This is all about Jasper my own rescue dog who taught me to look deeply at what was going on in his head and to see the world from his perspective. I have lots of experience in dealing hands on with horses and rescued ponies and their behaviour, I had always been a dog owner but had never come across fear aggression, nervous aggression and severe behavioural issues that I was about to see in dogs. Jasper (Collie cross) arrived at the local rescue centre via an inspector. He had been badly abused and had two thirds of his tail missing, he was only 6 months old. Jasper chose me to be his owner. He had spent the first week lying at the back of his kennel in his own urine shaking like a leaf. I felt his boy really needed help. He didn’t like kennel life and a couple of times I saw him really biting the metal bars of his kennel in an aggressive manner. I walked him every day, he had a few ‘interests’ on him but as soon as these people spent time with him the ‘interests’ came off. Two weeks later he came home to live with me and my partner Hayley.
This is where the learning started for me.
Jasper was petrified of getting into the car and once in, he would shake so badly, getting in such a state, he would stand there and wet himself. Day one is when the problems started to show. If I turned my back to walk away, he would lunge and bite my arm, it wasn’t a nip it would be a real bite that broke my skin. I would turn away from him and he would bite my ankles and hang on. To be honest even though the biting really hurt, this didn’t phase me, I was just confused as to why he was behaving like this.
Day two and things got worse. I went to hoover the lounge and he took me completely by surprise and attacked the hoover and turned on me again. Later in the day I was working away in my office and I printed out a letter and suddenly from nowhere he came, jumped madly on my desk and attacked the printer. When I say attack, I mean he got his teeth right into the printer nearly pulling it off my desk leaving it badly marked and damaged. He would then take himself away, calm down and would be lovely for a while. If I went to use the microwave, he attacked the microwave. If I called him away he would just bite me. I phoned a couple of friends who gave me the name and telephone number of a local, ‘Dog behaviourist.
Day three and more bruises and biting and I could not get him in the car without him biting me and then once in he was finally in he would wet himself again. I was beginning to think that maybe he had previously had his tail caught in a car boot and it had been chopped off and this is why he was so fearful?
Lead walks on the road meant Jasper pulling me like a train, wanting to chase cars, he was so strong that I decided to put a harness on him with a lead and a lead on his collar so that I had double control.
Day four, the well-spoken dog behaviourist who told me on the phone there is no such word in the dog world as attack, arrived. It was August and a warm sunny day. I was a bit surprised to see that she arrived in shorts, skimpy top and flip flops, lots of make-up and her hair done up. ‘Let me see this vicious dog’, she said sarcastically. She made her way to the garden and called Jasper over to her and he ‘attacked’ her biting her arm and breaking the skin and after 15 minutes of her trying to calm him down and I might add here that Jasper was having none of it and got himself into a bit of a frenzy, she said it was time for her to go and she left our house looking like a scarecrow that had been thrown through a hedge! After 5 weeks of trying to work with Jasper, she gave up on us and actually gave Jasper an ‘asbo’. She did confess that originally when I called her she thought I was a mad woman on the end of the phone exaggerating, until of course she saw him for herself and she did admit to me that there is now such a word as ‘ATTACK’ in the dog world.
I paid numerous visits to the rescue centre for advice and help. Sadly this got me nowhere and this is a horrible feeling as you feel so alone. They did say after seeing the state of the bite marks on my arms that if I returned him they would have no option but to put him to sleep. I couldn’t even get a muzzle on him at all. I tried several times and after a few more bites, a muzzle was not going to work.
Two behaviourists later, £100’s of pounds spent and still no progress.
One day it occurred to me that not one of the 3 so called behaviourists had tried to understand what was going on in Jaspers mind, they had just seemed happy to advise various ‘gadgets’ or treats.
I had one option left which was to go and see my vet to see if there was something else he could give Jasper to try and calm him down as I had tried all the herbal and natural medication available to no avail. Jasper growled badly at the vet and lunged at him, the vet wasn’t impressed with him and said to me that he saw 3-4 dogs like Jasper every year and the best thing as far as he was concerned was for him to put Jasper asleep there and then. He told me to go and sit in the car for ten minutes, think about it and then go back in. I didn’t go back in, with tears in my eyes, Jasper, Hayley & I went home, I was devastated at his remark and this is the day I really started listening to what Jasper was trying to tell me. I had been getting pictures in my head of how he had been treated prior to us adopting him but I didn’t understand what they had meant until today. I saw him cowering in a corner and then hit, being kicked outside and left whilst they put their own dinner in the microwave, this was very bizarre and even though I didn’t understand the messages I did now.
I had made a commitment to Jasper when I bought him home and there is no way I was going to give up on him.
Now time to do this my way with the help of Jasper, the two of us working as a team.
I put the hoover next to Jaspers bed for a few nights and soon I could walk around with the hoover just pretending obviously not plugged in so no sound. I would put his treats on the hoover, sit his favourite tennis ball on it and get him to bring it back to me, so he eventually associated this as being a nice thing and a few weeks later came the day came when I decided I would plug the hoover in. Jasper loves his tennis ball so much and I had thought up a great plan. I got the hoover pipe ready his ball nearby and as I turned on the hoover I sucked his ball onto the end of the hoover pipe and the hoover pipe threw his ball across the lounge for him to fetch. This worked a treat and from that day the hoover became his friend, a friend who would play ball with him. One problem solved. (Three years on and I can actually hoover Jasper with the hoover pipe).
Over the same few weeks it was time to work on getting Jasper into the boot of the car as stress free as I possibly could. I asked our next door neighbour to drill holes into six plastic plates, I then attached string through the holes and applied dairy lea spread and peanut butter to each plate. I had practiced in the house him licking the gorgeous spreads off the plates. I had even tied them onto the treadmill and one day I was on there and he jumped on to join me, licking away at the spreads. I then tied 3 plates onto the dog guard in the car and left the boot open, I would then bring Jasper out tempting him with plate 4 and with a lot of patience he would eventually jump up into the car. As I drove, I would hear him constantly and anxiously licking the plates but this actually gave him something to focus and concentrate on and I would repeat the same thing for the 2 mile journey back. A few months later, I laugh as I look back, as I actually then had ‘trouble’ getting him out of the boot as he would be so relaxed and the plastic plates were no longer needed.
Chasing cars was another big problem so each day armed with treats, I would walk up the road and spend at least twenty minutes sitting at the bus stop. I would gently talk to him whilst the traffic went by telling him what make of car it was and would ask him to watch them and when he did without lunging I would give him a treat and praise him. A few months later walks on the lead around the roads where we live were a pleasure to go on with a lovely relaxed dog.
The other issue was the printer in my office. I found that I had to think ahead and get a plan in place. I put a stair-gate on the doorway to my office and got Jasper use to high volume relaxing music and then after a while I turned on the printer and over a period of time was able to reduce the music volume and could allow him in to my office and eventually I could print my work off with him showing no signs of anxiety at all.
During the early days I would look for any alternative ways that could help Jasper, I took him to a healing session and that is where I met Karen who is now a very close friend of mine, she would come round and give Jasper healing. This is how I got involved with Helping Paws which Karen founded. I also attended animal communication workshops in Cambridge.
Having people around you for support is so very important and someone to talk to really does help. I would never be frightened of asking for help in the future if I needed it. I think it is very important to give out the right advice as every dog is so different and unique.
Thankfully I now I have Lisa and the ISCP forum so I know I have fantastic support network.
I would just like to add here that 18 months after seeing that particular vet who at that time was happy to put Jasper to sleep, we bumped into him whilst having a meal out with friends, he saw what a changed dog Jasper was and actually shook my hand and said well done for not giving up on him. Jasper actually wagged his stumpy tail at him so I assume he was saying to the vet that he had forgiven him. Not sure I have!
In the first year of having Jasper, our whole lifestyle had to change, we had to be careful who came to visit and when they did, have rules in place so that everyone would stay safe whilst in our home. Now if anyone comes in Jasper just kisses them and wants cuddles although we have to keep an eye on his energy levels. We still have a couple of issues with Jasper but we deal with them on a daily basis and we will get there. We have climbed a huge mountain and have achieved a great deal.
Jasper now has two sisters, the latest one a 3 year old collie who had nervous and fear aggression who was also going to be put to sleep. Jasper has taught me that if you open your heart and listen, you will see and hear that your dog is actually communicating with you. I would really like to thank Jasper, not only is he my best friend but he has helped me to help many other dogs who have problems. You just need to listen to what they are saying, to understand why they are behaving as they do and to work things through, to help their owners, to be there to help and support them.