I get asked this question all the time. "Can dogs that have been abused by humans that fight them really be rehabilitated?" Hmmmm, well, I don't think the word is rehabilitated, I think it's more like we put the dogs that have been abused by humans in fighting rings in an environment where they can now go back to what they previously were or could have been without the abuse. In other words, the animal abusers put the dogs in a position to be defensive. It's not that there is a desire to fight in the dogs but a feeling of being threathened and a need to defend themselves. So any compulsion to defend themselves is due to having been put in a life threatening situation over and over and over. This is not a desire to fight. Having to have to do something for survival is different than a desire to do it for the fun of it. Humans are very different people during a war vs when they are at home comfortably watching TV for instance.
Humans make the dogs by setting up an environment that either places the dog in a winning-by-good-behavior position or he sets up an environment that places him in a "winning"-by-bad-behavior position. We allow the dog to go back to what he would naturally be in an environment that is condusive to survival on his terms.
Yes, they do have their own core temperaments and yes, genetics plays a role but that's actually another discussion apart from this one.
I'm not talking about just taking a dog from a raid and plunking him down somewhere where no one has a clue either. I'm talking about taking a dog and placing him in an environment where he learns that all is well and there's good leadership and wonderful things happen when he does the right thing. Again, he becomes what he already would have been if he wasn't threatened and forced to do and be something else.
Sometimes dogs are too damaged from abuse and they get "stuck". Then it's difficult to help them and that is something we always have to face. This is why it is so important to just assess first on an individual basis. Maybe some dogs aren't going to do well with dogs coming from these situations. However, as a trainer of all breeds I've seen this happen with many, many breeds up through maturity coming from many different situations.
So here we have Jakob who came from the largest dog fighting raid in US history. On his intake report it said that he did have scars but we don't let that be the brunt of our assessment. We go futher and see how he is with other dogs. We started out working with my dogs.
To sum it up we did long crate intros, walking side by side, meeting through a gate and in general just went slow with my dogs. This sends the message that these dogs here are cool. No one's going to do anything scary here.
The first dog to meet Jakob on leash with no barrier was Dexter. Jakob was, uh,hum, you know like, "uh, what are we going to do now?" Of course Dex knew what to do right away as he could see that Jakob was unsure of what he was suppose to be doing. He's met dogs that have been abused before many times and could see the lack of confidence that Jakob had in his own skills.
Jakob was willing to please and to listen to us. He was actually even willing to do whatever it was Dexter wanted as well. So when he could see that Dexter was not going to do anything but just some good ole fashioned canine fun stuff he was a bit lost but willing to go along or at least try.
When there was some interaction Jakob had no clue as to what to do at first. It was like his arsenal of doggie play behaviors was simply empty. Dexter continued to show him what to do and Jakob started to get the idea. I cheat at this for sure. My dogs do most of the work!
After this initial interaction with Dexter Jakob went to Tinkerbell's house for fostering. Tinkerbell has been there, done that. She was in big trouble at the shelter a few years ago because she was loud and very rude on a leash around other dogs. So we got her out of the shelter and we started to work with her.......well, obviously she's now helping other dogs that are in similar situations she's been in.
Tinkerbell has shown Jakob how to do a play bow, a little flip in the air that's quite catchy for any dog trying to get attention and to respect the anti-humping laws! This is all with his foster person's help.
Now that Jakob's a bit more grooved into the rules and regs of canine play (of course this is still very controlled and monitored by Anna his foster person) he's allowed to go a step further and even play a bit of tug with Tinkerbell. The game has rules and is very controlled by Anna, i.e. the dogs release the tug when she says to and they can have it back when she says they can. Fun and safe!
So please join us in congratulating Jakob on getting back to life and most of all back to who he really is! See picture of the "real" Jakob!
Note: This is one account of one dog in one situation. All assessments are going to be different for different dogs. Additionally, all dogs depending on outcome of assessment will require individual protocols.
Marthina McClay, CPDT