Q: What does it take to be put on the dangerous dogs list? A: Not very much at all.
He’s big, he’s black, he’s fluffy, he’s vocal and he’s worried by things.
Oh, and he’s a German Shepherd.
He was put on the dangerous dogs list aged 4, after he was found barking at the end of a chain. Full details surrounding the exact case cannot be given but knowing that dogs are fight or flight animals, being on the end of a chain thwarts the possibility to escape from danger. There is one option left for them and dogs are driven to survive, just like us. They will do what they feel they need to, to accomplish that.
In his case he barked his discomfort at being approached by strangers. He made it clear he was nervous by literally shouting to be left alone. And if his new owner hadn’t taken him under her wing he’d likely have been put to sleep for reacting the way any dog has the potential and right to - expressing how he's feeling!
He’s 9 now. I’ve known him for ~ 4 months and he’s the sweetest, gentlest, and soppiest dog I’ve known in a while. He cries out in fear when the dog he lives with gets too rough. He whines in distress when something unexpected touches him and he feels “stuck”. Being bathed and groomed is scary for him – and he reacts with fidgety whining stress. Every single dog is capable of aggressive behaviours. Every single one. The differences lie in the expression of those: when, where, why and how. And this dog is not one to fall back on aggressive behaviours under any usual day-to-day circumstances AT ALL. Quite the opposite.
He is still worried by certain triggers in his direct environment which means he is still vocal. This we are going to work on – for his sake. Its stressful being worried by things and if we can give him coping skills to deal with his concerns I think that’s important for every dog – whatever their age.
Will it be possible to give him alternative coping skills and boost his confidence when he is 9 years of age? Under the same rules and conditions as dogs of any age – yes! Set him up to succeed and reward the good. His brain still is “mouldable” (neuroplasticity) if we give him opportunities to learn something new.
(A great explanation of neuroplasticity is this: imagine every single day you walk the same route through the woods. The ground is well worn from your feet travelling that path day in day out. Your brain is that woods. Those well worn paths are your current neural pathways that are essentially automatic reactions and behaviours to things. One day someone says to you: “try this route instead, it is even prettier!”. The new path is cleared unused so it takes a bit of effort to get down that way. You like it, the person was right, it is pretty, so you do it again and again and again. Eventually what happens is THAT path becomes worn and in the brain, it’ll be that neural pathway that is used more.)
Back to our gentle but nervous german shepherd. Working with him just today he learnt something new – I was that person that said “hey sweets, lets go this way, it’s better!”. It will take repetition and consistency and more support besides to help THAT neural pathway become more automatic for him. He can achieve it though, it might just take a little longer. He’s had years of following the same pathways and that’s the biggest problem with the senior dog. It isn’t that they can’t learn new things or can’t engage with you as a dog of any age – it’s that their current neural pathways/behaviours/reactions are incredibly well rehearsed. My main point I’d like to raise from this is: “a dangerous dog” is an extremely heavy label to throw on a dog who was set up to fail by circumstance. He isn’t the only dog to be victimised this way and he won’t be the last. Luckily for him his hu-mum knows who he REALLY is and that is what really matters. Societies lack of understanding won’t stop him from living his best life now.