What’s Good for the Goose

MoleHunter - I
Image by fred1st via Flickr

What’s Good for Gandy is the operative question this morning.

We are approaching the painful conclusion that she is not the dog for us. It’s the painful part that is of concern: she has not been able to restrain her bite.

I’m not talking about incidental damage of normal puppy chewing or rough-housing like she would with her litter-mates. I’m talking about curled-lip attacks when it clearly does not serve her intentions to play or be close or get attention. And often, these episodes of aggression come immediately on the heels of her more rare periods of being loving and peaceful. Suddenly, my hands are bleeding again. Sometimes, she lunges for my face or other tender parts. We just can’t have that kind of acting out.

We’ve tried it all: distraction, substitution, treats (with the clicker), withdrawing our attention, removing her from the room to the back porch for a few minutes by herself, kindness, firmness. We don’t know what else to do.

And she continues, at 14 weeks, to grow, and we continue to invest in her uncertain future here. At this stage in our physical and financial lives, such wasted effort and time seems not to be a wise investment. We certainly can’t look forward to our grandchildren getting to know her and trust them together.

She is wonderful outdoors. She is a beautiful, lean and muscular dog, agile, curious, attentive, and fast. She is very intelligent and can sit, stay, come, lie down, get in her crate, and get on her blanket on command, most of the time. She loves riding in the car in her crate, sleeps through the night, is house broken. But she is threatening to become a mean dog, and we don’t know why. We’ve relented from making the hard decision because she will eventually come to herself and be placid and typical goofy puppy, but are we only fooling ourselves that she has finally morphed out of her bipolar episodes?

Are we just naive, spoiled by only having dealt over the past thirty years with Labrador Retriever temperaments? Is this something we can expect the dog to miraculously one day grow out of? Are there things we can do differently short of a shock collar for her and TASER for the both of us?

We’re frankly near (if not occasionally just past) wit’s end. Ann said I should say anything about this publicly. But you (might) know me: this blog-reading community has ridden the rough road with me for must about ten years, and thankfully with your wide experience, often helped us get beyond the tragedy du jour. This seems to be approaching another one of those bumps.

Should we fail to succeed in establishing the bond of trust that is now missing, what then? (She is being totally charming just now, wouldn’t you know it, playing nicely with the tennis ball in this odd game of fetch she has created.)

This is our first time to offer a home to a “pound puppy” and the first to lose a dog by giving it back up for a second adoption. Would we be better off to have her put down than turned into a pit fighter? What a sorry situation that we would never have imagined only six weeks after meeting Gandy for the first time with such high expectations.


UPDATE 4 pm: After a not-so-good early morning, the dog has been very very much improved. Of course, we’ve spent a good bit of time out today, pruning grapes and puttering in the wood pile. But even inside, she’s shown marked improvements in her restraint from biting, and when she offers to throw her head back and grab my hand, she’s easily dissuaded by reminding her about the acceptable toy we were playing with. Also, I’ve had some encouraging offers to help in the event that we don’t reach a comfort point with “forever” with Gandy. The saga continues.

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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. It sure sounds serious, Fred. I am so sorry. I have no informed advice to give. I would see if one of the rescue groups in your area would advise you, and maybe take Gandy into one of their foster homes for an evaluation before they suggest putting her down. What a very upsetting ordeal for you. Keep us posted.

  2. So sorry about this turn of events. I’m sure you have given it your best try. Our daughter had a similar experience with pure bred King Charles Spaniel. They did everything even brought a trainer into the home. The dog had a mean streak, bitng, lips curled. Started to bite her children and then visiting children.
    Couldn’t be tolerated. A heartbreaker as he was so beautiful and loved up until the frightening time of relentless biting. Couldn’t trust him around children. Breeder took him back. Don’t know his fate.
    Having had labs and rescued dogs I know that I must totally trust the dog to be loving, obedient and tolerant in ALL situations or they canot be part of my life.
    Again so sorry.

  3. Writing this at noon of an odd kind of day, with the dog and I finding stuff to do mostly outside while a friend finishes the book we’ve been compiling for him on my computer. But even before Gandy and I went out to prune grape vines and split wood, she had seemingly lost the infernal impulse to bite me. She’s been a charmer today. I begin to wonder if there is some jealousy going on. The mood swing happened after my wife left for work. Hmmm. At any rate, we’ve had a good morning and I wore her out. She is snoring from her crate just now.

  4. So hard – I think if anyone can help her be OK – you can. But I would put a time limit on her. Jealousy can be so dangerous too – especially with kids or visitors.

    If I was you – and I might be after Mildred – and I had a tough dog like Gandy – I would give her 3 months but if she still could not be trusted I woud not take her back but put her down. My fear would be that if I could not not settle her then almost no one could and that she would end up being more of a danger as she grew to adult size.

    Dear Fred – I don’t envy you Rob

  5. Heart-rending decisions. In full daylight. True courage. My seemingly small issue is not meant in any way to diminish the difficult decisions you face.

    However, I must register an ‘ouch’! Using ‘mean and bi-polar’ in such close proximity seems to add unnecessarily to the stigma and misunderstanding experienced by the mentally ill.

    “But she is threatening to become a mean dog, and we don’t know why. We’ve relented from making the hard decision because she will eventually come to herself and be placid and typical goofy puppy, but are we only fooling ourselves that she has finally morphed out of her bipolar episodes?”

  6. Fred, dogs absorb human feelings like mushrooms absorb water. I can remember getting a new puppy a couple of months after losing a very special dog. I wanted a loving creature back in my household, but the new pup was so different and so demanding – I often felt ambivalent about her presence, and occasionally resentful. I know it didn’t help either of us to have such negative feelings. I stuck with her, but it took along time to come around right. Today she is 11 1/2, a dear imperfect creature who constantly holds up a mirror to me.
    You have young children to consider, and you must make that a priority. She may not be the right dog for you, or you may not be the right human for her. But I would echo the previous advice, and get a rescue group or a qualified trainer to evaluate her temperament – she may do just fine with another person, a different venue. She’ll have a far better chance of turning out right if she goes to a rescue group than if you take her to a shelter.
    Tough decisions indeed – I wish you and Ann all the best, and Gandy too.

  7. Fred, so sorry you and Ann are having to make this decision. I recall reading about similar behavior in another young dog and vigorous exercise…long, long walks/runs daily…eliminated the aggressive behavior in that dog.
    However, I know it’s the unpredictability of such biting that is so frightening. You guys have to do what’s right for your family.

  8. Fred, I’m thinking of you and Ann and Gandy – such a hard decision. Heidi’s comment reminded me of what happened to us with our current dog. She’s a Great Pyrenees that we “rescued” from a family who decided they couldn’t keep her, when she was about 2 years old. Our previous, much-beloved Great Pyrenees (raised from a puppy) had died a year earlier. We now realize that we have a gem: a gentle, well-behaved, loving, beautiful dog. But for nearly a year we had our doubts – she was so different from our other Pyr, and we misinterpreted her behavior. She’s timid, compared to our previous supremely confident dog, and we would think she was being stubborn or stupid when she was only scared or confused. Things turned around suddenly when my husband realized all he had to do to get her to come inside was walk outside the door and point to the doorway. (Before, he had been giving authoritative “Come!” commands and she was afraid to approach him to get through the door.) Then everything started falling into place. Hoping for some such epiphany for you …