I’ve struggled with depression since I was 12, didn’t think I’d ever even see 18. here I am now, 10 years later. most days are still hard but this dog, he makes it better. this is my APBT Xerneas. he is my first dog. when I got him he was intended to be a companion dog, as time went on I noticed how incredibly smart he was and how much he loved to please me and take care of me. he would alert to my anger, anxiety, depression. so I started training him to be a service dog. no, not a service dog, /MY/ service dog. he stops me from self harm, he keeps me warm at night, he wakes me up when I have nightmares, he will search the house when I get overly paranoid and think people are here. he protects me. thanks to this dog I can now go out in public because I know if I get scared, he will be there. he will block people away from me, he will guide me into areas where people aren’t. if I dissociate, I can count on him to keep me on track and take me where i need to be. he can find the car when we walk out of stores. he knows how to turn off lights, open/close doors, pull me across a room if he needs to. he knows a lot of things and still has a lot of learning left to do, but the thing he does best is love. he never stops loving. you don’t know true love until you get a dog. that’s a forever bond. that sounds so cliche but it’s true. he has a big head with an even bigger heart. I love my dog more than anything and I will continue to fight the bad stereotypes. remember, punish the deed, not the breed. this is an amazing breed that only wants to please its owner. people are the problem, not the dogs.
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.