A sad tale with a happy ending
Five years have passed since we picked up Herman (now called Peat) from his foster home in September 2010. His first day went really well as documented in the Happy Tails archive at the JRTRO website. We were so happy to have him in our life and believed that finally he would be able to settle down after his turbulent earlier years. We thought we knew it all, having had dogs in our life continuously for many decades, including other Jacks. How wrong could we have been! This is a sad tale but it has a happy ending, and we think might give hope to those of you who might be experiencing similar problems with your rescue dog and are seeking remedies and redemption.
It quickly became clear during the first few weeks that Peat had had a happy home prior to arriving at our doorstep. He proved to know all the basic obedience commands – Heel, Sit, Stay, Down – and even could do little tricks like pirouetting on his hind legs to claim a treat. We inferred that his previous family included pre-teen kids to judge from his positive response when meeting kids in the park or on the beach. It was heart breaking to see him rush across to a young family to reclaim then into his world only to be crestfallen on discovering it wasn’t his First Family at all. But overall he proved to be a happy little dog, full of affection for just about everyone and a strong tendency to be a homebody securely bonded to us day and night. Or so we thought.
The dark side emerged
A darker side to his background became apparent after a few weeks in our home. It first emerged when someone knocked at our door. Of course, most dogs bark or become excited at front door knocks or chimes, but no dogs in our experience would then turn around and bite us. Peat did and he would become quite ferocious inflicting serious wounds, particularly if a man – any man – was nearby. Peat was more sanguine about females – girls or women – and showed only affection to them, but men were fair game. This door knocking incident is just one example of several “triggers” that we identified over succeeding weeks that would lead to aggressive behavior, such as loud noises or big black shoes or deep male voices or rapid movements or even paper towel to wipe the floor clean. Of course, we sought help from our vet and then from an animal behaviorist to attempt to change the pattern but with only slight success. Summing it all up, we concluded that Peat had had a second owner in his life prior to coming to us, who was a brute of a man who used violence, kicking, shouting, extreme physical punishment, and possibly gunshots as training tools. The triggers set off reactions that transformed him into a wild-eyed terrified wreck of a dog, intent only on avoiding being brutalized further. He became an entirely different dog until the terror attack passed. If he were human he would probably be diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
So what could we do about a dog with PTSD?
We had dealt with problem dogs before, but nothing like this. It took a lot of soul-searching. First off we had told JRTRO in our interview that we had never given up on a dog, and we certainly did not intend to do this now. Sending Peat back to a rescue organization would solve nothing and only exacerbate the situation for him. We also decided that, severe as the situation was, we would under no circumstances use any form of physical punishment as retribution, which we felt would only escalate the pattern of bad behavior. Tender loving care, all the time, was really the only option. After each attack, we spent time gently calming Peat down, mollifying his terror, and substituting love for the brutality he was expecting. We also became experts at wound care, and spent a small fortune at the pharmacy for hydrogen peroxide, betadyne, bandages and band-aid for injured arms and feet. Of course none of this was easy, and at one point when there seemed to be no progress at all we almost lost heart and considered taking him on a one-way trip to the vet. But we didn’t; we persisted and slowly he started to respond to our TLC. We also had to become experts at subterfuge in explaining the frequent wounds to arms and legs. We knew the consequences of “give a dog a bad name …” and didn’t want Peat to become a pariah in the neighborhood.
Solidly on the way to a happy ending
We persisted with this approach and eventually, after more than three years, Peat’s PTSD symptoms had virtually disappeared. Towards the end of this period we did employ the services of a brilliant young dog trainer who was working for a local Petsmart store. In a short time she cleverly desensitized Peat’s final problem areas that had stubbornly resisted our treatment. Now we have a perfect Jack and more than 12 months have passed without an aggressive incident. He still goes hunting for his First Family in the park, but his responses to the “triggers” have disappeared – well almost. The other day we popped open a bottle of bubbly to celebrate; he did not appreciate the popping cork and barked wildly in protest, but with no aggression.
Geoff & Anne. 8 October 2015.