When I adopted Mulder from the SPCA they mentioned he was adopted out once before and returned a month later for “nipping”. As the story goes, the person who adopted him kept trying to keep him off the couch. After the fourth time of him jumping up onto the furniture, she grabbed the scruff of his neck and he bit her. The shelter said he immediately went into quarantine and they hired a trainer to work with him. They hadn’t seen any aggressive behavior and felt confident that it was more of a play nip than anything else.
Mulder gets the zoomies on the bed. He loves to spin and spin, bouncing into the pillows and jumping to the edge of the bed where he play bows, barks, and tries to get you to play with him. He is mouthy (and a staffy), so I have experienced the hard grabs with his mouth to my arm when I want him down and he doesn’t want to stop playing. This is easily stopped with a firm “No!”. Part of his training is learning on/off. I cue him to jump on the bed and he zooms for a minute. Then, I cue him down while saying “Off!” and he gets a treat when he immediately pops down. This has transferred over to our couches. I say, “Mulder, off” while pointing from him to the floor and down he goes. He is learning he doesn’t get to play when he is mouthy and he responding well when we tell him “easy” and to “be gentle”.
With other dogs, he is mildly fearful and pushy. I don’t believe he was socialized much, and he doesn’t seem to understand social cues or behavior. He tries so hard and wants to be part of the play, but the majority of his actions have a defensiveness to them. He will come running over to play with Honey but will incessantly bark at her. Those barks are matched with fearful body language – he comes forward but twists his body away from her as he barks, arcing his chest, neck, and head away from her.
This picture gives you an idea of his interaction with other dogs. Honey’s the lab, and Grissom is one of my family’s GSDs. Grissom is a very confident, silly male, and I did the majority of his training when I still lived at home. He had no time for Mulder’s obnoxiousness and otherwise ignored him. Here, Mulder was very interested in what the pack was doing. He came running over, waited until he was a couple strides out, and started barking up (his head is thrown back and he literally barks up toward the sky). As soon as any of the dogs made movement he perceived as coming toward him, he would veer away to retreat, still barking.
I’ve always had that little tidbit from the shelter in the back of my mind but hadn’t seen any human aggression – until last night.
Everyone was in the kitchen, and I gave the boot to dogs, kitty, and humans. Honey left the kitchen immediately, but Mulder didn’t understand what was going on, Ben was yelling at him “GO! GO!” over and over, and Mulder skittered around both of us and toward the back, where the dog’s station is. I snaked my hand out quick to grab his collar, missed, and followed him into the corner (not thinking anything of it). When I went to grab his collar, he twisted and repeatedly tried to bite me. I got a hold of him, gave him a whack on his muzzle was sternly said “NO”, and tried walking him out of the kitchen. He reared up, continually growling and trying to bite my hand. I twisted my hand in his collar so it was underneath his muzzle, straightened up, and walked him to his crate and put him inside. His eyes were glazed over and his whole body screamed fear during this. He had 20 minutes to chill out in his crate and to think. I immediately regretted whacking his muzzle, as punishment doesn’t do anything but encourage fear aggression. Later that evening, he had a session working on our “Go” cue. Mulder thought it was great fun to trot into the living room after being cued to receive a treat.
Having no background on him, I have no idea if he was truly a stray from Conshohocken before arriving to the shelter. I believe he was someone’s dog once. He flinches badly and tries to run off a few yards if anyone picks up a stick and throws it. We’re working on this with the help of a chuck-it stick. My gut says he was beaten at least a few times in his life. I’m also not sure if he’s ever had a trusting relationship with his owner(s).
I feel he’s made good progress for only having been here for a month. I got my fist Mulder kisses a few days ago, and I think he’s a good egg despite whatever has happened in his past. It’s my job to make sure he feels safe, and through training I can give him to tools to manage his fear. We are practicing a lot of “come” and “go” to teach him that it is OK to leave a room or situation when I give the cue. Eventually, I should be able to cue him to go and use it to help diffuse any future potential scary situations. Giving him an immediate release as soon as he tries is probably the most important thing I’m doing right now with him.