Here is 21 month old Harper and our JRT Frisco doing what they do all day; loving, playing, kissing. They have a special bond and he really looks after her. But it wasn’t always that way.
In Frisco’s almost 11 years, he had only met a handful kids before our own. The first time we realized how serious his fear of kids was happened about 10 years ago when a kid came over out of nowhere on a walk and tried to hug him. He snapped and bit. Nothing serious but it was enough to scare us from allowing him to get close to kids again. We’d test him every now and again by keeping him behind the glass French doors of Mike’s office outside our living room when friends would have their kids over. We’d have them casually walk by to see if his feelings changed. They never did and his strong reaction of jumping against the glass and barking like crazy stayed the exact same with each attempt. Our attitude for so long was pretty much ‘it’s fine because we don’t have kids’ so we’d hide him in our room for parties and go on with life. Until I got pregnant.
One of my first few thoughts after the general shock of finding out I was pregnant wore off was literally oh shit. What about Frisco? We were on our third trainer at that point. The first idiot sprayed his eyes with vinegar to show his dominance over the dog (even when he was just sniffing him since he wasn’t aggressive toward adults) which caused him to squint and rub his red eyes for days after. He also walked him over to a yard with two barking dogs (yeah, he also freaks out about other dogs especially on walks) then he yelled and yanked on his leash repeatedly while Frisco lunged and barked. This went on for several minutes until I had tears in my eyes, it was brutal to watch. We knew we didn’t like what he was doing but he made us promise we wouldn’t get in the way of his training since that was the biggest challenge he said he faced- unruly owners. Frisco had a hard time breathing after all the yanking and force and he coughed and wheezed for several days after. I cried that night. We didn’t protect him and I’m sure he was scared.
The next guy was well, I guess worthless douche sums it up nicely. He wasn’t aggressive but looking back he had no experience in dog aggression and had us do inane training exercises like making Frisco sit or lay down mid-walk which of course Frisco did perfectly every time to earn his treat. He said that this calmed him and taught him to obey so when kids came around he’d defer to us. Not so much. Nothing changed and we grew more frustrated and worried that we’d never get the help we needed.
Then by some miracle I got to talking with a client whose makeup I was doing when she mentioned how she trains aggressive dogs. She didn’t live in Colorado but she just met someone who did through a workshop so with newfound hope I set up a time for Jen with Dances With Woofs to come by and see if she could help our Frisc.
Right away I knew she got us. She was loving to Frisco and used praise and treats instead of any type force. She explained that he was aggressive because he was afraid and not to mistake his loud, boisterous behavior for confidence. Any force or harshness would only scare him and could make his behaviors worse. We started slowly with waking calmly past other dogs first from a distance then getting a little closer so he stayed calm. We also taught him a flight response since he was programmed to fight instead. We were giving him options for new behaviors and we could see that it was working. Now fast forward a year or so when I became pregnant. We had done some work with kids – getting Frisco calm while walking him around a busy park – but nothing too intimate. He definitely wasn’t visiting sick children at the hospital or whatever. A few weeks before my due date we rehearsed Harper’s arrival like a damn school play. Sniff her hat, plug in the pheromone diffuser thingy, give treats, pet him, let him maybe sniff her, live happily ever after. Done. But when the time came what actually happened was; walk in the door, Frisco sees the baby, he jumps up in the air repeatedly trying to snap at her in our arms while barking and going as crazy as we’ve ever seen. Oh God, we hadn’t planned for this at all. we had to put him (and our other dog Meatball whose temperament is perfectly neutral) in Mike’s office while we could get our barrings and devise a new plan.
We let him calm a bit and tried again. After all, he hadn’t laid eyes on a baby in years so maybe he was in shock or mistook her for a baby bunny or some shit that calls for this sort of crazed reaction. Here we go- treats in hand, diffuser plugged in, hat sniffed, come on out. Same. Terrible. Thing. In fact every time we tried this over the course of a week his reaction never changed. Just as loud, just as strong, just as scary. I felt hopeless. This along with the c-section recovery, postpartum depression, and general WTF-ness that comes along with being a new mom made those few weeks hands down the darkest of my life. I broke down sobbing to Mike because we both knew what was inevitable. Frisco would have to be put down. He wasn’t adoptable – a dog who hates kids and other dogs? We knew his fate.
After a few weeks Jen came to see us. We had been tethering a long leash from his harness to various furniture so he could be out with us and not locked up in a room all the time. He was sullen and confused which only made us feel more guilty and terrible about the whole thing. She gave us some very basic things to do; give him treats and praise for even looking her way and keep him walked and exerted, along with a few other things to get him feeling better about his new roommate. She told us to hang in there and not give up on him, she had hope. Her encouragement and help was just what we needed. I ran out of hope that he would be with us even another month. The stress was so great and the threat of him constantly looming was too much for me. But we weren’t ready to give up on our Frisc and we started doing exactly as Jen said. After just a few weeks we started making little tiny steps forward. We sent her pictures like this one of the first time Frisco got close to Harper without jumping up at her.
We’d take turns cuddling the dogs while the other had the baby. Mike took this of me napping with them.
And then one day this happened. I’m pretty sure I was crying.
Eventually the tethering stopped and our trust started to build. The more mobile she became the more she wanted to hug and kiss him. We taught her how to pet him nicely and never let her touch him without us- until one day she did. We gasped and watched as he gently licked her and walked away. It was the beginning of their friendship as it is now which is so sweet. We trust him 100% with her, something we talk about often and are still amazed by. He has come such a long way that when we brought Everly home he was basically like *yawn* another baby? Who cares.
Jen totally made it possible for us to keep Frisco in our lives. She helped to brighten his little soul and make him a more confident guy. She did the impossible- she taught an dog new tricks and for that we are so grateful.