Saturday, June 08, 2013

yet another moral dilemma

So Louie. Our dog?


We adopted Louie almost two years ago during a trip to South Carolina. Whereas our previous dogs, Monty and Molly, were pure bred AKC Labrador Retriever puppies ... Louie is a conglomeration of who knows what.  When we adopted him from the shelter, we were told he was a Cocker Spaniel - Mountain Cur mix but I'm sure he has some other breeds in there, too.  From what I've researched online, Mountain Curs were bred specifically for treeing small game but they have also been known to tree bears. I'm not surprised.  Louie will spend hours every day peering out the kitchen window whimpering at the squirrels and deer racing around our backyard and whenever the door opens, he'll fly around the yard like a banshee. I'm surprised - no, shocked - that he hasn't caught a squirrel yet.

Surely it's just a matter of time...

Last year, we took him with us to Michigan and things were great. A few weeks later, when I (sternly) corrected him for eating a stick of butter off the counter, he cowered away and then came at me with teeth bared, growling and snapping.  For several weeks afterwards, I was ready to take him back to the shelter.  But I instead, blamed his response on MY behavior, and read Cesar Milan's book, cover-to-cover with the goal that I would be a more calmly assertive (emphasis on the "calmly") dog owner.

I'm sure Louie sensed that his future with our family was uncertain because his demeanor changed almost instantly. Perhaps he realized that he was on thin ice because he became more keen to listen and please. Except for when he's on leash and then, even with the gentle lead, he's awful.  But he ceased snapping at the kids and became more playful and fun.  Things were certainly going better and I again began to imagine him with us forever.

Then he turned on me again, albeit not nearly as bad. It happened when I was trying to get him to roll over so I could put medicine on his stomach for a rash that he'd developed running around the backyard. I was trying unsuccessfully to flip him on his back and was beginning to get cross. He snarled. I backed off, petted him gently, and told Charlie I had a job for him to do.

(My husband's much better at flipping dogs on their backs than me.)

This past March, our neighbor Tom had to put down his nine-year-old pure bred German Shepard.  This was his fourth German Shepard that he's had to put down before they reached the age of ten and he was devastated.  While his wife was trying to convince him that at 72-years of age, the last thing he needs is another dog ... Tom did not agree with his wife and brought home his new 8-week old AKC German Shepard puppy last month.  Tom really knows his way around dogs and told us that once the puppy was a bit bigger, he'd like for him to meet Louie.

Today was that day.

And here's how it went...

But wait .... first I have to tell you how we took Louie to go fishing today. In my mind, this would be a FUN thing to do. A beautiful day with the dog at the lake, what could be better?  I'll tell you what could be better: A beautiful day with NO dog at the lake. For two hours straight, Louie was yanking on his leash, whimpering, yanking, whimpering, yanking, whimpering. Like it's not challenging enough to go fishing with four children who nearly gouged themselves (and others) as they were casting their lines ... now add a hyper dog to the mix. Sometimes I wonder how I've survived this long without medication? When I felt like hanging Louie from a tree, Charlie scowled and asked, "Remind me again why we have him and not a LAB?"


So then we arrived home and less than an hour later, Tom is at the door asking if we'd like to introduce Louie to the puppy?  Sure I thought. Maybe Louie can redeem himself in our book of good graces. We walked Louie over to meet the new puppy who has doubled in size and is now slightly bigger than Louie.  Louie, who typically does well with other dogs once he realizes that they are much bigger and more dominating than him, wagged his tail. Things looked promising. Until we put them in the fenced yard together and the puppy started to jump around and chase Louie.  That's when Louie said in dog words, "Me Not Like You."

Looking back, I see that once again it was my fault and I should have immediately taken Louie out of there. But I thought that he'd warm up to the puppy, because isn't that what dogs do?

Well, I thought wrong.  After the puppy tried to leapfrog over Louie's face, Louie went primal. He turned on the puppy, snapping, and once the puppy started shrieking in pain from an obvious bite, Louie went even more primal - running after him, snapping.  I jumped in to the fray and grabbed Louie - who immediately looked guilty - put him on leash and had the children take him out of the yard.

Meanwhile the puppy, who was still shrieking, ran and hid behind a garden hose. When Tom and I went to the puppy, we saw that Louie had taken a chunk out of his face.  The beautiful AKC puppy now only has one and three quarters of an eyebrow.

So. Um. 


Tonight I went online to read about what provokes dogs to attack puppies. And the next thing I know, I'm on a website that is selling pure bred AKC Labrador Retriever puppies.


There's a part of me, a big part, that says, "We tried. We really did. It's time to give Louie a shot at life with another family that might be a better fit."  But there's another part of me, an equally big part, that says, "You can do better. You owe it to Louie. You owe it to the Universe."

So I jotted down the pros and cons.

Here are the Louie pros: 

He's smart. He's cute. He's good with our children. He's a nice size and can be transported easily. He's finally housebroken and doesn't chew things that he's not supposed to chew.

Here are the Louie cons: 

He's skittish. He's jumpy. Even with different collars, harnesses and leashes, he's very difficult and frustrating to walk. He can be extremely hyper / obnoxious around other people and dogs. He has a track record of snarling and snapping when provoked. He bites harmless puppies in the face and takes off chunks of flesh.

Unlike the situation I posed on Thursday, this time I'm really conflicted on what to do.  Charlie, not so much. He'd be perfectly content bringing him to a no-kill shelter first thing tomorrow. As an aside, regarding that situation on Thursday, Charlie took my advice and called the subcontractor Friday morning and told him about the incorrect invoice. The subcontractor was enormously grateful and said he owes Charlie one.  

Ah yes... Perhaps the SUBCONTRACTOR would like a mixed breed Cocker Spaniel - Mountain Cur that sometimes responds to the name of Louie. 


  1. Have you gone to any sort of training with Louie? He sounds somewhat similar to my dog in terms of reactions. Ru is now 6 and has always been fairly good in the house but on walks was hyper/crazy and then did not tolerate other dogs at all(snapping, snarling, biting if close enough). The long and short of it was I bit the bullet and finally took him to see a dog behaviorist and the changes have been night and day. I no longer have to worry about how he will react to other dogs, kids... It did take close to 6 months of bi-monthly visits but in the end it was worth it! It has been two years since we went and I wish I would have taken him sooner, it would have alleviated all the frustration and fears those first 4 years.

  2. I understand the dilemna you are in. And then, I don't.
    I understand that Louie might not live up to your expectations.
    I would not like his behavior towards other dogs and in general either.
    But here it stops.
    It's nice that you read a book to improve his behavior and put some kind of effort in him. But giving up on him so easily?
    For me a dog is a family member. Period. I would never give him away before I tried everything.
    Maybe he really just isn't a good match for your family and would be better off with a familiy with maybe less children or perhaps older owners, maybe retired ones that have more time to work with him?
    Who knows.
    I think I would at least talk to a professional about his behavior and maybe find a solution for Louie which MIGHT even mean to give him to another family that is a better fit.
    Maybe just attending obedience school already would do the trick to make him a better dog.
    And looking at other dogs already? No, just no.
    I understand you want a nice dog, and maybe you're gloryfying Monty and Molly in your mind and wish Louie was more like them, but he isn't and he is what you have now. You should close that chapter (one way or another but always with a happy end for Louie) before you even consider getting another dog.

    Good luck with your decision!

  3. Obedience training at a school or with a real trainer?

  4. Jen, I'd be terrified that he'd turn on one of the kids... I hate to say it, but getting rid of Lola was the very best thing we did. we miss her sometimes but not the absolute chaos she created... you know my vote... Maureen

  5. What did you find out about why dogs attack puppies? Is there a risk it could be one of the children next time? An unpredictable dog is surely dangerous but obviously you know him best .Owning a dog should be enjoyable not stressful ,do what your head is telling you and good luck decisions like these are never easy
    Donna (uk)

  6. That's a rough one. You can't have a dog that bites and snarls at kids. Have you had a dog behaviorist type come out and observe, maybe give advice?

    Louie has adorableness and being a great size in his favor. Maybe if you decide to give him up, you could try craigslist and interview folks first. We had to do that with a dog that we got and it gave us peace of mind to know that we had matched him with the best person we could.

    How are the guinea pigs going?

  7. I'm with Charlie. There is no reason to put yourself in a situation where you have a risk tat Louie may bite someone or another dog. I'm the biggest dog lover, but people first, animals second. We just lost our 14.5 year old lab and will get another lab (not necessarily a puppy, but not a rescue either). Before kids, we had a very large dog, who I loved, but I could never get over the Fear of what he might do if he was in the backyard and a kid jumped over the fence to get a ball etc. we did keep him through his natural life, but I am not sure we would have if we had kids. I can tell you that having a trustworthy mellow dog is so much fun for everyone.

  8. Hmmm, Louie looks a lot like our new puppy who is a black lab mix. Ours is from a shelter too.

    If you haven't had a dog trainer in your life, I highly suggest one. louie has a socialization problem a good trainer can probably help you. Gonna be tough since he's not a puppy anymore, he's what my trainer would call an "obnoxious doggie adolescent" LOL.

    Give it a shot and then make a decision.

  9. Oh man! I wish you were in SD so that I could refer you to a dog trainer named Rob Kuty. He trains dogs for the shows at Sea World. He could totally tell you what to do next!

    I think your last resort would be to hire a reputable dog trainer. Pay him to train you how to deal with Louie's behavioral issues. Ask the trainer how long it should take for the issues to resolve THEN decide.

    We adopted a 2 1/2 y.o. dog from a shelter. I didn't have time to take Maggie to group training classes. I hired Rob to come out for an hour on 2 separate occasions to help me understand how to discipline my dog. (Maybe it cost $80? an hour?) The sessions did not cover how to train the dog to sit/heel, etc., but it was how to keep the dog off the sofa, keep her from jumping on people, keep her out of the trash and off the counters, and how to socialize the dog with other dogs... it was HUGELY beneficial. Maggie was still young at the time and for that first 6 months (even at 2 1/2 it was REALLY time consuming because alot of it has to do with keeping the dog exercised )

    Maggie can jump 6 ft high. Often when she wants attention or gets riled up, she will jump, and jump and is a good thing I didn't see that when we said we'd take her...otherwise I may have been scared off.

    The training of her owner has worked and Maggie is 7 now and has mellowed and Maggie does as she's told (but on occasions she will still get in the trash and on occasions when she hasn't been around other dogs she can be defensive).

    I'm not sure with the aggression that Louie portrays what the answer is for that. Louie is a pretty dog I'm sure she'll be adopted if you decide to give her up.
    The next dog though, I highly recommend getting a dog that is not a puppy. I can't imagine how much work it would have taken Maggie to get her to where she was at 2 1/2.

  10. p.s. Maggie still drags me around the block when I taker her out for a walk. Even while wearing the collar with the pokey things. The only time she doesn't drag me is after she has been walking for about 20 minutes.
    p.s. p.s. Maggie is a super smart dog and she is SO good with the kids. She takes her lumps from Isla like a champ. She has never snapped.(we got her when Shepard was 3 1/2)

  11. Jen I'm going to inmessage you or email (if I can find it)

  12. Your choice is a very hard one. I guess from my point of view, adopting a pet is sort of like adopting a kid, and or having a kid. you don't get rid of them just because you don't like how they behave. I adopted a pet a couple of years ago, I love her to pieces but there are times when i wish she was different. but i made a promise when i adopted her that i would take care of her for the rest of her life. because who knows if she would ever find home again where she is loved and cared for.
    It's hard to have to make that choice, but i really hope you keep Louie. Love him for what he is, and try to minimize the places where he could act out.

    1. I agree with this to an extent, but here's the thing: there's a hierarchy in families. well, in my family, anyway. My kids come before my dog. Period. Full stop. Louie is great with the kids now, but with a known history of aggression? In my house, he would be gone. I have taken care of plenty of kids in my career who were attacked by family pets that the parents never believed would turn on their kids. Some of those outcomes weren't so good. If my dog ever gave any indication of aggression, he would be gone.

      Now, if he were, saying, chewing up the furniture or barking all the time or something like that, then yes, we would just have to work through that. But some things are dealbreakers and kids come before pets.

  13. As much as you love Louie, you probably should rehome him. His track record is not good and next time it might be a child or an elderly person who gets the bite. I know how hard that is to hear, my 4 children were very, very sad when we had to get rid of our dog for the same reasons. It's much better to be safe than sorry in this case.

  14. I'm totally unqualified to comment, as I only have one child, and don't have any pets. BUT, Louie sounds dangerous. Yesterday, it was the neighbour's puppy, and you feel very badly. How will you feel when he bites the neighbour's child or elderly grandmother. I'm sure you've all tried your best, but Louie's place is elsewhere.

    I love your blog, and look forward to each new entry.

  15. If I remember right, Louie was only about 6 weeks or so when the shelter adopted him to you. Dogs learn much better social behaviors if they are with their littermates until they are AT LEAST 8 weeks. Ten weeks is even better. In WI, it is against the law to remove pups from their littermates (selling or adopting) before they are 8 weeks old. They learn a lot about bite inhibition and social "etiquette" in those weeks together with the other pups. You would think that the shelter who adopted him to you would know that.

    I'm not sure if Louie would have been any different if he had been older when removed from his fellow pups or if its just his nature (nature of his breed), but something to think about for any pups you might get in the future.

    Lesa in WI

  16. I agree with you that you have a responsibility to this dog. At the very least, that requires finding him a family, maybe something rural where he can run and chase and a little aggression is good for survival. If you want to try and keep him around, consider hiring a trainer to come work with your family. I'm amazed at what magic those people can work!
    Also, I know that your experience with pure-breads colors your commentary but plenty of mutts are fantastic (the many I've had, for instance!) and, as you know, adopting from a shelter is an ethical alternative to growing the dog population when dogs are dying everyday because there are not enough homes. If you end up replacing Louie, consider a breed-specific rescue. Google "lab rescue", there are a ton out there!

  17. Thanks for the input everyone, lots of things to think about.

    We hired a professional dog trainer with Monty that was fantastic. So I'd always thought that I'd just APPLY what I learned with that trainer to my subsequent dogs, and while it worked with Molly - Louie is a different situation, altogether. What's interesting is that we picked him out because he seemed to be the most docile in his litter. All of his litter mates were climbing all over him and he took it. Now it seems, he thinks that he's the top dog.

    Where things stand, currently - I've interviewed three dog trainers over the past week and all of them have said that we need PRIVATE lessons with Louie. They've indicated that there is no way he should be in a setting with other "in-training" dogs at this juncture based upon his aggressive behavior. When I told one trainer that he was a mix between a cocker spaniel and a mountain cur - she just buried her head in her hands and said, "Oh no....!" We've narrowed it down to one trainer and she'll be coming to our home later this week with her pack (two other fully-trained dogs) to do an evaluation and recommendation.

    I really appreciated what one of the trainers I met told me, when I mentioned that I felt that *I* was to blame for Louie turning on me last year - and turning on the puppy last weekend. She told me, "Absolutely NOT. A good dog NEVER turns on it's owner. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER. A good dog knows it's place in the home and that is BELOW the mother and father, children, guests, and any other animals in the home (i.e. guinea pigs)." She also told me that after the incident with the puppy last week, she would have flipped Louie over to a submissive position (on his back) and HELD him there while the puppy came back over to see him. Of course, she's glad I didn't try that because I probably would have been bitten. She said that if after the training session, Louie doesn't meet us "half-way" she said that it would be her [strong] recommendation that we re-home him because the risk is far too great that he could turn on us or the kids.

    So, we're giving it one last shot and we're committed to try and make this work. And if it doesn't work, we're going to quickly move on and find a dog that IS a better fit for our family. There's no way I'm going to keep a dog for potentially the rest of our children's childhood that I'm constantly worried could turn at any second. That's just not going to happen.

  18. A dog like that will turn on a child as it did on the puppy, once he has the child alone. If you keep this dog, never allow it to be alone/isolated with just one of your children. This dog has a Napoleon complex and is an opportunist. Before one of your children suffer the fate of having an eyebrow or eye ripped out, FIND IT A NEW HOME ! You need to swallow you pride and stubborn conviction to make this relationship work - after 2 years (14) in doggy years, its time to move on. We had a dog with a very similar temperament, one Sunday morning we heard the dog growl and our 9 year old son scream . . . . 23 stitches later in our son's face, stomach, and arm, the dog found a new home. Do not let a incident happen to your children just because you feel its the right thing to do for Louie - your children trust you to protect them from harm, so Louie needs to go . . . NOW !

  19. Jen, could you please keep us posted as to how it goes? I wish you the best of luck, no matter what happens.