I have worked with hundreds of canines in my professional career and there are many cases that stand out and have touched me deeply, not only for the difference I was able to make in the lives of the canines, but also their human families.
Today’s case really touched me very deeply on both those levels, so I wanted to share.
I was called in to work with a three-dog group consisting of a five y/o, M, Lab-Doodle Service Dog Benji, a 10 y/o, M, Chi Spike and a newly adopted nine m/o, M, GSD/Lab pup Kilo, all neutered. Reason for consult was the pup Kilo was manic is his attempts at rough play and constantly mounting Benji, which had actually resulted in a minor bite incident.
When I arrived, I walked into total chaos, with Kilo totally out of control and going after Benji and Benji giving correction after correction. The caretaker, who had suffered a minor collateral bite from the above bite incident, was also in a very stressed and panicked state due to the constant fighting, and worried that the adoption would not work out.
The living room was very small and Kilo had been mostly crated since his arrival. The caretaker was sitting on the couch with Benji on her lap and Kilo would jump on the couch non-stop and bark in his face and try to mount him. Benji would give very firm correction and Kilo would jump down momentarily, then jump back up and continue.
What struck me was how stressed and manic Kilo was within himself while this was happening. His eyes and head were darting non-stop all over the room in desperation, he was panting very heavily and he was physically shaking in nervousness, frustration and anxiety. The look I saw in his eyes was heartbreaking, he was totally lost, unsure and totally out of control mentally and emotionally.
The first thing I asked was if Kilo had been outside and had any exercise and playtime. Caretaker told me very little, he had been crated. The first thing I did was take him outside and get him wound up and run himself out a bit. He loved it and rested a bit, then I got him going again and ran him out even more. He was tired now, panting, tongue hanging out, huge smile, so I took him inside and there was a major difference in his communication with Benji.
Benji sensed Kilo was tired and calmer and initiated contact. Kilo responded well, but quickly got a second wind and began trying to overwhelm and control Benji, while barking in his face. It was time to go outside for a play-session.
I had Kilo on a long-line, while Benji took off running himself out a bit. Then, I went with my gut on Kilo and let him go, he was spot on. Kilo raced with Benji all over the yard until they were exhausted, then they came together and Benji started initiating play with Kilo and showing him how to play. After about fifteen minutes of me controlling Kilo’s attempts at playing and giving him boundaries, he now had a canine teacher, someone to show him the language and I let him go and let them talk. It was such an amazing thing to watch.
You could see Kilo was taking Benji’s cues and play signals and now respecting them, he was learning and liking it. They needed to have time outside to talk and bond and the quickest way to that end is through play. Kilo was gently pawing Benji now and curving his head into his body and backing off, Benji would bow, then roll on the ground and let Kilo paw at him, then get up and initiate play. It was an absolutely amazing conversation to watch. I let them play until they both just dropped and relaxed. The picture here is after these crazy guys played outside together for the very first time. 30 minutes of play and they now had a language, a trust and a conversation to build on, for a lifetime.
Time to go back inside and sort that bit out. Once we got inside the dynamic had totally changed, but Kilo was still over-reaching. He had no toys or other stimulation other than poor Benji, so I got some prime toys and bones for them both to play with. Benji is a mature adult, but Kilo still needs a lot of mental stimulation and physical activity. The chew-toys inside will keep his attention off of Benji and give him much needed focus and mental stimulation. He has a nice blanket in his crate now, with his favorite red bone and a few other toys to chew on and the door is left open Canines chew, it’s what they do, and they are very, very happy and content and very secure while doing it.
When I looked into Kilo’s eyes as I got ready to leave, they were warm and calm, he gave me a very steady, contented, tired gaze and a beautiful smile. The transformation was truly stunning in that he now felt comfortable and relaxed. His frustration at not being able to successfully play with Benji had been his major issue. Once he had been successful in playing, it was a breakthrough moment and he felt he had a friend, he belonged, and was part of the group now. He didn’t have to desperately try to force play anymore, he knew how to talk and play with Benji now.
His caretaker was also totally relieved and now had a whole new perspective on the dog/dog dynamic. She is much more relaxed, sees hope and knows the important part she plays and seems so relieved. This truly is one case I will never forget.