Meet Bob as a baby. This lovely boy grew up to be a naughty adolescent and nearly got pts when he bit one of the children he lived with. Despite huge pressure from family friends, the vet and a behaviourist, this lovely family realised they might need to take some blame and got our help. This case is being updated now, 3 years on from the incident to show that retrained successfully, the training stays put. I was delighted to get their email, they have since had a third child too!
Here’s their story in their own words:
My wife and I used to say we’d grown up with dogs and so were experienced. Our first family dog we got when our eldest child was three. A lovely Labrador, Abby, that a family member couldn’t keep. She was great with our child and with the new baby when we had a second one. We didn’t do classes, we were a bit stupid to think that we’d created this amazing girl who was so good with everything. We also thought we were experienced, I am embarrassed now that we even said it.
Sadly Abby died from cancer when our youngest at the time was two and after a lot of discussion, as my wife had grown up with collies and I liked them, we bought a collie pup, Bob.
Again, we know now we bought from a bad breeder. After seeing an ad in the paper, we went to a house and saw a collie female that was running round a bit scared and some 6 week old pups. There were noisy kids, the place was a bit dirty and of course we fell for the pups and bought one. My father had said never to buy like this, he did warn us that they needed hip scores and eye tests and we ignored him.
When Bob was small we did a few classes, he was a dream, clever and learned fast and we were delighted. He was naughty with the kids, nipping and biting, we learned from Debbie this was partly because he was sold too young and hadn’t learned bite inhibition. So by the time he was 6 months old his basic obedience was good, his recall off lead was becoming worse and although he wasn’t nipping the kids, he was pushy with them. We didn’t bother with more classes. Bob had always been a dog who was great fun, loved playing ball and in general was good with the kids although used to push past them, steal their food etc but we thought he was just a puppy growing up.
What started to worry us was his growling at the kids, which started at about 8 months old. The first time I remember, our youngest wanted to sit with him on the floor, but did it awkwardly and sort of fell on his back legs. Bob snapped and growled, almost catching the toddler in the face. We smacked the dog and shouted at him although we thought our child could have hurt him, we didn’t want him to think this was acceptable. This seemed to be the start of an escalation of aggression.
Bob’s growling at the kids got worse, to the point we felt we had to supervise every second. He was bad if they went near his bed or if he was eating or had a chew. At first we warned the kids to respect him and told him off too. We took him to the vet who recommended castration and also said he had bad hips. Bob started medication and is still on it. He was castrated the next week.
For a few weeks we blamed his behaviour on recovering from the op, and his bad hips, and were afraid to admit there really was a problem. Friends and family meant well, but every one of them had differing advice, from “one day he will kill your kids” to “stop panicking, he’s just growing up”. Bob was also a loving, affectionate and nice dog, who we adored.
When he was about 11 months old he bit our eldest child on the hand. He had dropped his biscuit he was eating as he sat on the sofa and leaned down to get it, not realising Bob was asleep on the floor nearby. As he did it, Bob awoke and bit his hand. It was a small bite really, but not acceptable. I admit we went a bit mad, shouting, dragged Bob out to the garden, inspected the injury. Luckily it was more of a mark, he hadn’t quite broken the skin. My son was distraught, he kept saying don’t get rid of Bob. We rang the vet to book Bob in to be put down the next day.
After agonising all night, we awoke and cancelled the vet. We had decided that we needed help. Our vet found us someone to come and see us, a behaviourist. We had decided that if this expert said we had to put him down, we would. Our families were disgusted and one said she was going to call the police as were were endangering our children. This woman came and basically said once a dog has bitten a child there wasn’t much point in keeping it. She gave us a few tips about teaching Bob to give up chews to us, to use a baby gate to keep him separate when we couldn’t watch him but that was about it. After she left my wife was upset and said that she felt she was risking the kids safety and Bob had to go.
About 2 weeks later, Bob bit my then youngest child, catching his head. This happened in our lounge, all of us there, Bob was playing with my child with a ball, when the ball was held away from Bob, teasing him, Bob growled quite menacingly at my son and flew at him, biting his head. I did hit Bob, I’m not proud of it and threw him in the garden. We called the vet, as this was Saturday we couldn’t get him in until Monday morning to be put down.
I was walking Bob the next day in the park when we bumped into someone with a Collie cross German Shepherd. We’d seen the family with this dog a few times, our dogs had briefly played together but we’d never spoken much other than the usual admiring of the dogs. I was sitting on a bench throwing a ball for Bob, thinking this could be our last time when the man passed with this dog on his own and our dogs started playing. He sat with me.
We got talking and I told him we were putting Bob down because of what had happened. This guy was surprised as he’d seen us as we’d seen him, with a dog playing with his family. He then told me his dog had also bitten his kids when young and that he’d had two trainers and two vets tell him to put the dog down. One child had needed stitches to a rip on his arm. I was amazed they still had this dog. He said the second trainer had told him he thought the dog should be pts but that he was also out of his depth with such a serious bite and admitted never having solved it before. He said though he would recommend someone who could do it. This is how we found safepets and Debbie Connolly. This man said he’d sent his dog to her and that was 3 years earlier and the dog had never shown aggression since.
I didn’t tell my wife as I didn’t want to raise her hopes, but the thought of losing Bob and being responsible for his death was too hard. I rang Debbie Connolly from the park. She was to the point, sympathetic, but firm with me, asked lots of questions, although she seemed to know what the answers would be! She agreed to come and assess us all. My wife wasn’t impressed until I showed her the website and testimonials.
Debbie came, assessed us, said she felt this could likely be sorted and left us with a week of work to do. I really wanted her to take Bob, but she said we needed to do some initial work to show there was hope. So we did and to be honest, saw improvements then. When she came back, Debbie agreed to take Bob and have him do a couple of weeks work with her and her staff. Simply having him out of the house meant we could all relax a bit.
We had to go for 2 days of handing him back. He was so good. He listened to the kids, played nicely, gave up chews and even a bone, something we’d never risked him having. the kids could walk past him when eating. I couldn’t believe it. Bob was still Bob, still full of fun and personality, but better. All of use were emotional but Debbie reminded us this was a start, not the end. We went home with Bob and a plan and Debbie came out a month later to assess us.
Our friends and family were unsure and even a year later, when writing this, some still think Bob is plotting murder, even though he hasn’t put a foot wrong. I have thanked the man in the park so many times I think he is avoiding us. I can’t thank Debbie and Safepets enough. she taught not just Bob, but us. bob is happier too, less stressed, chills out more, something we hadn’t noticed he didn’t do before. We were apprehensive at first, as time has gone on we realise we had done lots wrong, but to watch him now, playing with the kids, it’s hard to believe we nearly had him put down.
Please, if you are in the same position, get an expert, get Debbie and Safepets to help you, admit your mistakes and help your dog.
Mr and Mrs James
Update 2014 from Debbie Connolly:
I was thrilled to get an email from this lovely family. Gradually cases fade away, as they stop needing support and go on with their lives. Many send updates years after the problem when a dog ends its life naturally. These messages are bittersweet. Losing pets is always hard, but losing to illness or old age after having a life is better than losing when young through lack of training. The James family now have a third child, a girl they have adopted who Bob adores. I gave them advice on introductions and moving their new daughter in, but it’s gone brilliantly.
Poor Bob may not live a very long life because of his health problems, but he is enjoying his life as are his family. They are considering another dog later this year, but I will find them the right one, they don’t want to fill the pockets of some back yard breeder again.