No Dog Is Bad. Raising Cujo.

No Dog Is Bad. Raising Cujo.

So my dog used to bite… EVERYONE. He bit friends, family members, neighbors, and passersby who dared to share the sidewalk with him. He’s a handsome fella so people would run up to pet him and things would usually happen in slow motion… his mouth would open, teeth would bare, a quick snap… I try to forget the rest.

He never did serious harm, but he did break skin. The worst offense, he bit my neighbor in the stomach, ripping his tee-shirt and drawing blood. I could tell you how my neighbor asked for it by swearing he could reform my dog with his savvy (cocky) know-how and Cesear Milan pack leader presence (despite me pleading that he was making my dog (and me) extremely uncomfortable as he tried to take the leash from me), but alas, I won’t place the blame on him, my dog should not have been biting anyone…

Mind you, my dog is the sweetest angel you’ll ever meet. It wasn’t that he wanted people to die, he was fear biting. It was a reflex. He was scared of strangers. People in his “inner circle” could do whatever they wanted to him, pick him up, tickle him, roughhouse, anything. If you weren’t in the inner circle and you approaced the wrong way? Blood.

I can’t tell you how many people said things to me like “wow, I can’t believe you haven’t taken him back to a shelter”. Those comments made me angry, my dog was an ANGEL. His intentions weren’t bad, they were based on fear. Do you stick your children in a shelter when they don’t behave? No, you find a darn solution (or at least try to).

I learned a ton about his breed during this time (Note: In NO way do I think a breed determines everything and the fact that my dog no longer bites goes to prove that). But he is part Chow Chow and has a full Chow personality - insanely loyal to his guardians (I swear this loyalty goes beyond most dogs but perhaps I’m biased…) and very cautious of strangers. No matter what his breed, it was our fault that he was biting and it was up to us to fix it.

How to Fix a Biting Dog… Love, Determination, PATIENCE, and Taking Some Risks

1. Hire a Trainer. Fire a Trainer. So we found a local trainer and began a few sessions with her. She handed us a pamphlet on why Cesar Millan is the devil and came with a million cookies. For the life me I don’t understand Cesar haters, the man can reform extremely dangerous dogs using exercise, appropriate levels of discipline, and love. I’ve watched his show a thousand times and I’ve never been offended by his methods. After a few sessions of her feeding my dog endless cookies for doing nothing and there being zero improvement in his behavior, she told us that he will always be this way and we can never have him around people. I fired her dumb ass.

2. Hire a Good Trainer. Recognize that It’s YOU Who Needs to be Trained. I found a Cesear Milan equivalent and he gave me, my husband, and our dog the butt whipping we needed (without there being any actually whipping of course). He did not give up on us or our baby. He told us from the start that our dog may never be the dopey slap happy retriever that goes jumping into every strangers lap, but we can teach him to simply duck his head away when he doesn’t want to be pet. And so using both positive enforcement and negative enforcement that’s exactly what we did.

3. Positive Enforcement. The usual, ENDLESS praise and treats when he lets someone pet him without digging his teeth into them. We had brave friends come over for these lessons. We put their hands in ski gloves and wrapped their arms in endless layers of clothes to protect their body parts (although they were still scared outta their wits). And then we had them walk over and try to pet him. When he didn’t bite, we acted like he won the Noble Peace Prize.

4. Negative Enforcement. Negative enforcement is not always necessary and while it may be negative it must NEVER be abusive. Our situation was severe, he was biting everyone. Our negative enforcement began in the form of loudly shaking a water bottle with coins in it when he acted aggressively. Later, after many more bite attempts, we had to get a remote controlled citronella collar. Our trainer trained him to recognize that he’ll get sprayed with citronella immediately after we make the collar beep. In total, he was maybe sprayed 8 times. After that, as soon as he heard the beep he stopped in his tracks and we never had to spray him again. The beep was his discipline.

5. Take Smart Calculated Risks. Socialize Your Anti-Social Pup. I knew my dog was pure of heart. I knew he meant nothing bad, he was just scared. So instead of keeping him from people, I brought him EVERYWHERE. I was determined to socialize the bejesus out of him. And so I did. It was scary but I had methods. I knew exactly how he liked to be pet, so I’d take him all over Brooklyn (where I used to live) popping in and out of boutique clothing stores who all had dog cookies waiting (even though my dog usually won’t take cookies from strangers…). The ladies working there would come over to pet him and I’d tell them exactly how to do it and then smoother him with praise. I called those our “shopping” days, even though I never bought anything. We took him to every dog run, off leash park, friend’s house, and outdoor restaurant we could find. There was no way I was keeping him away from people, instead we drowned him in them! Best decision we ever made.

6. Most Important – EXERCISE!!!! You may think I’m crazy for risking the untorn skin of so many strangers with tip #5 above, but here’s the key to that tip: before I’d embark on these little journeys, I’d run him. 45 minutes to 1 hour jogs. An exercised dog is a happy, well behaved, too filled with endorphins to bite dog. No exercise = Cujo. Exercise = Angel.

I can now proudly say that my dog no longer bites, EVER. After months of implementing these tactics something clicked and he just stopped biting. He now loves EVERYONE and the gentle soul he always was fully shines through. And like our good trainer promised, when someone comes along that he doesn’t want petting him, he ducks his head down and to the side like the snake dance move from the 80′s. I’m a proud mama for sure.

If you have a dog with behavior problems, just remember… where there’s a will there’s always a way. There’s no such thing as a bad dog.

Now how about some family photos where Cujo is the main subject?!

This is Knish a/k/a Nishy a/k/a Cujo

My brother

My Dad

My hubby

Big baby...

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24 Responses to No Dog Is Bad. Raising Cujo.

  1. Sharyn says:

    I loved your post about shy/introvert types but I LOVE this blog even more. I have volunteered in the dog rescue world for almost 12 years now and am also the guardian to an ANGEL. Except when she was not. Even though I had some dog training training in my background, I reached out to a number of trainers for help with what seemed like a very dog aggressive dog. One trainer told me “she will never be able to be around other digs” and gave up on us. His methods to date had been questionable and basically seemed to just frustrate my dog. Finally, our knight in shining armor arrived in the form of a trainer who threw my dog right into the mix of things. Within 3 sessions she was kicking it loose with other dogs at the dog park. I’ve continued her training, and continue her training every time we are out and about, and now she is amazing with other dogs. I agree wholeheartedly with your advice to search for the best dog trainer and fire anyone your gut tells you is full of it. ANYONE can call themselves a dog trainer, it doesn’t take much. THANK YOU for your message that it is up to the dog owner to fix the problem and not just dump their dog in a shelter. A LOT of people dump their dogs like they are last years fashion for a lot of bs reasons, and it infuriates me. Moving, boyfriend doesn’t like the dog, didn’t realize my apartment didn’t allow dogs, too busy, dog is too OLD etc. I’ve heard them all. I agree w/ you wholeheartedly about Cesar – a lot of trainers hate him, I do not. Well I agree with everything you’ve said in this blog! Thank you for your wise words of wisdom.

    • Liz says:

      Sharyn,

      Thank you SO much!! It’s so true, you gotta find a good trainer. Some trainers just seem to want to teach tricks and basics but when you have an aggressive you need the real deal. I’m so glad you were able to find someone great and your dog can now be around other dogs! There are SOOO many people in my neighborhood who won’t let their dogs go near any other dogs because they’re “not friendly” and I watch as the owner freaks out each time a dog gets close. I so badly want to tell them – if you’re dog isn’t friendly, you need to socialize him! I know how scary it is but it’s so true, throwing them into the mix is really what helps an anti-social dog and there are so many ways to do it responsibly, even if that means using a basket muzzle to be on the safe side.

      All those reasons for dumping a dog at a shelter infuriate me as well. Especially the moving one – if you have a dog, why are you looking at apartments that don’t allow dogs?! I used to volunteer at a shelter as well and it was just so sad. For a dog to be raised with a family and then shoved into the corner of a shelter where he sits in a cage all day with hardly any exercise, while he awaits his fate, it’s just tragic…

      Thanks for your comments Sharyn!! Keep up the awesome work you do!

  2. Wonderful post, Liz. If there’s anything to take away from Cesar, it’s that the owner has to change first. Not to far removed from – if you have problems with someone, you’re the one who has to change first…

    It’s fantastic that you were prepared to invest so much time and effort in your relationship with him. It’s certainly been a worthwhile investment. I hope your post inspires others to develop a similar relationship with their dogs.

    • Liz says:

      Hi Fiona!

      Thank you! It’s so true, it’s so easy in all circumstances to put the blame on others but really we have to look at ourselves and what role we played in creating the situation that’s causing the problem. In our case, we should have taken extra steps earlier on to socialize him more. And we didn’t discipline him enough, he was basically our pack leader ;) It took time and energy but it’s so fulfilling when the time you invest pays off!

  3. Corrie says:

    Wow, what a great post! My husband and I have been going through the same exact thing with our Yorkiepoo since we adopted her. Her previous owners called her “Devil Dog”. I couldn’t imagine dealing with this issue if she was bigger than the 5 pound pipsqueak she is. To us she’s an absolute sweetheart, but the second someone comes in our apartment you better watch your ankles or she’ll get them! We’ve been working to socialize her more and get her around more people as well, including lots of praise and treats. Same as you.

    This is a great post, and I hope other dog owners find it and can learn from it prior to making a decision that will impact the life of their pet forever. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • Liz says:

      Hi Corrie! I know all about little dogs and ankles! And even though she’s small I know it’s still scary for people when a dog is biting at them. It’s awesome that you adopted her (despite her previous nickname) and that you’re working to keep her social. People so easily give up on their dogs and don’t realize how they suffer in shelters, assuming they’re not euthanized.

      There’s always a solution to any problem if you’re willing to put work into it. I wish more dog owners would realize that!

      Thanks for your comment!

  4. beckie says:

    I LOVE that you took the time to help your baby in this way! I wish there were more people out there like you. I run a rescue and people give up on their dogs for the most easy to fix things and it breaks my heart. I love Cesar Millan and he is the reason that I am now able to rescue and train some of the most abused dogs in the shelters. One of my beautiful babies was used for fighting and I had to teach her to be a dog again. She is now one of the most wonderful dogs/family members that I have ever had!!! If we are patient with them and show them the way, they will reward us ten fold:-) Hugs to you and your baby!!

    • Liz says:

      Hi Beckie! That’s so awesome that you run a rescue group! It must be so hard at the same time. People don’t realize what it’s like for dogs in shelters. I wish everyone who gave up their dog would first spend a week caring for shelter dogs, then maybe they’d think differently. If my dog had to spend most of the day confined in a tiny space he would go nuts. Whenever people would tell me they were surpised we didn’t send him to one it would occur to me that if someone else had adopted him, that may be what they would have done with him and since he was scared of strangers and aggressive he’d be euthanized pretty quickly. Broke my heart to think about it…

      Keep up the AMAZING work you do. And I’ll happily stay with you on Cesar’s fan club!!

  5. Liz, this is a great post…reminds me of Kate (actually my daughter…she was a biter!). I used to cringe every time I picked her up from the babysitter or if we had to go to play dates, etc… Probably not the same as Cujo, but I can relate on some level. We are all GOOD, but it is how we deal with the behavior that makes the difference. As for #6, I’m all about that…if I don’t get my ride or run in, NOT GOOD! These are great tips! (AND gorgeous pics!)

    • Liz says:

      Lisa! I love it, both our babies were biters, mine’s just the furry kind ;) So true, this post is about biting but really it’s about taking responsibility and finding solutions, in any area of life. Giving up should never be an option!

      I’m the same, jogging my dog wasn’t only for him, it was for me too! No exercise and I turn into Cujo as well ;) xoxo

  6. Thanks for sharing your story about your sweet Cujo! He is so lucky to have you and I know you feel the same about him. He reminds me of my sweet Emma, 10 years old now — a chow-lab mix as far as we can tell. She was a challenge for the first year but then inexplicably became an angel overnight, it seemed. She’s still territorial with deep, ferocious barking but is all mushy love as soon as someone walks in the front door. She is very pretty — she looks exactly like your pup!

    • Liz says:

      Aawwww she sounds awesome Cheryl! I wish the comments allowed you to post a pic! Funny my Cujo isn’t territorial at all (people or dogs can take food right out of his mouth!) but when people (strangers) walk through the door, that’s when he goes nuts – barking like a maniac! I wish he was better with that as it’s still kinda scary for people but as long as he’s not biting with that barking I’m okay. Sounds like him and Emma would be Chow-mix ying & yangs :)

  7. “(even though my dog usually won’t take cookies from strangers…)”- TOO cute and so telling! I love this article so much. Good work with your adorable pup!

    • Liz says:

      Thanks Caroline!! Yup, he’s the only dog I know who rejects food from strangers (unless it’s really irresistible!), he’s too funny ;)

  8. Edyta says:

    Love love this post! I agree completely, it takes time and patience, every dog is different and any type of agression or misbehaving is based on fear (in both people and dogs). Just like anything else, in order to get results you have to work at it. Your dog is so precious and I bet he is a Wonderful little munchkin, he just needed a bit of therapy to feel safe and know his boundries – Great Job!
    Hope you had a fantstic Holiday and wishing you a Happy New Year!!! ~Edyta

    • Liz says:

      Thanks so much Edyta! He really is a wonderful little munchkin, that’s exactly how I view him :) I’m so proud of him everyday. Giving up on him was never an option. I think when we view things that way it helps the impossible become possible!

      Happy New Year to you Edyta!!

  9. [...] following my heart. About acting despite fears. About living with compassion and being bold. About never giving up. About taking chances and living colorfully. About what matters, and what doesn’t. About [...]

  10. [...] adopted our Chow/Shepherd mix, Knish (yup, that’s his name!) in 2006 and fed him good old fashioned commercial dog food; kibbles and [...]

  11. [...] adopted our Chow/Shepherd mix, Knish (yup, that’s his name!) in 2006 and fed him good old fashioned commercial dog food; kibbles and [...]

  12. [...] one of our recent weekend rituals, walking through Central Park early in the morning, our dog running freely nearby, but worry on our hearts about something I hope to share one day, a [...]

  13. [...] to embrace. A gift that fostered my love for animals who radiate nothing but purity, even the aggressive ones. A gift that leads me to surround myself with the most loving wonderful people I can [...]

  14. Kim says:

    THANK YOU for your post! I know this is an older post but I’m so grateful we found it during an online search. We are currently working on aggression issues with our 3 year-old chow chow mix and it’s hard for others to understand the emotions you go through while trying to socialize your pup. I couldn’t tell if my tears were from laughing at your witty writing or from relief that someone else understands exactly what we’re going through.

    • Liz says:

      Kim, I’m SO glad this post helped you!! That makes me so happy. We went through such a hard time but in the end all of our efforts were so worth it. Hang in there, chows can be so misunderstood but they are so special! Keep being the great doggy mama that you are!

  15. I have a Boston Terrier 2 years old named Tobby, this dog gave me many problems. It ate my shoes, urinated in the room, the furniture stank. A teach my dog to behave with some training videos I found online. Pay 1 dollar for a trial period of 3 days. And 37 monthly payment, but worth every penny. My dog is very well behaved, and does not make those deviltries and I have taught him many tricks. This is the location where I found the training: http://www.theonlinedogtrainers.com

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