You know when you walk past a dog and the owner pulls the leash tight? When you drive by a house and it’s covered in warning signs so that nobody enters? A dog owner who crosses to the other side of the road?
For five and a half stressful months this was my family.
I think it’s important to get across two messages here:
How important it is to understand that those owners who muzzle their dogs and dig leads into their hands holding so desperately tight, that no dog is ever just: “something that should be put down for other people’s safety”.
It’s important to note that sometimes there is only one responsible option.
We rescued Bruno from kennels after he was given up by his first family for being too aggressive. It was reported that he was too boisterous and he mouthed people. He wouldn’t let people through their gate without launching at them. The clincher was that the family had a young boy under five so such a big unpredictable dog wasn’t safe to be around a child.
The family tried everything: obedience training, a police dog handler and months of commitment.
He was such a handsome German Shepherd that he wasn’t even in the kennels a week before he caught our eye.
The warnings didn’t scare us because we are experienced German Shepherd owners, who as a family, have over two decades of experience.
When at the kennels they brought out Bruno, but he was different. He’d been called Tyson, by his first family, pretty fitting.
Tyson was a scared German Shepherd with a scary name who wouldn’t lift his tail from in between his legs. After a twenty minute walk he was ours. A pedigree pup who was just over six months old. It was told to us that his previous family gave him up because of ‘mouthing’ and how boisterous he was, they’d even had him ‘done’ early to try calm him down.
That afternoon he sat on our laps, covered us in kisses and cried whenever we left the room, until my mom came home from work. He’d only been in the house for two hours but when she came home he launched himself at the gate – which was luckily between them.
This was a behavior that never stopped. However, we were comforted by people saying: ‘All rescue dogs take some settling in’ so, we kept at it. We love German Shepherds. We love him.
We changed his name to Bruno and agreed to try tame his aggression. Why? Because for 23hours of the day this was a dog who loved with his whole heart, loved being part of a family and was so obedient – if you asked nicely.
Over the first week the boyfriends of myself and my sister couldn’t enter the house without wearing protective building gloves, a coat and with Bruno being restrained.
My mom resorted to wearing cardboard cereal boxes under puffy jackets to protect her arms from bleeding.
He didn’t just bark, he would throw himself at doors, snarl and lunge to bite so hard that he’d choke himself on his collar.
It just continued to get worse.
We were so desperate to see the good in him and explain the bad that we began to blame people, not always deservedly, for ‘aggravating him’. On more than one occasion I told people off for ‘looking at him funny’ and setting him off. Honestly, it was mostly just Bru.
Bruno started to refuse to leave the house and get in the car. He couldn’t be let off the lead on walks because he would suddenly become aggressive to complete strangers for no reason. You could walk away but he’d run back minutes later to find them again.
Yet, he would come home and sit on your lap, let you dry him off with a towel and actually make little excited noises. He’d cry and jump at your bedroom door to wake you up, even let you take food out of his mouth without kicking up a fuss.
The aggression definitely seemed to focus on men, but it wasn’t exclusive.
It seemed that the more Bruno became a part of the family he’d relax with us, want constant affection and reassurance. However, as he relaxed his true nature rose to the surface.
On one hand you had a dog who didn’t want to be without you for more than five minutes, but on the other hand there was a dog who would flip in the space of three seconds and need restraining from attacking someone.
It was decided as a family that we needed to contact a professional, someone who could explain his erratic behavior. As a family we were puzzled because no dog of ours had ever had a problem with this kind of unpredictable aggression that was getting worse by the day.
I contacted dozens of professionals, most wouldn’t even agree to see him but one man got back who had actually visited Bruno in his previous home. He was a police dog handler with decades of experience and even knew the background of Bruno that we’d never really known. He visited the house for a consultation and praised how far Bruno had come in just a few months of being with us, it was just what we wanted.
However, he saw the behavior we were concerned with. Though we were reacting correctly to his aggression and doing the best any family could of done, it just wasn’t making a difference. It was actually worse in some ways. He put it quite simply:
“Some dogs just have a streak in them.”
Bruno was one of those dogs. Problem was this was a dog whose head already reached your waist at just a year old, a dog whose breed is known to have the strongest bite and a dog that actually enjoyed aggression.
After a few months of daily ‘episodes’ and his behavior actually worsening as he grew stronger, he got out the house one night and attacked some farm animals. In less than five minutes he managed to cause life-threatening injuries to three animals on someone elses property. We learnt soon after this that he’d done the same a few days before. He’d actually gone back for more.
As we had feared and seen as a family the only thing stopping Bruno each time he got aggressive was us restraining him. He enjoyed being aggressive. He was unpredictable.
My sister and myself traveled hundreds of miles back home as soon as we heard and had a family meeting. It wasn’t easy. We walked through the door and he jumped to cover you in affection and love, completely unaware of the severity of the situation. He was unaware but we had reached some clarity. One day we wouldn’t be watching, one day we wouldn’t be able to restrain how big he was becoming and he would bite someone. It wasn’t an ‘if’ it was a ‘when’. How could we ever stand there and explain to someone that our dog who had just bitten them was aggressive every single day of the year? But it was okay he was loving towards us? It would be selfish and dangerous.
Never ever think that an aggressive dog is just that. Bruno wasn’t. I now know other dogs aren’t. Reading this do you remember the aggressive dog or the puppy who cried when you left a room? People always remember the bad, but myself and my family choose the good.
He was a good boy.
He was fantastic at the vets. As a family we were so worried that he’d be too aggressive and we’d have to put him down in a stressful way that was upsetting for him. However, the vets were fantastic. They saw the aggression first hand when the vet (male) walked in, otherwise it was obvious they wouldn’t have done it. Especially not as he was taking treats on the floor from a female assistant. The second the vet walked in he lost it, but we were prepared and he was on the lead. The consultation had to be done in a different room because of Bruno’s behaviour.
He was sedated by the female assistant to keep him calm. He deserved a peaceful death surrounded by people who loved him, and that’s exactly what he had. He was stroked and kissed and piled with treats.
So please, next time you see an aggressive dog and you cross to the other side of the road just remember that behind those teeth their is a personality. A dog. A family.