Monday, March 4, 2013

Axle is not a Breed Ambassador...and I am not Ashamed

Axle and Remi on a play date.
A few months ago, some new neighbors moved in down the street. They're dog lovers, too. They walk their dog at least twice a day, from what I've seen. You can imagine how excited I was to see fellow dog walkers move into the neighborhood! When we first moved here, everyone looked at me like I was crazy for walking our dogs. Now they look at two families like they're crazy!! I've been wanting to stop by and welcome them to the neighborhood, but time has not been in my favor. Today, as chance would have it, I was walking Remi and Axle by their house when the woman came out of the yard with their dog. Axle immediately went on the defensive, and I quickly let the woman know to keep her distance. She and I were trying to have a get-to-know-each-other conversation over the barking of our dog. I walk Axle and Remi on one leash, a connector joining their harnesses. While Axle hopped around barking, Remi was tugging in the opposite direction. The stimulation was too much for Axle, and he turned on Remi. He didn't hurt her, but it looked (and sounded) nasty as he growled and snarled at her. It scared Remi and embarrassed me.
Axle and Fry napping.

In the meantime, the woman's husband came up and asked if I needed any help. Axle quickly positioned himself between us and issued a low warning growl. I apologized, but the man seemed very understanding. He said that he had no problem with a dog being protective of his owner. We talked a bit more, then I walked the dogs home.

I was really embarrassed, to say the least. Axle had made quite a butt of himself in front of strangers, and he's a pit bull. He's supposed to be a breed ambassador, right? He's supposed to disprove stereotypes. And there he was, an anti-social growling mess.

The more I thought about it, though, the less bad and the less embarrassed I felt. This is because I thought about what all Axle has been through during his two short years - A LOT!!  It's all documented throughout the blog, but here it is in a nutshell:

Axle lived with Otto for a year. Axle was only 4 or 5 months old when the fights started. We thought it was because they weren't neutered yet, but neutering didn't change things. We tried training, crate-and-rotate, you name it. We found out the hard way that Otto was the problem - he was unstable and human/dog aggressive to such a degree that we couldn't leave the house without a muzzle on him and a very strong, very secure leash. Axle learned from Otto that it didn't matter what he did, he would be attacked. We thought things would get better with Bobob (shelter dog), and they did...until Axle woke me up one morning because Bobob was having seizures. Bobob never woke up. :(

Axle and Spudet
In the meantime, we had moved to our current house and Axle had completed training. Walking through the neighborhood unveiled a new set of problems - loose dogs. There is no leash law in the county I live in. One particular house had a group of 8 dogs that would charge us, barking and snapping. One of them bit me in December of 2010. Axle was also bitten on a later date.

After Bobob, we adopted Spudet. Things seemed to finally be working in our favor. Axle and Spuds got along beautifully...until the day she tried to kill him. He still has pink, hairless scars on his legs where she tore his flesh. Everywhere else (neck, ears, face, chest, thighs) has grown white hair over the scars.

Axle and Remi
He had a buddy down the road who would come out for a friendly doggy "hello" when we'd go walking, but his family had a baby. After the baby was born, the dog's attitude shifted. When we would walk by, his hair would stand on end and he would growl. If he was contained in his yard, it wouldn't be so bad. One day, Axle's former buddy bit him on the nose. I guess Axle really liked him, because he didn't bite back.

All of those things are enough to make any normally play-doh-like dog at least a little bit dog reactive, but that's not all Axle has been through!

From L to R: Leela, Remi, Fry, and Axle
For months (not sure exactly how long), someone was breaking into our house and stealing medication. I don't know exactly how long they did it or what all they went through before they found what they wanted to take, but I do know it took a toll on Axle. The thief was subtle, at least in the beginning, and was using a key, so we had no idea what was going on for quite some time. In the meantime, Axle was having to witness a stranger coming into HIS house, and he couldn't do a thing about it. Small wonder he had broken two welds on his crate trying to get out!! (Axle and Remi are currently on a trial being free range in the house.)

Me and my lover boy!
All things considered, I think Axle is a jam-up dog. He and Remi get along great, he does wonderfully with the cats, and he's learning not to overwhelm guests with his affection.

There's really no reason Axle should have to be so perfectly behaved. Look at everything he's been through! I do the responsible thing - I let other dog owners know that Axle is a Dog In Need Of Space, and we avoid dog parks.

Am I wrong for thinking this? Thoughts?

PS New neighbors, if you ever read this, you seem like really nice folks and your dog is cute and all, but I don't see any play dates in our future!


  1. As a dog owner, I can relate. It's so easy to be embarrassed of your dog's behavior but almost every dog has been through some kind of traumatic event that makes them react the way they do. My little yellow-lab-mix has been attacked numerous times while out on leashed walks and at the dog park; now she is defensive around other dogs and this makes her look like "the bad dog." You'll never be able to explain your dog's history to everyone you meet, but I think most dog owners know what you're going through and don't expect apologies. At least you're aware enough to know your dog's boundaries!

  2. This seals it; Axle is truly Haleigh Anne's doppelganger. Haleigh Anne is the same way and for the same reasons; Axle is not alone! We adopted Haleigh at 3 months old and as soon as she had all her rounds of shots we started taking her everywhere, including the dog park. Now she was a little pudgy, but she was still a little girl and the other dogs at the dog park would pick on her. It got to the point that we stopped going because she never had a good time and we'd just have to socialize her other ways. Then her "sister" Pepper Anne would beat the crap out of her constantly. We came home one day to a horrifying bloody mess - thank God everyone was OK, but poor Haleigh was traumatized. Then her brother Greighson started in on her and then my friend's rescued dog attacked her... it just seemed the poor girl could not get a break. Haleigh started getting aggressive herself and every trainer we talked to and worked with told us she was "fear aggressive". Well, hell's bells, of course she's afraid; almost every dog she's ever had contact with has hurt her. Then we took in Abbey and LuLu - they were so small we carried them around one in each hand. Haleigh took them in as her babies and for the first time she had a friend that did not hurt her. It was amazing to watch Haleigh blossom and to see this beautiful friendship develop between her and LuLu. Haleigh is still "defensive" towards other dogs and strangers, but with a "Haleigh Be Sweet" from me she knows she's OK and I'll take care of her. It doesn't make it any less embarrassing and I wish I could say; "Just let me explain..." to everyone who gets to encounter this not-so-fabulous side of her, but that's OK. I know that's she's come a looooooong way and at the end of the day I'm terribly proud of her.

    1. Oh me oh my, I think I just might love Haleigh Anne a little bit more!!

  3. Dog are going to be dogs, and every dog has their own personality and issues. the problem for us pit parents is that when our dogs act like....well, dogs, it is exacerbated to the Nth degree. fortunately your neighbors seem to be knowledgeable about dogs.
    I have a 100 lbs pit who has never met a person or dog he didn't like. we had an incident at the local dog park last year. a lady came in with a small jack russell that was instantly acting aggressive to all the other dogs. my pit went to day hello and was attacked. he shook it off and walked away, the dog followed, attacked again, my dog used his paws (no teeth) to push the dog off of him. the woman screamed at me to get my dog, grabbed her dog and left, making a comment about how all pitsbulls should be put down.
    That display of ignorance served as a reminder to me that, fair or not, us pit parents have to be extra vigilant to make sure our dogs not only meet the standard for accepted behavior, but exceed it. they have to be exceptional just to be considered acceptable and to compensate for all the bad press.
    even though my pit is incredibly friendly, I make sure that I control his "exuberance". I don't want to 1. take a chance that his excitement is mistaken for aggression, and 2. he doesn't knock someone over trying to get a belly rub.
    I know that I will have plenty of people that would disagree with me and say that I should let him be a dog, but I feel like my job is to keep him safe and healthy. a big part of that is making sure he doesn't end up on death row because someone claims he tried to attack them or worse, shot by some overzealous cop like so many other have been.
    For the record, I think you do great work and I hope you don't think I am bashing you or you dog. I may have a slightly different approach but I have the utmost respect for you and any responsible dog parent.

    1. Thank you and I understand completely. Oh believe me, our dogs don't get away with just anything. I try to keep them as disciplined as I can, but they have their limits. I can't expect perfection, and I have come to accept that. :)