RIP Coba

Merry Christmas. The holidays are sometimes hard for people. I don’t normally get depressed around the holidays. This year, I did. I failed. I did everything I could. I caught up by writing back logs for this year, but I didn’t write about this. A confidence crusher. A mistake.

Project K9 Heather Rose CobaI got a call from a guy who got my number from a friend of a guy who adopted a dog from me a few months previously. Yeah, I know. Complicated. Anyway, he called me to surrender a puppy to me. A little black and white pitbull puppy. I took him in and realized shortly after I began training this kid that there were serious problems. He would seem perfectly fine, playing with other dogs, and then would escalate and try to latch on and attack the other dog he was playing with. If you gave him any sort of correction, he would redirect on you. That’s not all though. Even when I kept him calm and below his threshold, he couldn’t handle pressure from the leash, so no way was I going to use spatial pressure on this dog. He was responsive to the whip… when he wasn’t redirecting on it and trying to attack it. Same with the pet convincer. This guy was 3 months old when I got him.

Those are the more serious behaviors. He didn’t have a name, so I gave him one. Coba. Like the steps of Coba in Mexico. I had gone to Cancun earlier in the year, and the ruins of Coba resonated with me. I named him Coba because I wanted to climb to the top with this dog and find him a good home. I tried. I really did. He also had some minor behaviors as well. Like jumping, barking at you for attention, pulling on the leash, barking in the kennel, destroying crates, and a super fun one: eating other dogs’ shit. And then throwing it up and eating it again. Nice, huh?

So, I started him on the strict boot camp, working with him 3-5x a day on socialization, obedience, leash work, calm state of mind, tie back training, place, perception modification, pressure/release, ecollar, halti work (he tried to eat me), prong collar work, treadmill (again, tried to eat me), etc. He would be totally 100% doing wonderful, and then a feeling would change. No warning signs, just a feeling. And he would go after another dog, a toy, or a person. Aggression: Wanting to cause harm. He wanted this. He went from happy go lucky/calm state of mind to snarling, biting, snapping, and baring teeth. I kept at it, working with him, being patient, and waiting until we got to a better state of mind before finishing the session.

A lot of the smaller issues had been improving immensely, and I was hopeful I could get this kid into a home. But I had doubts. For one thing, placing dogs with any MINOR issues can be harder. Let’s add the fact he’s a pitbull on top of that. Oh yeah, and he sometimes tries to bite dogs and people. So.. I was hesitant to place him in a home with other dogs or kids. We’re in Utah. Good luck with that. Oh, I also needed to find someone who was willing to continue bringing him to socials and who would continue doing training. Probably for a long time. Someone who could understand treats and love could not help this kid. He needed much more than that.  Anyway, I was advertising him, but I was thinking about other options. I had to make a decision… I normally adopt fosters out a few days to a month after  they are surrendered to me. This guy, I had for 11 weeks..I needed to do something. Training wasn’t making a difference. He didn’t have a home to go to, I was spending my time working with a dog who wasn’t showing any progress. In the time I worked with him, I could have saved 2-3 other fosters. I’m thinking of all these things, as I continue to stall to make a decision.

Project K9 Heather Rose CobaThe final straw was when I was working on a ‘place’ command with him. This is a ‘get on your bed’ equivalent, where you control the space, and teach the dog to calm down without moving from a particular place. This is a psychological exercise. Anyway, he was doing great and laying calmly on the bed. I was ready to release him, so I walked over calmly and kneeled down to give him some calm affection. He had soft, loose body language, and I pet him on the chin and the side of his face. He seemed to be doing well, so I reached down to get the leash and he lunged at me, snapped at my face. I stepped on the leash at the last second, and prevented him from biting my face. He kept snapping and lunging at me, while snarling and baring teeth. I can’t correct at this point, so I just waited him out by applying pressure on the leash while I was standing on it. Eventually, he stopped, and was panting. Worn out from trying to attack me. I waited until I was calm to put him back in the crate. End on a … decent.. note, I guess.

Later, I let dogs out of the kennels like I always do for potty time. I had been working with him for 11 weeks at this point. Never in that time had he ever gone after a smaller dog. Usually it was when they were playing and it got too rough. This day, he grabbed my chihuahua and shook him. I yelled at him, grabbed him, and he let go. But there was no warning before that incident occurred.

I made the call. I decided I could not rehome this dog. I couldn’t surrender him to a shelter or a rescue and be honest with them. They would just put him down. And if that was the case, I would just do it myself. So I made the call. I made the appointment. He was to be put down the day after Christmas. I was on the fence about the decision for so, so long. I know this sometimes happens, but this doesn’t make it any easier.

It was not this dog’s fault. I felt there was something going on in this guy’s head. A mental issue. I don’t believe he deserved to be killed, but in the training world, we see it as a kindness. He wasn’t physically sick, but mentally, his brain had something wrong with it. It never gets easier. Coba was around 6 months when I sent him to the land of eternal dreams. I felt I killed a puppy. But now, I think I saved him.

The feeling of loss, and then the feeling of release. Like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Then guilt, because I feel better. And then I feel worse because I’m thinking about my feelings, and not mourning the loss of this puppy. I hate this feeling. It hurts. I’m starting to get used to hurt. Seems it’s a recurring theme in my life.

I hope you are healthy now.

RIP Coba. June 2014-Dec 2014

RIP Mamma 2006-2015 (click here for her memorial)

Project K9 Heather Rose Mamma Coba

Rest in peace, Coba and Mamma

 

His story comes to an end

Hard decisions make us the people we are. We want to be the one to make the hard decisions and take charge of a difficult situation. Sometimes, this is easier said than done. Sometimes, we want to be the person who is being taken care of, instead of the decision maker.

You see, when you become a trainer, it’s not all about playing with puppies and teaching Sit/Stays. You have to work through the hard issues too. Hard issues like euthanasia of a difficult dog. Hard issues like the possibility of having an aggressive or dangerous, unpredictable dog in the presence of a child. Specifically a very large dog who is unpredictable.

You can work as hard as you can, but it’s not enough. Again, now is one of those times. I did everything I knew how to do and exhausted every resource. I made all the recommendations, and the family followed through with all the homework. They really did everything, too. But it comes down to how much progress has been done and how much more needs to be accomplished. It’s more than what I can do, it’s more than what the family could do. Even if he went with the best trainer in the world, I believe the outcome may have been the same. There was a ‘right’ family out there for him, but either it wasn’t the right time, they weren’t experienced enough yet, or they didn’t hear my cries for help. Either way, the decision has been made and the end has come. I also can’t think like that anymore – there is always something else to do. That’s a pet owner’s way of thinking, and I will torture myself thinking ‘What if?’. Thinking as a trainer, I exhausted all resources and didn’t come to this decision lightly.

The question needs to be asked, “Can you trust this dog to make the right decision?”. The answer was No. It has been no for the last 8 months, and I don’t see this changing. With dogs like this, you have to constantly be on your guard and be ready in case things go bad. The one time you let your guard down will be the one time something might happen. This dog was fine 95% of the time, but in those small moments when he wasn’t, bites have happened. A dog that gives no warning is the most dangerous kind of dog. A dog that is unpredictable makes this situation even worse. Even though he is sweet 95% of the time… the moment you let your guard down is when something will happen. This dog was not a monster, but sweet and confused. The product of a hard puppy-hood and negligence and malnutrition. He was a great dog.

It’s exhausting, and you don’t see an end. A decision needs to be made. Can you rehome the dog? Can you adopt them out? Is euthanasia the only option? How do you find the right home? What are the conditions of adopting out an unpredictable, dominant, possibly aggressive dog? What about liability? Is that a life for the family? Why should they have to do this? What kind of quality is that kind of life for a dog? And what if, at some point, he does finally get to be a decent dog? How much time will this senior dane have left? How much time will he get to enjoy his hard-earned freedom? How many people are willing to take on a project senior Great Dane who is likely to bite again? These were all things that we discussed. These were all valid points, and unfortunately, the answer was that in the most ideal family, and with the best training, he would still be a project dog and once the training was ‘done’ (because training is never ‘done’), he wouldn’t have much time left in his short life.

That’s always something to think about. At some point, you need to weigh the cost and quality of life for the animal. Euthanasia is a better alternative, and this way, he can be happy.

Sometimes, that means euthanasia is the best option. Weighing this option is never an easy topic. It’s never easy to think about or discuss, especially with a dog that isn’t yours. How do you even bring up this topic? What if you get attached and you don’t want to accept it yourself?

I have always been of the opinion that euthanasia was an unnecessary option. It was a ‘lazy’ option for people who didn’t want to fix the problem. But after seeing some of the best trainers in the United States have to make the same decisions, my opinion was swayed. I still want to do everything else to not have to make this decision, and I thought that when I had to discuss with a client, it wouldn’t be this dog. It wouldn’t be this client, and it would be years later in my training. But after exploring every angle, talking to the best trainers, and discussing options with the family, I am confident this is the right decision. Even though it hurts and feels like I’m being ripped apart. I know in my heart this is right.

What happens when you have to have this discussion, not only with a client, but with a friend? I handled it in a way that I knew how. I thought about how, if a trainer told me this was the best option for MY dog, how would I want to be told? These are my friends, and I love this dog. But that doesn’t mean it made it any easier. In fact, this made it harder. Part of the job – the hardest part. This is the part where trainers get judged the most, and where second guessing makes this decision even harder.

I’m trying to turn this around and think in a positive light. This will make me a better trainer. I’m sure I will have this same discussion again in the future. If I want to work with difficult dogs, which I do – this is not the last time I will discus euthanasia. I can do it, and I will learn how to better handle these situations. I can learn from this experience and I can learn from everything this dog had to teach me. I won’t forget anything, and I won’t tarnish his memory by making the same mistakes again. I will remember this dog and all the work the family did, the dog did, and how much I put into him. It’s not anyone’s fault it didn’t work out. I will get better, and just like Albert, I will learn from Ryder. To see all of Ryder’s progress, see his notes here.

I love you, kid.

R.I.P. Ryder
2010-2013

Taken on 7/24/13

Taken on 7/24/13

MemorialStone1