This is Baxter. He was a beautiful dog. That was it, that was all I was looking for, really. A medium size dog that was super cute. We had just adopted Isobel and wanted a sibling for her to play with. My husband and I worked full-time (except for my summers off) and we did not want them to get lonely, or bored - or destructive. Isobel was new to us at 4 months old and within weeks, we adopted Baxter. I can easily tell you now, we did it all wrong.
Canine Coach, our go-to-trainers, would say - "Fix the dog you have before you add another". Isobel was just a puppy - a cute, sweet puppy. She did not need to be fixed! But how would we know? We should have known because Isobel was only four moths old. In her tiny life she had been rejected, isolated, relocated, housed in a noisy, cold pen and eventually rehoused. She must have spent her first few months terrified. She barely got settled, got secure or felt loved before we introduced Baxter.
Baxter did not come through the Animal Humane Society (AHS), as had all of our previous dogs. Baxter was in foster care with a rescue organization. He, too, was about 4 months old. Cute puppies in a loving home, what could go wrong? Here again, we should have known. Baxter had already been returned to the rescue organization for being aggressive with an older resident dog. He was resource guarding. Understandable, right? He too must have been terrified much of his young life. No problem. We have plenty of resources and a sweet, non-threatening playmate and time. Right?
Our introductory play-date was wonderful and convincing. We brought him home. It was mid-July. We were packing for a move and I was soon to return to work. I was, at very least, distracted and stressed. I turned to these cute energetic puppies for my own comfort and amusement. And they provided a wonderful distraction. We went on walks and played in the yard. We started training with AHS. We brought each dog separately for full attention. They exceled. It was a great start, no doubt about it.
And then it started - after a couple of weeks. The first attack was especially scary. Baxter attacked Isobel violently. It seemed to be unprovoked, out of nowhere. They were under a table and it was difficult to rescue Isobel. It was horrible! Do we give him back? Do we kennel him when they are together? AHS said dog fights are louder and scarier than they are harmful (typically true). They suggested resource management, training and time. All good advice - just insufficient. Baxter went on to bully and attack Isobel repeatedly - even though they were friends most of the time. He attacked dogs on walks and visiting dogs.
Over the six years that we had Baxter and Isobel, Baxter attacked many dogs - most severely the ones in our own home. Keith and I have scars from breaking up fights and blood stains around the house. To make things confusing, Baxter also worked beautifully with my special education students and completed Canine Good Citizen Training (KGC). He was smart, devoted and completely unpredictable. Worse yet, Isobel learned to fight against him and with him. She became as violent and unpredictable as he. Maybe more so.
We had Canine Coach come to our home. They observed and gave us intervention strategies and advice about "gate management" (keeping the house dogs separate). At one point, the trainer observed a casual interaction between Baxter and out daughter's dog, Murphy. Sniffing- normal, looking toward owners- normal ... and then the attack- unprovoked and unexpected. Not normal. Probably not fixable. What would it take to fix all of the damage done to those puppies, all of the damage they did to each other and visiting dogs?
I'll dive into that next time.