That same afternoon I returned home with a very sleepy puppy, overstimulated kids, and I felt emotionally exhausted. While I tried to do a little research on dog-to-dog RG, my then 7-year-old son kept Charlie busy with lots of playing. After about an hour, it was time to clean up the toys and feed Charlie. I was walking through the living room when I heard a growl from Charlie. I stopped in my tracks and asked what had just happened. My son told me he had hugged Charlie and he growled at him. I was shocked; my mind was racing, and I asked him how he hugged Charlie. He leans right over, gives him another hug, and Charlie bites him. In that 4 second window of time, my entire world dropped out from under me. How could this have happened? How did MY dog, the TRAINER’S dog, bite? What did I do? How could I have failed so horribly? This sounds like an over-reaction? Probably to you…but at the time, that 4 seconds caused me to question my worth as a mother, wife, dog trainer, and dog owner. Even writing this post, 2 years later, causes me to tear up and want to cry anew.
How did this happen? I don’t think I’ll ever know exactly. This could have been something that just was always going to happen. It wasn’t anything that happened to him, but he just was wired to not want to share. It could have been that he was really tired. He had missed his afternoon nap, and instead of just missing it, he was playing hard through it. He was exhausted. Possibly during his play with the other puppy, things had gotten a little rougher than I thought and he was feeling sore. Maybe it was because it was time for him to eat, and he was really hungry. It could have been because his bladder was really full…like bursting. Immediately after the bite, I took him out to the bathroom, and he went potty for a really long time. Or it could have been just the perfect storm of all of the above. Knowing the why was important to me so I could know how to fix it and make sure it NEVER happened again. But alas…that moment was the start of Charlie’s RG problem.
I couldn’t look at Charlie the same way. I kept trying to see him from the objective trainer’s eye, but instead all I could see was the monster that bit my son. I saw nothing but danger every time I looked at him, and worse yet, I kept questioning my judgement on what to do. That night I buried myself in research on RG prevention, treatment, and management. After lengthy discussions with my husband, breeder, and a dear friend/colleague, I decided not to re-home Charlie immediately. I wanted to try to make it work, I wasn’t ready to give up on his one-time incident. I got to work immediately and tried to focus on his behavior day by day. I kept a journal to help me track the progress. I was prepared that if there was a repeat incident and if at anytime my children were in danger, I would rehome him.
Here’s a snippet of a message I sent to a close friend that was very supportive during that time…
“I feel afraid that I'm doing everything wrong. That I will fail at this. That anyone that might be counting on me will be let down. I'm so terrified of disappointing those that expect better from me. I feel guilty. That somehow whenever Charlie behaves poorly it's my fault. That I did it. That I didn't do enough. I feel pressure to be perfect. That people who know what I do will look at me with disgust and judge me for not being perfect. I've lost faith in myself.”
I couldn’t talk with my friends or family about it. I waited over 3 weeks before I told anyone what had happened and what I was personally struggling with. The first few people I reached out to, reacted first with shock, then with compassion, and some even with judgement. I heard a few “I can’t believe you still have him. If it were me, I would have re-homed him.” It was hard to hear the judgement; I already felt so guilty.