This dog is highly aggressive and was somehow rescued from a sketchy neighborhood in New Jersey. After riding for several hours in a car to be transferred to a foster, he bit the transport driver severely in the shoulder when she was getting him out of the car, unfortunately causing nerve damage. He becomes highly attached to his caregiver, but will not tolerate outsiders. In fact, this attachment, which I call “addiction-to-owner syndrome” insulates him from being social with outsiders. I also suspect he has been trained on a bite suit as he leaps towards the shoulders and sustains the bite trying to bring the person to the ground unlike the typical addicted-to-owner dog that is satisfied with the relief from a few quick bites, as painful as they might be, however if it were a dog-on-dog situation, it would just have resulted in a crimping and shaking of a thick wad of fur and loose hide, not too much damage between dogs unless things escalate from there, but with a person that’s a bad bite. I think he’s been trained because were he just to have become rank through the normal course of puppy mismanagement, there would be much more fear in his aggressive behavior. There are two videos below. The first one is to trigger him. I’ve placed him in an isolation kennel by the wood shed and asked Jeff to approach. The key in my training is to not to have to control a dog, I want to change a dog’s emotional impressions of triggers so that he can be in control of himself. I want him to be able to get himself out of the turbulent swirl of instinctual sensations that trigger his denied-rage mechanism. Then I will cement this capacity to self-regulate, to be able to move from a state of intense frenzy to a calm supple state, into heel, sit, down responses to “commands” so that in the obedience work there isn’t a fundamental state of conflict that has simply been buried under a mountain of training and which sooner or later will break down and which is also contingent on the presence of the handler and how much force they can bring to bear. In other words, I want my commands to piggy back onto the internal commands he gives himself when he chooses to be sensual rather than succumbing to the sensations of static.
In my view it is impossible to train such a dog using just positive methods as the most positive drive is to bite and I suspect Willie has been imprinted in a particularly manic style of bite work as a young pup. Let me simply say that the initial transfer from foster owner to me, and then being able to get ahold of him again each morning during the first week, was an interesting challenge because he had me typed and zeroed in as “stranger-on-the-horizon, i.e. a large, dangerous; but vulnerable prey animal. I deal with a lot of intense dogs, but each of those mornings was a particularly heart stopping exercise in nitroglycerin management.
On the plus side Willie is a whole male. And he’s glommed onto his foster owner who has a fenced in yard and a set apart zone for him in the house, but I’m only working with him on the stipulation he stay where he is, or be placed with a knowledgable working dog person who’d be committed to continuing his civilizing process. He’d make a good police dog but these days the police can’t take him on because he has a bite history and that presents a liability issue. Too bad because in the old days my father and I would go to pounds where such a dog was quarantined for the mandatory period before euthanasia, and two years after that initial lassoing the dog would be the featured guest at a Boy Scout awards night with his Police handler, then to be mobbed by the kids after dessert. But those days of police dog career nabbing bad guys as pathway to canine emotional rehab are no longer possible.
Willie has also been hit as on occasion he displays some hand shyness. Once I did get bitten in the hand after he chewed his way up the lead faster than I could out maneuver him but, speaking to his strong nature, most of the time when I move my hand fast near his eyes, even though it’s in a moment of conflict, he just winces and shrugs it off.
The most encouraging thing about the first video is that he began to oscillate between fixation on the eyes of the stranger, and a noticeably softened body manner and facial expression, and this allowed him to want the food being offered by me but he was still too tight to focus on eating it to the exclusion of all else. But just a little bit, hunger is starting to get stronger than balance and this indicates to me that he will be amenable to a sensual input from a stranger when I take him out of the kennel.
However, note that in the kennel he cannot perform a speak-on-command and then struggles to get it out when on/lead and I’m there to prompt him. His manic barking and surging to the stranger at the gate is too strong and we can see him sneak a few glances to the kennel gate where he has experienced the most intense surge of emotional acceleration and he wants to get back to that surge.
In the second video I engage him in some core exercises, barking–pushing–rub-a-dub, and then we see him on his own initiate social contact with the stranger. Finally once the dog feels grounded with a rub-a-dub, I ask the stranger to provoke him by jumping at him. I was very happy to see that this didn’t knock him off balance. Now we only need a few hundred more strangers willing to play guinea pig while I ramp up the intensity of the core exercises, and we’re done. So come to Vermont and meet Willie for yourself. (or save a trip and send donations to his foster Godmother, Virginia, inquire within.)