Sorry, we're a little late on this post, but really wanted to share this story with you.
Halfway into Tug's stay, his owner came to Toronto to work with Sonny, Tug and the Pack.
After her weekend here, she wrote a wonderful letter about her journey with Tug (thus far). We wanted to share it here, with all of you, so we hope you can take a few minutes to read her experience. You will get a sense of what most of our clients, and so many dog owners are facing on a daily basis. It's a glimpse into the rehabilitation program, through the eyes of an owner who wants and deserves a "normal" relationship with her dog.
Maybe it resonates with you, and will help you realize that you are not the only one that struggles with behaviour issues. Rehabilitation and balance are possible :)
I found Tug through a Kijiji ad back in 2011. His mug shot was adorable, and I instantly fell in love. There was no history other than "he was found running along the highway" and they didn't know how old he was or what his background was. They assured me that he was good with dogs and cats, so hoping for the best, I quickly scooped him up and headed home. Never having had a dog in my adult life, I had no idea what I was getting into.
I took him to the pet store and immediately saw a red flag. He saw another dog and ran headfirst at it, barking and lunging and really losing his cool. The employee at the pet store told me that he needed a basket muzzle and a prong collar, pronto. Not knowing anything about dogs, I picked up both, as well as a crate and a bunch of other dog necessities and headed home.
Soon after, he got into two dog fights with me around, which were very upsetting. One happened on my street, which resulted in witnesses screaming nasty things at me. I knew there would be a stigma attached to having a bully breed, but I didn't think people would be so outwardly cruel to a stranger.
We cycled through about five different trainers and behaviourists, but none of them were able to really address his reactive tendencies. In the end we settled on avoidance strategies and anti-anxiety medication (neither of which I was very comfortable with).
I was completely disappointed with all of the professionals we tried. I got the feeling that they weren't as experienced with reactive dogs as they claimed to be. This left me frustrated and really feeling like I had no hope or options. I couldn't take him on walks. I couldn't take him to the beach, or camping or anywhere that might cause a reaction. This was not what a dog was to me. We were locked into a vicious cycle that I didn't know how to break.
He would also stress in the house-- barking and obsessively chewing his feet to the point of bleeding and blistering. We thought he had allergies and I put him on a prescription food. He would race around the house, spinning like a top, just trying to burn energy, all of which I knew were signs of pent up frustration and energy, but couldn't properly alleviate.
This continued for two years until eventually I ran out of steam. I was considering giving him up, but knew that I couldn't surrender him to just anyone with the issues that he had, so we limped along, barely existing, neither of us happy by any means.
Then about a month ago, I was in Toronto visiting friends who have a reactive dog named Cyber. They said that within minutes of Sonny's arrival, his two JRTs were poking around Cyber's living space and she wasn't reacting at all! I knew something was up with this guy, so I got in touch as soon as I got home.
After a long phone call, I decided to send Tug to Sonny's place for a month of intensive rehab. Within ten minutes of me dropping him off, Sonny sent me a picture of Tug, calmly chilling with the rest of the pack, looking happy and relaxed. I couldn't believe it! I thought, "who is this guy and what did he do with my dog?!", but was immediately encouraged to see him settling in.
Over the next few weeks Sonny sent some amazing photos of Tug and the rest of the pack bonding, sleeping, eating and walking together-- generally being friends. It brought me to tears several times to see his life so enriched and balanced and normal! I couldn't wait to visit and see the progress first hand.
I did that two weeks in to Tug's rehab- met the pack, walked with them, and learned how to properly correct him, and tried to earn some respect. It was difficult since it's typical for dogs to revert to their previous behaviour once their owner comes around. I left feeling a little disappointed with my own performance. But the second day was much better, and I was able to walk him along the boardwalk with what looked like a hundred other dogs all frolicking off leash and being normal dogs. He had normal introductions to the right dogs, and actually listened to me when I corrected him! I was pretty ecstatic and looked forward to having a regular, happy-go-lucky dog in my life.
I realized that I had made a major mistake with him - I adopted him in order to replace a lost sense of affection and companionship in my life, and treated him as such instead of adopting him with the mindset that he is a dog and deserves to be treated like one. I wasn't giving him enough exercise and discipline, and entirely way too much affection, which was totally skewing things for him. He had no balance in his life, and took every opportunity to lash out and release that frustration.
The work that Sonny has done with Tug is just amazing. He has exposed him to all of his former triggers, and his reactions have been either nonexistent, low or very easily corrected. During his stay, Tug is learning how to make dog friends and function in a pack. He's no longer on the anti-OCD medication, and his prescription low-allergen food has been reduced and supplemented with healthy human food (both goals of mine). He gets several hours of exercise a day, and Sonny is constantly tuned to his behaviour and corrects him whenever needed - and Tug doesn't mind!
I couldn't be happier with his progress, and have been continually singing Sonny (and his pack's) praises to anyone who will listen. I can't thank him enough for giving Tug what he needed all along. He truly has an understanding of dog psychology and knows how to just treat dogs like dogs.
I'll be picking up Tug this weekend, and I can't wait to start our new life together knowing that his bad behaviour is a thing of the past.
Stay tuned for more updates on Tug's progress.
Miss you buddy!