HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?
A true story of a pet Anatolian.
By Marlene Johnson
(first published in Choban Chatter)
I got a call this week from the owner of an 18 month old Anatolian I
had worked with as a puppy, telling me she is going to put him to sleep. I was shocked -
To protect the identity of those involved I will call the dog D. for dog,
the breeder B. for breeder and the owner O.
I thought this is a story I should share, as many pet Anatolians end up in shelters and
rescue, and we should all work together to prevent this.
O. called me a few days after she had acquired the puppy at 6 weeks of age from B. I was
excited about the fact that a breeder recommended early puppy training. I first met O. and
D. when he was about 7 weeks old. The first meeting he slept most of the time and I talked
to O. about puppy stuff, such as teaching proper bite inhibition, socialization, chewing,
handling and grooming, object exchanges and food bowl exercises. In addition to that, I
provided a list of books that I find helpful and talked to them about the breed and what
these dogs are like.
It became clear to me during our conversation, that O. did not know very much about
livestock guardian dogs or training and behavior in general. She pointed out to me that
the dog was actually acquired for the 12 year old daughter, but she and the puppy didn't
get off to a very good start as his playful biting was more than she was willing to put up
with. Their lack of understanding about the breed didn't surprise me; owning other types
of dogs does not prepare one for LGDs. B. rarely sells to pet homes, but felt that this
family would be a good match. I would have agreed. They were interested and eager to
experience life with an Anatolian. One of my concerns was that the family also owned
another male dog and I told them about the possibility that the two dogs may not get along
as the Anatolian matures. As a matter of fact, I was almost sure that this would cause
problems down the road.
On my next visit a week later I noticed what I felt was the first sign of trouble. O. and
her husband weren't open to my suggestions of socializing the puppy. Their concern was
that he wouldn't be a good guard dog if he was exposed to strangers. I could tell that
they didn't believe what I told them about the reasons for socialization. I assured them
that this would not have any negative effects on his future guarding abilities.
During my other four visits, I repeatedly urged them to socialize him, but to no avail. We
worked on basic skills like sit, down, come, stay and leash walking. We used clicker
training to teach him that and he was an eager learner. His play biting was getting
better. However, there was one incident when the husband was lying on the floor and the
puppy ran up and bit the husband in the lip. This resulted in a strong reaction from the
husband who apparently smacked the puppy for the bite.
Other areas we worked on were grooming and handling as I find it very important to teach
puppies to accept nail clipping, physical examination, being medicated and being
restrained. All of this is done with a gradual approach using positive reinforcement for
calmly accepting those procedures. I try to proceed slowly enough to avoid causing
struggles. However, if the puppy does resist, it is important to continue the restraint
until the puppy ceases to resist. Calm gets rewarded, struggling does not.
The puppy never showed any signs of possession aggression, so exchange exercises and food
bowl exercises went very well. I explained how the difficulty for this kind of exercises
needed to be gradually increased by using higher value (to the dog) items. We also taught
the "Leave it" command, so O. would be able to stop the dog from taking
something he wasn't supposed to.
I provided information on a leadership program, explaining that this type of dog requires
that the owners take a very consistent approach in making it clear to the dog who is in
charge. As a clicker trainer I do not use any physical force for this, but nonetheless, I
take this part of owning an LGD very seriously. The most important thing is awareness of
the subtle ways to demonstrate leadership (see my last article) and to make leadership
part of your daily life with an Anatolian.
The owners only chose to do these initial six visits. All was going really well, except
for the socialization. I recommended a puppy group class when D. was about 12 weeks old,
but O. wasn't interested. I left with the advice to continue with the above and to call me
immediately should any problems arise and not to wait until any problems get out of hand.
I occasionally called O. over the next couple of months and shared her joy about her dog
that was "soooo good". I even visited and was treated to meeting a very nice dog
that knew all his basic commands and was a joy to be around. The owner did not report any
problems at that time.
Shortly after that O. called me, saying that they had taken D. out of state. While out on
a walk, he all of a sudden acted totally crazy - jumping at her and being out of control.
D. was about 6 months old then and O. said he really scared her. She said she wasn't able
to control the situation and her husband "picked the dog up and slammed him on the
ground" which stopped the outbreak. She was clearly shaken about the incident. I
recommended she schedule a few sessions during which we would take him for walks around
the neighborhood in the hope that I would be able to observe the behavior myself. O.
The next time I saw the dog was when he was about 1 year old. The owner showed me how
obedient he was and we had a great time watching her Anatolian and her other dog play
together. Everything seemed okay, until asked if all was going well with grooming, vet
visits etc. I found out that the dog had bitten the owner when she and her husband gave
the dog a bath. She said he didn't like taking a bath, that he was screaming at the top of
his lungs, and that she thought the neighbors probably would think they were beating him.
They ignored his screams and held him to give him the bath; eventually the dog bit her in
the arm. She said it hurt a lot, but he didn't break the skin. She also told me that she
hadn't been able to do his nails since he was about 6 months old. I was really concerned
at this point and again recommended she schedule some sessions to work on his issues. O.
declined, stating she would just take him to the vet for baths and nail clipping. When the
dogs stopped playing that day, I thought I saw an injury on the dog's foot and bent down
to take a closer look. This resulted in a snap in my direction and he took off. This
happened so fast that initially it didn't even sink in, but after I left and thought about
it, I realized what had happened - that he snapped towards me, because of me trying to
take a look at his foot (which, by the way, wasn't injured). At first I planned to call
the owner and tell her about it, but in the end decided against it, because she hadn't
been open to work on any of his issues until then. But I was pretty sure that more
problems were on the horizon, but without the owner wanting to address her dog's issues,
there wasn't anything I could do.
Sure enough, a few months later I got a call. This time the vet had told O. that she
needed to either do something about her dog's behavior or get rid of him. From what I
gathered, it had become impossible for the vet and his helpers to clip the dog's nails
without heavily sedating him. They told her he was totally unmanageable and something
needed to be done. O. scheduled an appointment with me, as well as a follow-up appointment
two weeks later. She called me back an hour later to reschedule the first appointment.
While we were on the phone he got a hold of an item he wasn't supposed to take. I heard
the owner ask the dog in a slightly irritated voice, "What did you take?" and
then, a little sterner,"You bad dog!" as she moved towards him to take the item
away. She then told me that he was growling at her. She asked me what to do. I could tell
she was frightened. I told her to go into the kitchen and then call him. She did and he
obediently came to her - without the item. I told her to give him a treat and then to send
him outside to play. Now she was able to safely pick up the item and put it away. She said
how glad she was that I was on the phone with her during this incident, as she wouldn't
have known what to do otherwise. She wanted to know why he would growl at her when she
wanted to take the item, when otherwise she could take anything away from him. I explained
that if, for example, she wanted to take a toy or a chewie, she wouldn't scold him first
and then try to do an exchange exercise. The dog had simply learned the difference between
an object exchange that resulted in a treat and most likely getting the object back and a
stolen item. Whenever he stole an item, the owner would show immediate interest, get
angry, scold the dog and THEN try to take the item away for good without giving the dog a
reward for giving it up. The dog's response was to guard stolen items from the angry
owner. I explained that this wasn't a desirable situation as the dog was learning that he
could control the situation and keep stolen items when he growled. My advice was to
respond to stolen items by either asking him to bring the item to the owner or by calling
him away from it and then to reward him for responding appropriately, keep him busy for a
minute or two and then send him outside. Never show an interest in the item until the dog
is no longer in the room. Never try to trick him by calling him away and then quickly
taking the item as it won't take long and he will have figured that one out. Another way
to respond to stolen items is to do an exchange exercise if the dog is familiar with the
cue "wanna trade?". When choosing this option, it is important to act the same
way as if doing the exercise with other objects and not to scold the dog or get angry
before taking the item.
When I arrived for our first visit, the whole family was present. The dog behaved as usual
- friendly, but not attention seeking. The first complaint the owner had was that the dog
only "obeyed" when he knew she had food in her hand. She demonstrated to me his
ability to discriminate when she had food and when she didn't. He never obeyed when she
didn't. He always got it right. So we discussed steps to take to remedy this situation. I
explained that it is perfectly normal for a dog to do this and that we have to appreciate
their ability to discriminate between having a chance to earn a tidbit and when the
chances are most likely zero. What the owner had done was to rarely reinforce the dog with
treats when he obeyed. Only once in a while would she take food in her hands and ask for a
behavior and then reward. The dog made the connection and adjusted his behavior -
responding only when he actually saw her having food and ignoring commands when he knew
there wouldn't be a reward. Since the owner's behavior was so predictable, it was easy for
him to figure this one out. My advice to change this was to start rewarding every command,
until he got back into the routine. Then start not rewarding occasionally, even when she
had food in her bait bag. This would make things less predictable. The next step would be
to hide food on counters, shelves etc. and ask him to do some commands when she doesn't
wear a bait bag and then surprise him by producing food rewards from places he didn't
anticipate. I explained that to maintain reliable performance the dog needs to be rewarded
more often and without making it predictable for the dog when he would get a reward.
We then proceeded to work on the nail clipping and bathing issues. We started by clicking
and treating him for letting us touch his legs, then the feet and the toes. He was quite
happy about all the attention he got and had no problems with both of us touching his feet
and toes. I was happy to see that we were able to do all that without any sign of
resistance or aggression. My instructions were to continue this with all four feet until
O. was able to hold and touch all the nails and toes without any problem whatsoever. I did
recommend a dremel to grind the nails down instead of using clippers to cut them. To get
the dog used to the dremel I recommended to just turn it on and give the dog some treats
until he becomes comfortable with the sound of it. Then bring it closer and closer all the
while rewarding calm behavior.
In regards to the bathing issue, I recommended getting a piece of garden hose about 10
feet long, that the owner would casually carry around in the backyard for several days,
until the dog no longer becomes alarmed at the sight of it. I recommended clicking and
treating whenever he didn't move away, or if he let her approach a few steps.
After this visit I felt confident that now things would get worked out. The owners would
address the issues on hand, so there wouldn't be any more bites or struggles over grooming
issues, obedience and object guarding.
Unfortunately the owner canceled our next scheduled visit two weeks later. She said she
hadn't had enough time to practice and they were going out of town and she would call me
back when they returned. I never got another call until this week, when she told me about
their decision to put him to sleep.
What prompted this decision? The day before, D. got into a fight with their other dog;
this is not unusual for an adolescent male Anatolian living with another male dog. The
fight really scared the owner, but luckily none of the dogs were injured. She then
proceeded to feed D. ten minutes after this fight. She asked him to sit which he did, but
then growled at her. She described her reaction as, "I screamed, dropped the bowl and
I talked to her after she had already talked to B. and another knowledgeable Anatolian
person. I reinforced what she had been told already - that her dog's behavior wasn't that
unusual. Scuffles and fights do occasionally happen when one keeps two male dogs. I
pointed out that neither dog was injured. My guess is that the dog's as well as the
owner's adrenaline levels were quite high ten minutes after the fight when she went to
feed him. So this was a very emotional situation and the dog responded with growling. He
had already learned that sometimes bad things happen when his people get angry and
emotional. I asked her to give me at least a few days to see if there was any hope to
re-home him. O. agreed. Of course there weren't homes lined up for him, so I called O.
again about a week later. She told me they had decided to keep him. This was good news.
They had implemented a pretty strict leadership program and she said they were already
seeing a change in his attitude. I pointed out that there were still issues that needed to
be worked on such as nail clipping, bathing, and object guarding, but O. hasn't made the
decision yet to work on this.
These are not your average pet dog owners. O. researched breeds, bought from
a responsible breeder, hired a private trainer within a week of acquiring the puppy and
put a lot more training time in than the average person. However, the owners didn't
understand this particular breed enough and didn't have a thorough understanding of dog
behavior in general. Although I had advised strictly against using force and intimidation,
the owners resorted to slamming the dog to the ground, slapping him, threatening him with
a newspaper, punishing him with a squirt from the garden hose for digging and used force
to bathe him and clip his nails. The result is a dog that responds aggressively in certain
situations. The owners were in denial that they had a growing problem on hand until it was
almost too late. While they have decided to stick it out, to this day they are not
committed to seek professional guidance for the problems on hand.
I hope that if we all work together to educate the public about this
special breed, if we provide support and follow-up to puppy buyers and first time owners,
if we educate owners about the need to learn about dog behavior and training, then we may
be able to prevent dogs from ending up in rescue, in shelters or suffering an untimely
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