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Dear John,

I am writing to you about our 19-month-old golden retriever Bonna.  She was given to us at 6 months old. We previously had a golden retriever. Bonna was taken from her mother early because her father had got in with the litter and killed all of the puppies but her. She was rescued from her father’s jaws.  The first owners bottle fed her and became very close to her. Bonna dominated the first owners, a mother and daughter.

Bonna, she is quick to learn but does not like to be told what to do.  Sometimes when we pet her she growls and shows her teeth.  She has bitten 3 people. My son was first, and then she punctured my finger.  The most recent incident was when my husband was petting her and she started to growl and show her teeth. He told her to stop. She bit his hand, and then his other hand. We have been talking about putting her down. I wanted to know if you think there is any help for Bonna.

– Ella

Hi Ella,

You say Bonna is quick to learn but does not like to be told what to do. That is pretty much the assessment my ex-wife gave me on both my entry and exit evaluation interviews and I’d have to say that she perceived that as a fault and not a quality. I suggest you do as well. Bonna is a dangerous dog that would have been long gone in most households and is on the cusp of joining her less fortunate littermates.

Assuming that Bonna’s problem is not associated with a brain injury due to her father’s attempt at infanticide and his bloodthirsty tendencies haven’t been passed to her then maybe all she needs is an old-school attitude adjustment. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the people to do it. She’s probably going to need someone with more dog experience to take her on and there are mighty few of those volunteering to take on dogs acting like meat grinders with a screw loose.

I think it’s fair to say that if one is yanked from the jaws of a homicidal father one is going to get a fair amount of sympathy. Concessions for bad behaviour may have been granted because She’s the one whose father tried to kill her. Those days are done. Put her on parole with eventual release conditional upon exemplarily behavior for no less then a year.

That means she drags a leash like it’s an ankle monitor and you supervise her like she’s the only teen age girl in a town full of teen age boys. If she’s crate trained she’s in there when you can’t track her. Don’t ask much of her for a week or two just get into her head by stepping on the leash, sometimes picking it up and leading her away from something she’s doing. Don’t make a fuss, just do it as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

With the whole family, get her into a balanced training class. That’s somewhere where No means “No!” not if it’s not too inconvenient . . .  or do you mind? A place where the consequences are as real as the rewards.

If there is any chance of saving this dogs life and keeping others safe you’re going to have to convey to her as my father conveyed to me, This is my house, you just get to live here. Keep it up with that behaviour and I guarantee you tomorrow the house is still going to be here but you son . . . maybe not.

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