To say that Robbie was in a bad-way would be an understatement. Robbie had come from a series of very stressful situations. He had been physically and psychologically abused and he had been neglected. By the time Robbie was eight (8) months of age he had lived in three homes. While in the first home Robbie was physically beaten on many occasions, in the second home and third homes (he was only in both for a short time) his physical and mental well-being where further degraded. When Robbie was surrendered to me he was very insecure, very anxious, very excitable and very, very aggressive to dogs, people and other animals. His waist was all of 3″ wide (top view), his ribs stuck out and he was suffering from an infestation of intestinal worms. He was one confused, lost soul. The photo on the scale above was taken not long after Robbie arrived in my pack. The larger photo above is a recent photo of Robbie. Robbie is the dog that I am closest to – he has an amazing soul, a soul that was hidden under the weight of trauma and hurt to which he had been subjected. I have no respect for people who neglect and abuse dogs – whatever walk-of-life those people come from. These people where economically very well off, they were rich in material wealth, entitlement and selfishness. They were greatly lacking in humility, self restraint and the true meaning of respect.
On the behavioral scale Robbie was in the red zone
On a scale of 1 to 10, Robbie was right off the scale
A Little About Robbie’s Heritage
The Boxers ancestry can be followed back in time to the Molossus. These were Mastiff type dogs that the ancient Cimbrians took into battle against the Romans. Specifically, the Boxer was developed (in Germany) by breeding the Bullenbeiszer (a Molossus type dog) with the Bulldog. The Boxer is an exuberant dog with boundless energy. It has been my experience that pound for pound the body weight of a Boxer (compared with another dog such as a German shepherd) is comprised of a greater quantity/quality of dense muscle mass. Their energy combined with their agility and muscle makes for a dog of powerful physic. When other dogs have expended enough energy to relax the Boxer is still ready to go. As a Boxer ages their energy level retains intensity far beyond the level of most other breeds of dog. This is a happy and affectionate dog breed. Boxers are very intelligent, sensitive, and love children. They can however be stubborn at times and in keeping with their heritage they may readily engage in a fight if they are not properly mentored.
My dear sweet Robbie, oh my where to start…I could write a book about you and me and what we have been through together, but this is not the time or place, I will try to keep this as short as I can.
Of all the canines I’ve had the privilege to work with Robbie was the most messed up of all. I feel it is very important to tell Robbies’ story as it provides great insight into how a beautiful dog influenced in the wrong why by humanity can turn into an aggressive, dangerous animal that most people would condemn as unredeemable and best euthanized (killed). Yet with a human that would invest of themselves – hard work, humility, trust, patience and love (a partnership between human and canine) the dog can return to being the beautiful soul he/she was born to be.
Robbie was surrendered directly to me – as his former humans said ‘to either keep or be put up for adoption’. A quick assessment of Robbie’s condition revealed that Robbie was not adoptable.
I knew right then and there that I would do everything in my power to help him and my intuition/heart told me that I would also keep him as a permanent member of my own dog pack.
The rescue groups and shelters in this area could possibly take him in his condition unless it was to permanently house him for the rest of his life in a kennel. The ‘shelters’ that were not ‘no kill’ would take one look at him and euthanize him. Issues with his physical state were very minor in nature – it was his psychological state that was the problem.
Robbie Needs Rehabilitation
Robbie was berserk – to say he was wild does not describe the nuances of his state. He was like a bomb constantly going off in all directions at once.
The explosives fuelling this bomb were pent up physical and emotional energy; frustration, intense and constant anxiety, resulting in intense insecurity and fear that was masked and evidenced by extreme aggression. There were no rules, no lines that could not be crossed, no respect and very little trust – no balance. Almost everything Robbie had learned in his early life would have to be addressed and replaced with a completely new set of associations and life skills.
When I agreed to take Robbie all I was told at the time was that the people who had him were not able to handle his ‘energy level’. I did not find out until many months later more about what he had been through and even then the information came in by drips and drabs, in the end I had to piece together his past from information provided and information I had discerned. Had I possessed the greater part of the information up front it would not have changed how I felt about Robbie and the relationship I was determined to have with and for him.
Robbie was welcomed into my pack when he was about eight months old. His first months on this world had not been good in fact this formative time in his life had been very detrimental to his health and well-being. Robbie had been abused and his needs had badly been neglected by the selfish people who had first acquired him.
This Time Will Be Different –
By the time he was eight months of age Robbie had already lived in four homes. My home was to be his fifth home in the space of 8 months – all the time he had heretofore spent on this earth. This time was to be different as it would be his safe, loving, forever home.
Robbie had been ‘purchased’ at eight weeks old by a couple of twenty year olds. They named the puppy ‘Rocky’. I would later name this dog ‘Robbie’. I would like to believe that they brought Rocky into their lives with less than selfish intentions – but given the circumstances it is much more likely that the man wanted a ‘tough’ dog to boost his own masculine image.
From One Home to Another
Soon after purchasing Rocky the couple broke up and the male twenty year-old moved-in with his cousin. While Robbie obviously did not receive any socialization or the structure he so badly needed in his first home things were going to get a lot worse in his second home.
Both young men had issues of their own that they were not dealing with. One of which was a deep involvement with drugs with the main focus on cocaine. Dealing it and using it. While high on cocaine their selfish and violent tendencies where exacerbated. Rocky was hurled against walls anytime he angered the men. I can tell from his triggers that this occurred when Rocky was excited.
Puppies bark and have loads of energy, they nip and always want to play, they require house training, the need exercise and structure, coaching and mentoring – when Rocky expressed his needs he was cruelly shut down. The parents of these young men had seen the Rocky abused but they did nothing to intercede.
Eventually the two young man’s’ parents reached the conclusion that they could no longer ignore the drugs. The parents took action to get the boys treated for their drug-related dependencies and at that time recognized that the boys could not do what was required to look after their drug rehabilitation and the dog as well. One of the parents decided to take Rocky, he was after all still a puppy and very cute. This would be Rocky’s second, but temporary home.
At this point the damage had already been done and Rocky was not a happy, normal dog. The abuse was now out of his life but the impacts of the abuse were ingrained. Rocky was still a puppy but he was strong and agile. It would take someone who really knew what they were doing to start the process of healing. In the meantime his experiences in his first home had taught him to beware of anyone who had weak energy.
The parent that had decided to take Rocky home with her planned to keep him until she could find somewhere else for him to go. She already had three small dogs and did not want a large dog, nor did she want to ‘deal’ with Rocky’s ‘issues’. This was Rocky’s third home. One of the three little dogs in the household had acute anxiety issues resulting from insecurity and exemplified by bouts of excited barking and extreme avoidance of anything she was not comfortable with. This made the little dog very weak in Robbie’s eyes. One of her other small dogs was very dominating. This woman had very poor control of her existing three dogs. Not a good environment for Rocky.
Rocky bullied and dominated the little dogs. Fights where starting to occur. One of the little dogs had major anxiety issues. Robbie had been bullied by humans that had power over him. Robbie was not socialized – his canine parents never had the opportunity to do so and his human parents were too busy indulging themselves. Robbie was simply doing what he was taught to do – fend for himself. Robbie used his front legs to ‘box’ the small dogs, he also used his powerful front legs to wrap around and pin down the other dogs. The woman was incapable of intervening in a way that would be constructive. Instead she simply served to reinforce Rocky’s confusion, his insecurity and anxiety – and as such the negative aspects of Rocky’s behavior. In addition to this, the dogs got walks – but not every day, Rocky’s long held store of energy continued to build-up.
This parent no longer wanted to deal with Rocky and she still had not found anyone to take him – she asked the other set of parents to take Rocky, so Rocky moved to his fourth home.
Rocky’s new family had a small dog. They didn’t have time to walk Rocky and the little dog on a daily basis – this was not critical for the little guy but for Rocky it was disastrous. With no outlet to expend his physical energy and his mental energy Rocky’s store of unspent energy not only remained; but was added to on a daily basis. As a result Rocky developed more negative behaviors.
A dog that lives without structure and guidance has no choice but to make his own rules and will use what power he does have to survive as best he can. As his adverse behavior continued to be enabled by the humans in his life, Rocky’s power grew. He would jump on the woman as she went down the stairs. Rocky had no outlet for his energy and he did not know better – how could he know? No one had bothered to teach Rocky anything but how to be reactive. Robbie’s tendency to jump resulted in the woman falling and injuring herself on multiple occasions. Rocky would grab at her, use his legs to wrap and lock around her and bite her hands until they bled. Rocky was pleading for help – no one was listening. Rocky had to go. That is when the first parent to take Rocky contacted me and asked if I would take him, either to keep or put up for adoption.
On a day in early February Rocky arrived at my home – what was to be his fifth home. He was dropped off by the parents of his fourth home. The woman was visibly traumatized by her last fall down the stairs. It was evident from the minute that they got out of their vehicle with the Rocky that they had no control over Rocky. They passed his leash to me and that was the start of Rocky’s and my journey together.
A New Name
The first thing I did within minutes of their departure was find a new name for Rocky. I felt that changing his name was very important. I believe names matter. I wanted Rocky to leave his difficult past behind – I wanted him to have a name that did not reflect a ‘tough’ dog image. It was time for Rocky to have a fresh start. I never used Rocky’s original name and never thought of that name in relation to him. There on the front step, I changed his name to Robbie. He responded to his new name immediately.
Meeting the Pack
When I felt he was ready I had him meet the other dogs starting with Jordie and then the other dogs one at a time.
The initial introductions went fine. When I was ready to invite Robbie into the house I wanted him to go explore first with his sense of smell – he proceeded to check things out with the other pack members in tow.
I introduced him in a proper manner to the cats and rabbits as he had never been up close to either species before (the initial meeting with the rabbits was nose to rabbit play-pen). Later that day I allowed Robbie to meet the rabbits as they hopped around but that was done in a controlled manner so Robbie would have the opportunity to respect the rabbits. The need to respect the rabbits and cats would need to be reinforced more times before Robbie would be trusted unsupervised around them.
Physical Health – Then and Now
Physically Robbie was an extremely attractive eight months old; he was quite tall with lovely brindle markings. He was emaciated – with his ribs protruding and his waist out of proportion to what it should have been for his stature (looking down at him his waist was only three inches wide). I was soon to discover that Robbie was full of round worms and had environmental allergies to some moulds, fungi and plant pollens. Once I dewormed Robbie and got him on a health supporting diet he started to fill out nicely. I added foods, herbs and nutraceuticals to internally and externally treat the symptoms of his allergies – the facial acne, the terrible all-over body itching, gnawing at his paws, legs etc., his over-sensitivity to touch. Touching anywhere on his torso would causes his skin to move and shiver under his fur.
No Social Skills
As that first day progressed Robbie began to exercise his version of social skills – displaying his expert boxing, leg locking, bullying the whole nine yards. I got a firsthand look at his high energy level and lack of manners, not a pretty picture. I was soon to find out just how aggressive and dominating Robbie was.
You can’t expect a dog with excessive stores of energy to be able to focus. One of the first steps in his rehabilitation was to help him expend all of his pent-up energy as well as his daily store of energy in a structured safe manner. Robbie needed to know that he would have a reliable daily schedule of structured walks, time to eat and time to rest and play. I would also need to gain his respect as someone he could look to for direction – he had very little respect for any human.
Walking Skills – None, High Pray Drive – Yes, Grooming – No
On our first walk together Robbie quickly revealed what his version of a walk was. Pull, be out front, weave from side to side, bob and swivel his head around with anxiously. Robbie was going to have to learn how to walk properly. He walked like a terrorist expecting to be attacked at any moment and at the same time looking for something he could attack. Off-leash runs to expend additional energy were not an option at this time as you will see when you read below. Robbie associated being off-leash with being wild and aggressive. I needed to change how he associated ‘freedom’ but it would have to wait until we had a bond and he trusted me. For now, I would need to get him accustomed to using a treadmill to burn off what ever energy remained after his several daily walks.
On one of the first walks with the pack Robbie saw a squirrel. In seconds flat Robbie was red zone (over threshold aggressive-reactive). On a scale of 1 to 10 Robbie was easily at level 15. The triggers for this type of fixated over-threshold behavior can vary depending on the individual. When in this state the dog does not hear or see anything but what he/she is focused on with intent to attack. As Robbie was on a leash at the time and could not reach the squirrel he turned on the other dogs for a full out attack (they were all also on leash). In a second flat he locked on Stevie the Sheltie, grabbing and holding him Robbie wrapped his front legs around Stevie – locked
on to his neck. I pulled Robbie straight up by his collar and got him off of Stevie before I could get him on the ground he locked his legs around me and leaped up for my neck. I had to shut him down very quickly using my state of mind and the right kind of maneuver with his leash. I then had to get him down on the ground on his side. Fueled by his rage-state Robbie had strength in excess of his normal quota. If I had not stayed calm and cleared my mind of any and all emotion, if I had not had the mental and physical strength to intervene the outcome would have been very bad indeed. If I had been angry I would have further intensified Robbie’s fixated aggressive state. If I had been fearful I would in his eyes become very weak and strengthened his resolve to make me his prey. I got everyone settled down and we continued without another incident. I now knew a little more about Robbie’s issues. As to Robbie and grooming, much work would be required. Robbie’s reaction to the touching of his nails, to having his ears touched for cleaning, to being brushed – full-out bite on your hand. And forget about trying to put a coat on him! Over the next few days I observed more behavior issues…
Waking-Up with Unbridled Intensity
For sleeping arrangements I had Robbie bed down with Sarah in a huge crate in my room. My bedroom is large and can accommodate plenty of dog beds for the entire pack and a large 4′ x 5′ crate. When Robbie woke up in the morning he was not in a peaceful state. Robbie woke up wanting to ‘play’ with Sarah immediately. The ‘play’ was verbally and physically intense to the point of aggression.
Insecure Anxious Urination
Although Robbie went outside more than enough times to relieve himself, he would do ‘long walking pees’ in the house. This normally occurred when someone was present in the same room as he was. He would look at you and begin to pee while he walked. The result was a ten or twelve foot long pee. Robbie was suffering from many symptoms of insecurity.
When my dogs run together they respect each other’s space – they do not ram into each other as they pass one another. When Robbie ran past another dog he would bump into the dog at full speed – no respect. He would do the same to me. I saw him box and use his legs to lock onto other dogs in his version of ‘play’. His leg lock technique was very advanced to the point of perfection. A desirable trait in a wild animal that had to hunt to survive – but very undesirable in a domesticated companion animal.
Once again, Robbie attacked Stevie the Sheltie and I had to use the same technique as during the squirrel incident to remove Robbie. He was targeting members of the pack who he felt were weak (in a state other than completely calm and balanced). In Robbie’s current state of being, anyone who he felt was weaker than he, was in danger. Stevie (a puppy mill dog) is an exuberant guy who if left unchecked will have tendencies on the excited side of the behavioral wheel.
The Plan to a Better Way
I would need to teach Robbie to focus and concentrate – in his current state he was only capable of fixating. I was going to have to desensitize Robbie to small prey animals when outside. I was going to have to change the way he thought about pretty much everything. He would need to be taught alternative ways to behave so he could be a normal, domesticated dog. I would have to expose him to everything he feared and make him face his fears. I would have to expose him to as many new things as I could find. He was afraid of strangers especially men – I would have to take him with me on as many errands as I could manage.
I had to take all toys away from Robbie until I had enough of his attention and respect to be able to instruct him. Robbie associated toys with prey and power – he possessed the toy, he killed the toy (a toy could be a ball, stick, squeaky toy, stuffed toy, rawhide). Once a toy was in his possession Robbie became aggressive, would not give the toy up and would go to attack if anyone (human and canine) tried to take it. He would not play fetch with a toy you threw for him – he would simply take it and go. If another dog walked by him and his toy Robbie became aggressive. Toys would not be permitted until I had a dog who could focus. I got him onto the treadmill and quickly found out that I had a dog who if directed properly had a wonderful ability to concentrate.
Heightened Sensitivity – Magnifying the Good and the Bad
I now had a pretty good idea that I had only been told a small fraction of his story and that there had to be something seriously wrong in his past. He was a very sensitive, intelligent, horribly insecure dog. His aggression was a symptom of his intense insecurity. Robbie was a heightened sensitivity dog.
Because Robbie had so many symptoms that made him dangerous to others, his day would have to start off with a walk – just me and Robbie, to work on all of the issues around the walk and to drain some of his energy prior to being with the pack. I also needed the chance to expose him to situations on his own, without the pack present. He would need two solo walks a day just with me and one or two pack walks under very controlled circumstances.
The solo walks would start on the road and then go to the trail. When Robbie encountered something he feared (for example a road crew, hydro crew, a plastic bag blowing in the wind), he would go into flight mode, when I would not allow flight he would turn to fight, wrapping his legs around mine and lunging up at me to bite me.
He would shut down and lock-up. If we encountered a dog no matter what the situation – a dog going for a walk or charging down a driveway towards the road, Robbie would go red zone. Robbie had on leash-reactivity, Robbie had off-leash reactivity.
I put a soft open-work leather muzzle on Robbie – it gave me the ability to safely take him through the flight, fight portions of confronting the situations he feared. I respectfully and firmly broke the physical lock down, had him approach the thing he feared and encouraged him to use his sense of smell and sight to investigate. He left each and every situation calm and comfortable, thus changing his association of the item. As he became a more confident, happy guy he no longer did ‘walking pees’ in the house – in fact Robbie is one of the pack members who can go without going pee for a ridiculously long stretch of time.
As Robbie’s confidence in himself and trust in me increased he started to show his real personality and his real feelings, his soul. When confronted with some of the situations that used to trigger his aggression, he would show what he really felt – if he was unsure or frightened he would pull back and tremble, but allow me to bring him up to the object or person he was unsure of. I would encourage him to sniff, look and relax. Robbie became increasingly affectionate and calm.
The Real Robbie
When Robbie wakes up in the morning with Sarah they are both calm and quite. When I open up the door to their sleeping quarters Sarah gets up and stretches and Robbie rolls on his back and waits for me to rub his tummy and the underside of his neck before he gets up – the first thing we do together is share calm quite time together. Robbie could know be still in mind and body to appreciate this – something he could not do before as he did not know how to relax.
Robbie had reached the point where I could take him back on to my trails and work with him to change has aggressive association with off-leash activities. I used calm touch to share affection and start the off-leash portion of the walk. Robbie allowed the deep affection to calm him, he learned to still himself, calm and embrace a better way of being. He learned to associate off-leash with calm. We still do this together every day as it is a very special time for the two of us to share and bond. At the start of this phase of Robbie’s rehabilitation Jordie would also accompany us. Jordie helped me teach Robbie how to play without aggression.
The dog who used to be a terror on pack walks was now the best ‘walker’. He not only ‘permitted’ me to correct other dogs in his presence but often chose to support me by turning away from the dog to assist me in calming the situation. In the beginning I had to separate him from the pack at a certain time of day (prior to the second walk) as his energy level and anxiety spiked. Now there are many times when I have to go up to him and coax him up from his cozy spot on the couch to go out for a walk.
Robbie readily accepts his nails being trimmed, his paws being wiped and his ears being cleaned. In-fact Robbie now loves to have an ear massage and offers his paw up as an expression of affection and connection. Robbie is no longer aggressive-reactive to grooming. Robbie enjoys the quite warmth and affection that goes along with being brushed, having his ear cleaned and his nails trimmed. If one of Robbie’s paws get cold on a walk – Robbie will ask me to warm his paw up with my hand. As Robbie’s fur is extremely short his ears are vulnerable to vascular damage (the precursor to frost-bit) in the deep cold of winter. Robbie is very accepting of having me rub protecting cream on the edges of his ears prior to going out for a walk in the deep cold. Robbie not only tolerates wearing a coat in the winter he loves his coat.
I have added one more dog to my pack – a sweet little Beagle x Fox Hound girl named Willow. Willow is Robbie’s best friend. Robbie has an amazing soul – he is one of those very special dogs that have ‘something else going on’. Robbie is my beautiful dark angel. Our souls are connected.