“This is Rachel She was sitting on death row at the Riverside Animal Shelter. She’s a very sweet 3 year old pit bull. Rachel is gentle with children. Rachel is an awesome dog, she just needs someone to love her.”
For almost two years, I felt like I had failed as a dog owner because my Bully mix (Pitterstaff/AmBully, at best guess) turned out to be dog aggressive.
“It’s all in how they’re raised!” is a sentence that makes me cringe. Anyone that owns a DA APBT or Bully breed probably knows what I’m talking about. While it is a great sentiment on the ability of dogs to overcome horrible situations, it ignores essential facts about canine behavior while simultaneously putting the blame on dog owners.
One of the first pictures I have of Zuni and I, on a camping trip in early 2012.
Zuni, my craigslist rescue, wasn’t even a year old when I got her. Her history before being picked up off the streets by a friendly married couple is unknown. But she was a fantastic dog and I took her absolutely everywhere with me - she even came to my high school once and assisted me with a theater presentation. We went to the dog park weekly, ran agility, practiced obedience, and played disc anywhere there was enough space for her to run. When I started working at the kennel, she would go to daycare during my shifts. Zuni was so good with other dogs that she was used as a neutral dog to test newcomers for the daycare program.
I did everything right with her. Knowing her breed, I felt an additional sense of responsibility. I couldn’t raise a dog that would contribute to the “dangerous pitbull” idea. But I can’t control genetics and breed tendencies. My breed isn’t dangerous, but ignoring what my breed was meant for is absolutely dangerous.
Around two years of age, the dog aggression began. We consulted with several trainers and tried so many methods that it makes my head spin thinking about it. The best answer we could get from anyone was that she was fear aggressive. I worked with that for nearly a year, but couldn’t ever agree with it. I know fear aggressive dogs, I work with them frequently. Zuni’s behavior and body language certainly wasn’t fearful - she would strain at the end of her leash, every muscle standing out, eyes locked onto another dog with an intensity that terrified most people. It was the same way she looked at squirrels. I’ve broken up two fights, and both times I knew she’d never quit until she couldn’t get to the other dog.
I didn’t make any progress with Zuni until I accepted the fact that dog aggression was a part of her temperament. I stopped blaming myself for her behavior and I stopped seeing her dog aggression as the sign of a “bad dog.” I stopped trying to make her like every dog she met and instead taught her to ignore other dogs in public and focus on me. I don’t allow people to bring their dogs near her and we certainly don’t go to the dog park anymore. I took months introducing her to Maya and making sure that they had the space that they both needed. She’s able to run agility without losing focus and has done narcotics detection drills off leash in a room with 30 other dogs.
Zuni’s happier now, I’m happier now. Life goes on.