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Semi Feral Dog?

Hi John,
I recently adopted an abandoned dog from a shelter in Mississauga after losing Max my best friend of 14 years. My adopted dog is a Shih Tzu cross and apparently somewhere between 4 and 7 months old. He was found in country woods, nearly starved and in very bad condition. Although he seems to be doing alright with the house training, etc. he is still very “nippy” and has bitten  on a few occasions. I’ve taken him to see trainers and they’ve said I should just take him back. They weren’t at all willing to help her because they said I’m not “assertive” enough for this particular dog. I think that is nonsense. I admit to becoming afraid of the dog and concerned that this is starting a cycle that will be very hard to repair if it is allowed to continue. Thanks so much, – R.S. in Ontario

Dear R.S.

When a domesticated animal escapes its domesticated environment and survives by returning to a part or whole state of wildness, it’s described as having gone feral. A Shih Tzu however, particularly of such a young age wouldn’t likely have a chance to go feral. It would be on a coyote’s or owl’s lunch menu pretty darn quickly. More then likely he was one of the countless dogs that out-lived his cuteness and got dumped in the country and I’ll bet his emaciated state was how he entered the woods rather then a reflection of a struggle for survival.

It’s just as likely that his contrary attitude is a reflexion of his personality. I work with a lot of aggressive Shih Tzus. Their name isn’t the Chinese words for Lion Dog for nothing or in my own secret dog trainer language it occasionally translates as Butt Heads.  They are strong willed and if they are going to go wrong it’s usually in the direction of aggression. That in no way means that all Shih Tzu dogs are aggressive. Well bred, socialized and trained Shih Tzu can be great companion dogs. It’s just if you make a mistake in any of those three areas you’re going to meet me or one of my peers sooner or later.

It’s interesting to me that more then one trainer has suggested that you should take the dog back because they gaged that you can’t be “assertive” enough to deal with this particular dog. They may be right. When I assess any behaviour problem there are seven specific areas that contribute to the problem that must be investigated, as they all effect probable outcome. One is handling ability. There are some dogs that the assessment of the other six contributing factors indicate that the problem can be over come but handling ability can be the deal breaker. There can be situations where it ends up that he only thing standing between the dog and a successful long term balanced relationship is the dog’s owner. Understandably a tough call for someone to make. That being to give up their dog to increase its chances for a happy life and in some situations, a life at all.

However, I’ve met a lot of people that were all thumbs and still been able to keep those thumbs out of the dog’s mouth. Often the problem isn’t handling, it’s understanding how a dog sees the world. When a dog owner understands that and can accept how to react not just to an act of aggression but to time management and interaction with their dog throughout the day, progress can be made. Find a dog trainer or veterinarian that will refer you to a specialist. If even then it comes down to a dog and an owner with individual potential but together make a bad marriage it’s one of those rare times I say, put the dog before the human.

– John Wade the Dog Trainer

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