Duke is a 7 year old Great Dane. Last year, his owners were moved into assisted living by their family, as both suffered from Dementia and Alzheimers. Duke moved in with a relative's family, who have 3 children over 13 and an old lab. It became immediately apparently that Duke was different; he used to be goofy and loving, even if he didn't like having his paws touched. Now, he is skiddish, nervous, and underweight. A little bit of investigation revealed that the elderly man who had once brought Duke on daily car rides, began to beat the dog when he wouldn't eat, or when Duke barked. He didn't realize what he was doing to Duke, or that Coke and chips was not a replacement for dog food. Duke stopped going on car rides and on walks, and he started snapping to defend himself.
This happened over a several month period, before Duke came to live with the Smith's (obviously not their real name). The Duke that came to live with them was quick to bite, never wanted to eat in front of people, and barked at the smallest noise. Over 8 months, the Smith's gave Duke space and fair warning before handling him, and he slowly came around. Danes are sensitive dogs, and are not nearly as quick to forgive as your average pit bull.
About a month ago, the Smith's youngest daughter approached Duke while he was laying on the couch, and pulled out a camera to take his picture. Duke lunged and bit her arm, just once, before running away. He didn't break skin, but left a major bruise and a psychological scar that wouldn't heal. That's when they called me- their daughter was afraid of dogs prior to this, and now she wouldn't be in the same room as Duke.
One thing that concerned me was that Duke wasn't getting walked. He was too strong and impulsive, and would run when on a leash at the nearest dog, mailbox, or parked car and go nuts, pulling even a grown man to the ground. So I spent some time getting Duke used to a Halti, all the while building up his confidence that I was nothing but fun and games and predictability. Shortly, Duke fell in love with me. We played training games and went for walks and he learned that ignoring the barking dog was less stressful than the barky-lungy routine.
I was very impressed with Duke's progress. His family reported that he was playful and attention seeking and seemed like a normal dog. As a trainer, a "normal dog" can be translated as success. I was proud of Duke, and continued to come by each week to walk him and spoil him with treats for tricks. I brought Skye to meet him, and he was like a puppy- play bowing and bouncing around her like the goofy dog he had become.
This is the end of the post I would have written yesterday. I'll mark it with a happy picture:
It would be easy to say it was Jane's fault, and that was certainly my first reaction. Jane has known Duke for 6 months, and isn't ignorant about his issues, but fell into the dangerous pattern of thought that fearful dogs are just like other dogs. Other dogs enjoy a comforting pat when they're under the weather; fearful dogs have less tolerance of uncomfortable situations. But in reality, in a house with as many teenagers in and out at the Smith's, another bite was inevitable. The problem is, where to go from here?
There is a 10 day quarantine for any dog bite, so that is how much time I have to find a solution. The family has resigned itself to putting Duke to sleep, as they cannot imagine anyone wanting him. I'm still torn- I've seen Duke be a dog that I would want myself, and I think with a more stable home environment that dog can fully emerge. I've e-mailed two local rescues, even offering to foster him myself until an adoptive home is found. But I'll be the first person to admit that euthanasia is sometimes the answer. Some dogs will suffer more by being shuffled from home to home; some behavior problems cannot be reversed; sometimes genetics plays too strong a role.
But in Duke's case? He is 7 years old- another 3 years would be a stretch for his life span. He has no health problems, but his behavior problems could become worse with a new family. It took a long time for him to trust the Smiths. It took him 2 meetings to trust me. I challenged him in many stressful situations, and he never showed aggression toward me. Is it worth the risk? Or can we comfort ourselves with the thought that Duke is now living a peaceful existence. He isn't in a constant state of fear and confusion- he's happy. Perhaps euthanasia now is better than waiting another 6 months or a year for something else to happen. Maybe I should keep him. Maybe maybe maybe. I'll let you know.