A few years ago a concerned mom asked me to talk to her family dog about its “enthusiastic” behavior with her children. Apparently this dog-I’ll call her Sophie-would chase after her young children when they ran around the house, sometimes tackling them to the floor. During a family party with young nieces and nephews in attendance, both mom and dad became more concerned when Sophie nipped one of their little nephews in the arm during a game of tag. The injury wasn’t serious, so not much was made of it. “It was just Sophie being Sophie.” Or so they thought.
Later, after thinking about this incident a little more, mom and dad decided that it was probably time to do something about Sophie’s behavior. They certainly didn’t want anyone to get hurt because of Sophie nor did they want Sophie to run over their young children. As a result of their decision to get some help and guidance in dealing with their dog, they asked me to talk to her. In the next few paragraphs I’ll describe the conversation I had with Sophie and some of the concerns that arose as a result of this conversation.
When I called for Sophie, she very energetically ran up to me. She was extremely excited, so much so that I had a hard time getting her to settle down. I asked her several times to either sit or lay down by me, and finally she calmed down enough for us to have a bit of a conversation. After talking with Sophie for a little while, I found her to be a very complicated dog. She was also totally out of control. Her thoughts and emotions were all over the place. Her view on her family and environment was one of constant upheaval. She wasn’t sure who was in charge, but whoever it was, she did not want to nor was she going to listen to them. She wanted to do what she wanted to do. There was no compass, no direction. Her life was a “free-for-all.”
I have to admit that Sophie’s attitude scared me a lot.
I was unable to find one area of her personality that told me she felt a connection to her family. Emotionally she felt cold. And though she looked warm and inviting on the outside, underneath the long beautiful fur Sophie was a lost, damaged soul. What would cause this beautiful dog to be like this? There could be any number of reasons. But rather than get into a complicated study of Sophie’s breed, her family tree and her current home life, I decided to believe that Sophie was just the wrong dog in the wrong family at the wrong time. I believed that it was more important for me to help this family by giving them some insight into Sophie’s thoughts and feelings. They needed information about their dog so they could protect their own children as well as any others who would come into contact with Sophie’ dangerous behavior.
In relaying the conversation I had with Sophie to her humans, I stressed to them how worried I was about their dog’s behavior, especially in light of the fact that there were so many young children around her everyday. I wanted them to know the seriousness of Sophie’s behavior and the urgency for action on their part to protect their children from her. In a case such as this, I feel compelled to be straightforward when relating what I see as impending danger. The stakes are much too high to pussyfoot around. Sophie’s mom cried and became very upset as I revealed the conversation and my feelings about Sophie, but I’m not sure she completely believed my analysis of the situation. She loved Sophie, and who among us wants to believe our beloved dog would hurt our children? I know at one point mom asked me if they should consider putting Sophie down. Normally this would not be the first thing I would recommend. But in light of the fact that mom had just had a new baby, I felt more compelled to put my okay stamp on that option. If they decided to give Sophie away instead, they had to reveal why they were having her leave their family. Keeping this sort of information from a new owner is pretty heartless as well as cruel. I did tell mom that if Sophie went into a home without small children and was trained by someone who was a strong leader and consistently worked with her on her behaviors, there was a chance she would be okay. But if nothing was done and Sophie stayed with them, she would go on to bite someone… and the victim would most likely be a child.
I have not kept up with what happened to Sophie. I pray that she did not hurt another person, especially a child. As I look back now on the conversation I had with her, I am still left with a deep sadness for the confusion and upheaval this young dog showed me. She was an immensely flawed animal in an impossible situation. Just the right recipe for bad things to happen.