to modify our behavior and not do the action that always resulted in defensive snapping. That worked out just fine. We didn’t have them around kids in the house, but out in public they were perfect gentlemen with anyone who came to pet them, etc.