Ninda is a small terrier rescue from Fawn’s Small Dog Rescue and had some serious issues. She would violently and aggressively chase her tail, spinning and growling and occasionally catching and biting her tail. She didn’t seem to realize that it was HER tail she was chasing, which was beginning to get bloody and raw. Her digestion was all out of whack and she had an infection. But the tail chasing, as it usually is in these cases, was behavioral not medical.
Sally, the rescuer, would try to stop her by holding onto her which resulted in numerous bites – HARD ones. She called me to come over and assess or give her some tips about Miss Ninda. But first, we have to assess our dog’s energy not with “she’s probably doing that because _________” and then attach a human element or emotion to it. Dogs assess energy all of the time and as energy changes, so does the dog. Our problem, as humans, is that we assess one time – with emotion – and that becomes the label for the dog.
A case in point is Jazzie. Jazzie was labelled dog aggressive and was at a rescue organization that, like many rescues, has way too many dogs. Being vocal and excited is not aggression but it is often mistaken as such by humans who are unfamiliar with how a dog sees the world and who puts human emotions onto our dogs. They also just assess body language and energy ONCE, where our dogs do this constantly during the day. Add that to their natural pack position and it can be confusing to the human.
They asked me to assess Jazzie because she was due to join a trip to Cape Cod to be up for adoption, but she wasn’t taken because of the label. I found this middle-of-the-pack girl to be quite social and very respectful with a back-of-the-pack guy named Parker. Jazzie also was crated next to Nook-Nook, also a middle pack dog, who was more vocal than Jazzie and they got along great. I also took her into the worst location for a dog aggressive dog, the kennel room. Here it’s loud, full of energy and movement, and not a great location to be in at any time. However, Jazzie stood beside me and took it all in calmly. Jazzie is now on her way to Cape Cod to her forever home.
So Ninda had to be pack position assessed first. She is a middle pack dog who was uncertain/anxious and needed an outlet for that brain. However, it was suggested to Sally by a vet that the tail should be removed to remove the source of the agitation (vets are generally not behaviorists and clearly this one was not). Mislabeling, and misunderstanding a dog’s brain, would have resulted in an uncertain/anxious dog missing a tail.
My 2-hour session started with having her come out and wander so I could assess what she did. Actually, the biggest trigger was when Sally stopped giving affection Ninda would look at her tail as if she were about to be attacked by it, and then ferociously go after it. Sally wanted to stop it by trying to hold her down, which almost always resulted in getting bitten. So, the first thing I did was put a slip lead on Ninda and lead her outside (where walking and following was an issue). Originally, Sally had Ninda on a harness, the absolute most inappropriate tool for teaching control. Then I had Sally do the same thing: leading through doorways entering and exiting. Then we just let Ninda drag her leash back into the house behind Sally.
At any point where Ninda would begin to get quiet with the target glance at her backside Sally would use the “TSCH” sound and if it wasn’t timed well, reach for the leash and give a correction. Dragging the leash was also for Sally’s safety so she could grab that instead of the dog and apply steady upwards pressure to calm the brain down and then follow through. That happened several times while I was there, and each event was less and less intense and a shorter duration.
Sally then stayed consistent with only a slight amount of coaching for a couple of months. Then came the news that Ninda had stopped chasing her tail and started playing with the other dogs at the rescue; in essence, bringing back the middle pack pup in her. Watching her go through the event was never easy for anyone but I know that if I don’t love the dog in the way that it needs to be loved and corrected (affection/correction, not affection-correction) she would never have moved forward. And forward is where she continues living a happy, healthy life for both her body and mind.
Until next time, read your dogs’ energies, take the human element out, and think like a dog!
(Here's a video montage of Ninda and her journey!