Sunday, June 13, 2010


Seven is currently 7 months old. We know where he came from. His mom, a Formosan Mountain Dog mix, was found as a stray in Taiwan. She was also very pregnant.

She gave birth to 11 puppies.

That's Baby Seven there, looking at the camera.

Seven knew 3 homes in Taiwan. He was born in foster care, then he was taken in by a family with a small child. But they decided they couldn't keep him and he went back to live with another fosterer.

At 6 months old, near the end of April, he came to live with a couple and their dog in the US. Here he is with his siblings and foster mom in Taiwan getting all the documents ready for their flight.

Unfortunately, the flight and complete upheaval of everything he knew made Seven extremely fearful. Seven quickly bonded to his new family but remained fearful of everybody else. A group of 3 trainers even recommended he be put down because they said his "aggression" couldn't be controlled.

That's when we stepped in. Abbie, one of Seven's fosterers in Taiwan, the woman who helped his mom give birth to all 11 puppies, contacted me because she was worried about Seven. She gave me minute details of what Seven was like in Taiwan and what his new family was telling her about him now.

I couldn't grasp how the Seven who had lived with a small child, who went everywhere and was greeted by new people all the time could be the same dog that was now being called "aggressive." He went from being completely friendly to everyone back in Taiwan to completely barky, growly and snappy to everyone but his own family here in the States.

I questioned the trainers' assessment. I'm not a professional, nor do I ever claim to be. But I have a bit of experience with Taiwan dogs. What I suspected had happened was this:

Seven, completely uncertain of what was happening to him, became very agitated during the flight. He was picked up and brought home to live with his new family, who he quickly realized was his "safe" haven.

Unfortunately, he still felt threatened by everything and everyone around him. Being taken to the vet to get neutered so soon after his arrival didn't help matters either. No doubt about it, Seven was exhibiting fearful behavior. All outside forces he considered a threat. But now he had a new pack to protect.

I met Seven's new mom a month after they got him. She and her husband clearly loved Seven, and in everything they did, they did with the best intention. They went well beyond what I think an average adopter would do. It's actually really amazing how much effort, finances, and love they devoted to him in the relatively short time they had him.

I think in only one big way did they err with Seven. Not having any indication that he had any fearful tendencies, I don't think they gave him enough time to relax and settle in before they exposed him to outside stimulants. Although he quickly learned to trust them, he still had a lot of anxiety after his flight.

So when he began to become growly and snappy with strangers, both out of his own fear and as a need to protect his pack from perceived threats, rather than pull back a little and allow Seven a chance to get his bearings, they pushed him even further. In their well-meaning attempt to nip this unwanted behavior in the bud, they continued to expose him to new and (to him) frightening situations.

By this time, I have no doubt their own stress and anxiety were being communicated to Seven via body language. Seven's a smart dog. I'm sure that when they, with Seven on leash, approached a person, their body would tense up a bit in expectation of Seven's reaction. That's to be expected. But Seven would read that to mean that there was a threat present, that his humans were scared, and perceiving that, he would have to take it upon himself to protect them.

Seven lived in this state of mind for a month. The cycle would continue to feed itself, and it was in this state that the trainers assessed him. I can't help but think Cesar Milan would have never suggested he be put down.

It was all well and fine for me to have my own opinion on the matter, but I couldn't foster Seven myself. Not with a houseful of dogs already, and Popeye being one of them. It was one thing for me to say he was misdiagnosed but quite another to actually ask another person to take in a dog that had been labeled as "aggressive."

But once again, our own Robin came to the rescue. When Robin heard that the trainers suggested that Seven be put down, she wanted to drive the 2 hours to pick him up right away, no ifs or buts about it. Robin's previous foster dog, Miko, had been adopted just a couple of weeks earlier.

So that weekend, we drove to Santa Rosa to pick Seven up. Knowing what we did about him, we asked ahead of time that he not be allowed to meet us. From the car, we watched him interact with his human. And then he was brought back inside the house and crated in a different room. We didn't want to give Seven any opportunity to feel like we were threats to his pack and his home. Seven was carried into the car in his crate, and that's where he stayed until we got him back to Robin's house, the 5th home he would know.

As with his previous family, we didn't expect it to take long for Seven to bond with his new pack. In fact, as Robin said, it seemed like his "reset" button was pushed the very next morning after we picked him up. He quickly learned to view Robin as a trusted human.

2 weeks later (yesterday), I returned to Robin's house for a visit. I wasn't sure if he'd remember me from our brief meeting the day we picked him up. At his previous home, the first real sign of trouble happened when a friend came to to Seven's new house. This friend was with the family when they picked Seven up from the airport and brought him home. But when he met her again 2 weeks later (she was going to take him to the vet to get neutered), he did not remember her and perceived her to be a threat. This was his first real freak-out moment and we're told he growled, barked, and snapped at her. I think this was the moment that Seven was labeled as "aggressive."

I didn't want Seven to react that same way to me. I didn't want to be the catalyst that would start his freak-out mode all over again. So for this visit, I brought 2 things that most dogs can't resist.


And . . . .


We are being very careful with our handling of Seven. Robin is trying to maintain her pack leader stance with him, so that he doesn't feel compelled to take on that role himself. We try to take things slowly (though not nearly as slowly as we expected to). He's had some moments of uncertainty but never that intense level of fear that seemed to be with him while at his previous home. So far, we have not seen any of the "aggression" for which the trainers said to put him down.

See for yourself how he did during our visit:


Khyra And Sometimes Her Mom said...

I see a happy HaPpy HAPPY pup in the making!

Thanks fur all woo do!


Wild Dingo said...

"Is he ever going to grow into his ears?"

um, that would be a "No". here's an example of a grown Formosan with, um, gynormous ears:

LOL. Seven's awesome. he does look not so confident, and I could "see" him in the wrong situation displaying fearful or aggressive behaviors. that doesn't mean that he isn't perfectly fixable and adoptable. it just means it takes the right fosters and adopters.

i compeltely agree that stuffing him into too much too soon was a bad idea. i actually did this with Loki and i"m certain to this day it was a bad idea. i still manage his 'anxious' behaviors and need to give him plenty of space when working him among a group of dogs. for real. what feels fine for most dogs is not fine for him. though he's not out to fight dogs, he can be anxious and he can displace his anxiety on the nearest dog. I now think his biggest issue is worrying about nearby dogs while having to focus on me. he can't do both so he's stressed about it. he has NO problem doing "work" when he's not having to worry about another dog. but with other dogs and the stimulus of class, he is constantly torn between "worrying" about the other dogs and paying attention to me. With a dog like this (like Seven or Loki) it's best to introduce stimulus very slowly and one thing at a time. there's no rush. why bother rushing? i wish i went to school and just sat outside the gates and watched class with him for a month before "forcing" him to be among a pack of dogs and "working." It's almost like going into a room full of your biggest fears (like spiders) and saying "ignore the spiders and do your computer work." ugh. stupid me!

are you sure he's part great dane? he looks so small! i don't see dane at all. i see formosan for sure. but not dane. he's cute!

Nicole Sands said...

Oh I think I'm in love with Seven. If he were on the East Coast I'd come pick him up to be his Forever Packleader in an instant.