When I first met Nash I was asked by Redemption Paws to go visit him at his foster home because they were having problems with him biting and attacking visitors. At that point he had bitten 2 people, but luckily since he’s so small, the damage was quite limited. He was also struggling with dog reactivity on walks.
NOTE: Holding the scruff of a dog is similar to what a mother dog does to carry or correct her pups. It’s also a pretty safe spot to grab a small dog. If they are trying to attack you, the scruff allows control and their mouth can’t reach you back there). Afterwards, I asked his foster mom to get his leash. This way we could continue the session safely without anyone getting bitten.
At that moment it was very clear to me that Nash thought that not only did he rule the household, but that his foster mom was “his” and he was not going to let anyone near her. We chatted about some rules and boundaries that Nash would need in order for him to stop this behavior. I gave her some exercises to go with the rules and boundaries. When we finished the session, I believed that he should get better if these recommendations were implemented.
Three weeks later I got another email from Redemption Paws. They told me that Nash had gotten worse, and now he was starting to growl at his foster mom and cat. When a dog begins to control the cat in the household, this is really not a good sign. I went back for a second session.
This time we also went on a walk to try and implement some rules and boundaries outside. One of Nash’s foster siblings (another Redemption Paws rescue) was also quite reactive on our walk. Nash seemed to feed off of her insecurities causing him to become unstable, and lash out. While returning from our walk, Nash lunged and almost bit a man in the elevator. At that moment, I realized that perhaps this environment with another nervous and reactive rescue pup was not ideal. This environment was not going to help Nash overcome his need for control, or deal with his insecurities.
I sent a message to the rescue explaining what I had observed. Unfortunately, because Nash had gotten worse, I didn’t foresee him improving in the current environment he was in. I suggested that he be moved to a home where there were no unstable dogs, as well as to a foster parent who would be capable with setting up the strict rules and boundaries for him. The problem was that at this point, I wasn’t sure if there was anyone in the rescue who would be able to handle him other than the few professionals they had on call.
I decided to talk my partner into helping the little guy out. While I do live in a small 1 bedroom apartment with two 50lb dogs, I felt we could squeeze in just 11 more lbs of dog comfortably. My partner reluctantly agreed. At first we said that we would do a short rehabilitation stay, and perhaps move him when he was ready. Little did we know that we would grow fond of the little nugget, and felt that he would do best staying in our home until a forever family was found.
We told the rescue we were ready whenever they were to move him.
For the first 3 days I couldn’t touch Nash. He was scared and hostile, and super possessive of his crate. He had to have a slip lead on at all times in order for me to be able to get him in and out of the crate.
NOTE: The slip leads I use have a mechanism that stops it from fully chocking the dog, otherwise I do not suggest keeping a slip lead on at all times and instead suggest a flat collar and regular leash.
Nash would come and force himself on your lap and incessantly lick your face, sticking his entire tongue right up your nostrils. It felt like he was trying to get a good COVID-19 swab. It was too much. When you would push him off saying that you had had enough, he would get angry and growl and bear his teeth. He learned pretty fast that with that kind of behaviour, he would get no cuddle time at all.
Nash was very controlling. He wanted to control everyone and everything in his environment. He reminded me of a person with OCD, who used this control to feel better about their insecurities and anxiety.
There was a lot of “off” commands happening at first; off me, off the couch, off the dining room table etc. He eventually learnt the rules and the more he understood the rules, the more praise he got. The better behaved he was, the more cuddling he got, and the more confident and stable he became. I also had to work really hard on his food and crate possessiveness.
Some trainers would say to get rid of the crate if the dog became that possessive about it. Or to not give the dog delicious bones. “Just avoid those situations.” is what they say, but I needed to make sure that when he got to a new family, that he would stop these behaviours. I didn’t want him to bite someone again. Another problem was that without the crate, there was no way of enforcing the ground rules when we were sleeping, and we knew that it was imperative for his rehabilitation to stick to the rules at all times.
To work on his crate and food possessiveness I would do training sessions every day. It was important to teach him that people were allowed to touch these things, but it didn’t mean I would take them away.
Just the sight and smell of raw marrow bones would turn sweet Nashie into Gollum.
Seen in this video, while he is doing a fantastic job controlling himself, you can see in his face that he is really struggling with the idea of letting me take or even touch the bone. “My PRECIOUSSSSS!!!!”
When his overall need for possession and control seemed to almost disappear, we started allowing furniture privileges and more cuddle time (but still with permission, and strictly no bed privileges). At first, giving back some furniture privileges made Nash believe that he was regaining control of the house. His possessive and controlling tendencies would reappear. He would sometimes snarl if he was already on the couch and we went to sit down. The second he growled he would loose his furniture privileges for half the day before allowing him up again.
When he was finally showing he was ready to try having morning bed cuddles, it was a crazy reality check. Oh boy, when I say that Nash took the idea of bed privileges to an entire new level, it was beyond anything I had ever seen. When he was allowed on the bed, all of a sudden he thought he was King Nashie, and the bed was his throne. All of his possessive and controlling behaviour would reappear as if we had not progressed at all. It was almost like he had split personality disorder, and would turn into Gollum again.
We learned pretty fast that Nash couldn’t handle morning or bedtime cuddles without becoming a little monster. The bed cuddle privileges were quickly taken away again, and things went back to normal. It took a month or two for Nash to finally understand that bed cuddling privileges do not make him king of the household.
While it sounds like Nash was a handful, for me these rules were somewhat normal. I think of it like the expectation of manners you would have for children. If these manners are not respected, then there will be consequences. Dogs often sense this confident energy and behave more quickly if you are confident, clear and consistent about the rules. If you put your mind to something and confidently believe that those are the rules, your dog will eventually begin to realize that there is no other way to be.
After 2 weeks of working with Nash, I felt he was ready for meet and greets. I notified Redemption Paws that he could begin accepting adoption applications. There were some pre-requisites however; this person needed to be ready to set up some very clear rules and boundaries, and needed to have previous dog experience.
Over Christmas, we brought him to my mom’s, my dad’s and a cottage. My brother Erik stayed with us for 3 weeks and Nash took a real liking to him. While he still had stranger danger, my brother had a way with him. Erik instilled rules and boundaries and did not put up with Nash’s attempts to control. It dawned of me at that point that Nash didn’t need someone with dog experience; he needed someone who was ready to take direction from me in terms of how to handle him, and someone who is confident in themselves when handling Nash. My brother would have adopted Nash had he been in a different stage in his life. Unfortunately for both Nash and my brother, he just wasn’t ready for the commitment of a dog in his life just yet.
It took time, but Nash started to go up to neighbours and people in the park asking for pets. Some people were even lucky enough to be able to pick him up to get cuddles and kisses. Not everyone could do that though. They had to be confident and not hesitate.
At home, he became much more relaxed, playing on his back and letting us rough house with him without him getting defensive.
His possessiveness is almost gone, and only reappears when he gets a delicious raw bone. He’d let me take it, but I wasn’t sure about how he’d react with other people yet.
His crate possessiveness was also gone, although I could still see a glimmer of the Gollum look every night when I went to tuck him in. I tried to make it a super positive event every night, and I know that that too will eventually disappear.
Everyone kept asking me “Why don’t you keep him?”. Trust me when I say that if I had more money, and a bigger place, I would have ALL the dogs. Don’t get me wrong, we LOVED Nashie. Once he had recovered, he was a joy to have in our household. A pretty easy going and fun loving dog.
Unfortunately, because of my line of work, I need working dogs who can safely come with me to assess other dog aggressive dogs. Unfortunately, this would just not be safe for Nash. Even a 50 lb dog could really hurt him if they tried to attack him, even if they were muzzled.
Nash got adopted by a wonderful couple who have been giving him the rules, boundaries and love he needs to thrive. He is living his best life, occasionally going to work with his daddy (who’s a vet), and making new friends in his dog catered condo.
While we miss Nashie so much, we are so happy to have managed to find him his perfect forever home. Thank you so much to Redemption Paws Adoption Coordinators who did such a phenomenal job placing Nashie in the best suited home for his needs. You did an amazing job!
If you or someone you know has a dog with reactivity, resource guarding or aggression, there is hope.