For about 4 months now, I have been working with a couple and their rescued dobermann, Marlowe. Marlowe came to them through a rescue group after having been in boarding for 3 months and in 3 homes prior to that. He is less than 2 years old. That’s a lot for any dog…let alone one so young. I knew when we started that we were dealing with reactivity and fear, 2 things that can lead to aggression if not addressed. When my clients first called, they were worried that they were dealing with a dog who is too damaged. Fortunately, time, consistency and force-free training have proved that this is not the case.
I can’t help but think that if Marlowe was adopted by a different type of person, or trained using harsh, correction-based techniques that things would have turned out very differently. I say this for a few reasons- first, his people are previous dobie owners and are experienced with the breed, they are also committed and patient. Second, I have no doubt that corrections would have caused him to react aggressively, as his experience with people in the past likely showed him that they are not to be trusted. Marlowe needed to be taught to do the right things, not corrected for doing the wrong things. When a dog has no idea what the right thing is, how can you justify doing anything but teaching? And, how do you teach the right thing? Repetition and consistency.
In the time I have known him, Marlowe has gone from lunging at everyone who crosses his path to being able to attend doggie day care a few times a week, hang out at work with mom and dad, let people pass him in stairways and exuberantly greet people at his front door (we are working on toning this down, but, man, what a change!). Marlowe is comfortable in the car now, after having ripped off harnesses, torn seat-belts and cried for the entire 1.5 hour trip from NYC to New Hope. Marlowe has excellent recall, walks well on a leash (even in busy locales) and will maintain a down- stay through a meal. At doggie day care, Marlowe has friends, both human and canine, and interacts appropriately with both. At work, Marlowe is okay with deliveries, patients coming in and out, mom and dad moving from one room to another. I think it is safe to say that all of this is more than any of us dared to dream possible. Early on, I think we all thought we were dealing with a dog who would have to be tightly managed and watched diligently. I think it is also safe to say that we are all beyond thrilled.
This is not to say that Marlowe is perfect or that the work is done. It is not, and I think we all realize that he will be a work in progress for a long time. He still does not love strangers, especially those walking towards him, though, the lunging has stopped and he can deal with it much better. The world is less scary, because the people around him are safe and can be trusted. Marlowe’s biggest issue, however, is separation anxiety. Which makes sense, given his less than stable beginnings.
We knew that Marlowe suffered a bit when his people were gone, but, until a camera was attached to his collar one Sunday when they went to church, we had no idea just how much he suffered. Watching the recording went from being an amusing, anthropological experiment to heartbreaking in less than 10 minutes. I don’t think any of us were prepared for just how badly he suffered when alone. Marlowe went from window to window, panting, barking, drooling, crying. We thought that it had stopped at 8:24 minutes- it had not. He just took a break and started right up again. It went on the whole time they were gone. I cried for him, we were all just devastated and realized that we needed to approach this a bit differently. We talked about medications and had used them on occasion, we talked about making the leaving ritual less predictable (ie- don’t make a big fuss saying goodbye, leave the radio on playing the same music you had going, etc.) and scary and we talked about leaving for only short periods of time for a while, meaning to the trash can and back. That’s how small we had to start. We also decided that a puppysitter is probably a good idea if they have to be gone for long periods of time. Turns out that sometimes, it’s me 🙂 And, I am totally okay with that. Separation anxiety is tough on dogs- it is also tough on the people who love them. It is an actual disorder and not something that can be easily fixed or will go away on it’s own. There is nothing that anyone could say to convince me that it is anything other than panic and as such, it needs to be dealt with carefully and any dog who suffers from it deserves to be treated with kindness and consideration. My friend, Sandi, brought a dog home from Thailand and he suffers from it, as well. Sandi, a well-known San Francisco based dog trainer was asked to write an article on it for The Whole Dog Journal and having shared it with Marlowe’s parents, we were all left with the same reaction: Wow. We recognized ourselves in it fully…me, as the trainer and always worried about setbacks and them as people who loved him, wondering if they would ever be able to leave the house again. I think we also saw just how important support is. Whether it was having Paul walk up and down the street (Keep your distance! Come a little closer! Slowly! Not too fast!)to get Marlowe comfortable with people being near him or having their son or me stay with him while they were away or out, there is no way we could have achieved what we have without support. You can read Sandi’s article here:
Marlowe is a work in progress, we know this. But, he is also very much a success story. He is a dog who will play, who will cuddle, who will give kisses. He will come running enthusiastically when he hears the words, “Marlowe, let’s go home!”. Once he trusts someone, he leans and becomes like Velcro. Marlowe is silly and goofy. Today, when his people got home, we were outside (I stayed with him while they went to church). I was standing by his side with him on a leash, holding it loosely. I asked him to wait. He did not move a muscle until I said okay. I was so proud of him.
I am so thrilled to play a part in Marlowe’s life. These days, when we meet it is mainly to talk about the week’s progress and have him stay used to my coming around….though, we must work some more on his greeting behavior some more. I think not many people are fond of 90lbs of dobermann coming at them full speed to say hello! But, boy, what a change! I am proud of him and so proud of his people…for loving him, sticking by him and for believing he is worth it.
Such a handsome guy!
I never would have thought 4 months ago that this dog would curl up on a couch with me and just relax and know he is safe. What a long way we have come! Good boy, Marlowe 😀