How I Learned and Cared for Him
By M. Jones
This is about a dog named Jason. He was a 125 pound Doberman Pinscher, my companion, my strength, the love of my life. I recently had to put him down because he had bone cancer which had spread to his lungs. He was in pain in the end and became even more aggressive in the end because of the pain he was in. I am writing about him because of the success I had being able to keep him for life. I often thought about having to give him away, but I just couldn’t do it, so I found ways to resolve many problems by working with his aggression and being able to distract him or make him change his mood from aggressive behavior to acceptable behavior. I am writing this story so that others can read it and learn something from it that they may need to use sometime.
The last time Jason approached me aggressively is the day before we went to the vet. I was laying on my bed with my head on the pillow and Jason got up in my face growling and looking for a response from me. I looked in his eyes to acknowledge what he was doing and saw his angry face, then I immediately turned my head away and looked away from him so he could see only the side of my face. And I stayed frozen. Dogs understand this kind of body language and interpret it as being ignored. He stopped growling and got his biscuit that was on the floor near the bed and left the room. I was confident that ignoring him would work, as it had in the past. Dogs use the ignoring language when they interact with each other so they understand it perfectly. Perhaps it was the biscuit that was on the floor that he was guarding but I had forgotten about it then anyway. Normally, I would pick up the biscuit as soon as he dropped it near me and toss it to the other side of the room. There were other times that he acted with growling in my face but there wasn’t anything near us for him to guard.
I used the same ignoring response each time and it would make him calm down. Then I would immediately turn my face back to him and happily and confidently suggest that we go outside or that he get the shoe on the other side of the room, and I would make no sudden moves, I would stay in the same position – stay frozen. Sometimes I would suggest three different things before he was agreeable to something else. I would never make a sudden move when I had just gotten him to stop growling, that would be too dangerous. I would speak confidently and enthusiastically and watch the expression on his face. I would wait to see him turn to being more relaxed and ready to go do something else before I made the next move which included me moving any part of my body.
Sometimes I had a biscuit in my pocket that would help. But first I would happily ask him if he wanted a biscuit before I reached in my pocket for it. No sudden moves from me were the key here, along with allowing him the time to become calm, and the use of a confident and cheerful language when redirecting.
When Jason laid down somewhere he was very territorial. No one could approach the space of a five foot perimeter around him. If he was in a walk way, we would always go to the five foot boundary and coax him into getting up by talking to him in an encouraging and loving manner and waiting for him to get up. He would usually get up and want to be petted or he would head off the other way and go somewhere else. This boundary perimeter was never forgotten by us, when it was in fact learned the hard way. I only learned of this danger when he was about three years old. I walked into his space in the kitchen and got bit on the foot then I ran. After that I wore snow boots around him and still got bit on the foot but it didn’t hurt because the boots protected my feet. My father attempted to walk right by the dog when he was laying down on a chair outside. Jason growled and barked as soon as he approached and I instructed my Dad, who had froze in place, to back up and go back around the other way.
Jason would frequently steal an item that did not belong to him. I would get it back by distracting him to go for a walk, or to go outside, or offer him a treat from the refrigerator and then I would take him outside. When I got him outside I would make sure he was distracted enough with something else or just by laying out there, and happy to be doing it. This required a good 10 minute wait period. Then I would keep him out there and go back in the house to retrieve the item and put it up. This was the only way to avoid getting bit trying to get the item back. I challenged Jason once by being so angry and grabbing a coat that was mine, then I got nipped on the chin for that move. If I didn’t distract him long enough and I approached the door to go in, of course he would be at the door also, to go back in and get his coveted item.
Whenever Jason did become aggressive and then I distracted him, it was either time for a walk, a car ride, or a good time for me to just let him have the living room to himself. I have a tv in my bedroom, so I had no problem leaving him in the living room. My computer is in the living room, so sometimes I would stay in the living room with him. But Jason is a guard dog, an aggressive dog by nature, so most of the time I let him have the living room to himself.
At about 5 pm to the next early morning, Jason was in guard mode every day. He was guarding his space around him in the living room in a much larger perimeter than 5 feet around, and displayed aggression at anyone making noise in the living room, or in the kitchen. He would be laying on the couch or on his full size bed in the living room and growl at anyone making noise nearby. It was a low key growl. We would talk to him in a cheerful manner and sometimes he would quiet down. Sometimes he would get up and come to us happy and want to be petted. Sometimes he would never stop growling at all until we left the area. He had to have the living room to himself at night in order to not create problems. I tried putting him in a large crate in the living room at night, but he hated going into it and would respond very viciously once in there. I would let him out when he was calm later, by approaching him with a happy announcement of coming out of the cage.
Before letting him have the living room at night I stood it out in there with him and got bit once by his thinking I was after his toy that I had to walk near. My foot was bleeding with a big hole in it. I looked online the next day and found a muzzle for him. When I received the package in the mail I thought the wrapping was so peculiar and quite fitting. The box read “Night Angel” and on it was a picture of a Male Doberman wearing a muzzle. I put the muzzle on him by standing beside him and letting him know I was going to put it around his face and the next second it was on him and I fastened it around the back of his head. He was very calm putting it on and always delighted when I removed it. After wearing this muzzle at night for two weeks, he got the idea that I didn’t want him biting me anymore. He would run for his toys when he felt a threat from me instead of charging at me. I saved the muzzle for our use at the vet visits, and left it off of him for the rest of his nights.
If there were toys or his favorite objects laying around I would pick one up and offer it to him before entering the area. I wanted to make sure his attention was on something so he wouldn’t lunge at me for being near something of his.
About a month before our final vet visit Jason was in my room at 6 pm while I showered. I got out of the shower and thought I better stay in the other bedroom until he left my room. I stood in the doorway and watched him but my presence there was disturbing to him so he charged me full on growling and just before he got to me I shut the bedroom door. His paw got stuck in the door. I opened the door ten minutes later and he stood there holding up his paw waiting for me to come out. So I went out with him and we went outside. This is the paw injury that started the cancer to grow rapidly in his arm. We went to the vet and had an x-ray and got pain pills and anti-inflammatory pills. The vet said that she was not sure about his x-ray and that he may have some kind of disease, but she wasn’t sure, so I told her I just wanted to treat the injury at that time.
Jason was struck with cancer above one front paw and spread to a lung in a month’s time. The paw was swelling to eventually the size of a tennis ball. The vet let me know that he had cancer and had to be put down or else he could break that arm and really be in trouble. I decided to put him down. Then I took him into the room to be put to sleep. I wasn’t ready to do it just yet so I did not leave the door open a crack to signal to the vet that I was ready for her. Jason lay on the blanket, happy and content to be with me. But soon enough he stood up and barked loudly and madly at me three times letting me know that he was in pain and wanted to leave. I grabbed his leash and we walked out the door. I announced to the vet that he was getting “out of hand” and that we needed a walk. Outside the door he was happy and calm so I slipped on his muzzle there. I always made sure that he was in a calm and accepting state before putting his muzzle on. There is just no other way to do it.
I allowed Jason in my room after 5 pm to watch tv with me occasionally when I was on the bed. I started to leave a foot of space between myself and the edge of the bed because he would lay on the floor and growl at my presence. Of course when he growled I wouldn’t make one move. When enough time went by and he was quiet I would announce to him that I had to pee because that was something he understood took my leaving the area and heading to the bathroom. So I was able to make a decent escape that was peaceful and I was not a threat to him. Now, he was never in the walking path I would have to take. That would be another issue to address before I would ever attempt to move.
When Jason was three he rode in the front seat while I was driving. He was right next to the gear shift and decided to growl at me when I was going to change gears. So we slowed to a stop and I put on the emergency blinkers for cars to go around us. Luckily, we were on a slow moving street so I waited for him to get in the back seat and then drove on. After that, Jason decided he didn’t like being in the front seat and always stayed in the back. I kept the front seat window rolled up and the back seat window rolled down so he would keep to the back seat from then on.
We were in a parking lot and Jason was in the back with the rolled down window. A truck pulled up and there was one foot of space between our vehicles. The hair on the back of my neck stood up when a lady got out right next to us and brushed up against our car. Sure enough, Jason nipped at her arm and left small indentions in her skin, then went to lay down again. I did not react fast enough and get our car out of there when I should have. I should have immediately started the car and backed out as soon as they pulled up, but I wasn’t sure if they were all getting out since they parked so darn close to us. The dog catcher was called and I got a warning ticket. After that encounter I kept his window rolled up most of the way unless I knew we would be parking on a street somewhere and his window faced the street.
I was pulled over by a police woman for not allowing someone in the lane in front of me that was signaling. Jason was in back and his window was down, and he was barking at the officer approaching. The officer instructed me to roll up his window so I made sure Jason’s face was not by the handle before rolling the window up. If he was near the handle I would have asked the officer to give me a minute to get him away from the handle before I attempted to roll it up.
A man came over our house to buy some legos. I opened the door for him to come in and he looked at Jason and asked me if I was sure he should come in. I looked at Jason’s face again and he had a happy curious face on so I assured the man it would be okay to come on in the doorway. After Jason sniffed him and was fine I led the man into a back room and Jason stood at the doorway watching. We were leaving the room with a bag and exchanged money and I led the way out of house. Jason was fine with this as long as he was near me.
Jason loved to approach me while I was sitting in a chair and lay down right in front of me on the floor, so I couldn’t get up without dealing with his aggression. Again, this is because when he is laying down, the five foot perimeter guarding goes into effect. Sometimes when I saw him decide to lay near me I would immediately get up and move away so he couldn’t do it at all. Other times I would put my feet up and stick to the chair during his nap time in front of me. I wouldn’t leave my feet down if I were to allow him to lay right next to me.
Jason was allowed to have two of my coats to play with. One day, they were in the closet so he thought he could have the coat I was wearing. He bit my arm and pulled and pulled and bit until he realized the coat was not going to come off. My arm was so sore. I should have stood up and told him to wait a minute and took it off for him. But I was too startled and just waited for him to stop biting. This is before I got bit by him before, so I was very startled.
Jason loved to resource guard items in the house. We could not keep enough things away out of reach because he chose anything and everything to covet and guard. This included cans of food, sodas, vases, lamps, a sawzaw, pillows, plants, rugs and everything else around. We had to keep glasses off the tables because he would break the glass on the floor and take the largest piece of it to the couch to covet. I was not brave enough to make him drop items and take them away from him. I also did not want to face the aggression so I allowed him to covet things here and there. I bought him stuffed animals at yard sales and kept biscuits in my pockets for him to keep him satisfied.
When I sat on the couch Jason was sure to get up next to me and lay down. He was fine with it most of the time until about 6 months before his cancer growth. He then became territorial with the couch so I did not attempt to share it with him any longer. I would use the chair next to the couch and let him have it all to himself.
I shared my bed with Jason from a puppy to about age one or two. He growled at me in the bed with him, so I would coax him out of the room after a good wait period and reclaim my bed. Sometimes I would let him have the bed and I would sleep on the floor. But then he got mad at me being in the room and making noise so I didn’t let him have the bed anymore and I shut my bedroom door at night to let him know he had to stay out.
I bought Jason a full size bed for the living room floor. I had to take it away for two years because as a young pup, he put a few holes in it. When he was four or so I was able to give him the bed again and he really used it well, along with the couch. I would lay on the edge and nap and he would be right behind me and he would nap also. Sometimes he would put his head on me for a short while. We shared many naps together, and I was sure not to make one movement except for a sneeze or a cough which was acceptable to him and not bothersome. I was always the first one up from the nap and I would sit up very slowly on the edge of the bed while he lay sleeping. This is the only place where we could share such closeness.
Food was a problem from the very beginning with Jason. He would tip his bowl over and then guard the entire area. I had to hold his bowl for him from then on. When he wanted some food he would approach me with a growl and stand in front of the bowl, and I would have to talk to him by making happy barking sounds in order for him to quiet down and get some food. Sometimes I would get a bunch of kisses from him first. Most of the time his aggression went on for the duration of the entire feeding session. He appreciated my efforts enough so I could manage to feed him enough food. I would end each feeding session by announcing that we were going outside, in order for me to safely get up and put the food up or put the empty food bowl up.
About six months before his cancer, his stamina was cut in half. Our walks were shorter, but I suspected he was getting old, I didn’t think he was getting cancer. The cancer was in his bones and hidden well.
Since Jason was an aggressive dog, I only petted him when he came to me for it. I would great him with verbal adoration and love before I reached out to pet him. And I would keep a slow pace of talk and assurance going the whole time I petted him. When he stepped back, I stopped petting him because I knew he needed his own space again.
I administered paw oil and dog shots with him myself. I would start with the muzzle and speak to him in a calm manner about what I was doing. I also had someone else hold him tight by the chest and head area in order to keep him still for the shots. He would growl with the shots, but when it was over he would calm down again, and I made sure to give him enough time to be calm before removing the muzzle, as well as speaking to him cheerfully and lovingly.
When Jason was four I brought home a new boyfriend. We were preparing food in the kitchen for the first time and Jason was not accepting of this. He came and stood across the table opposite of us and put on a very vicious barking and growling act. We froze and stared at him. After quite some time he calmed down and went to the other room. Then we stopped with the food and went outside. We came back in 30 minutes later and resumed with the food.
My boyfriend decided he wanted to have dominance over Jason so one day he stood next to the couch when Jason was on it. He talked to him to provoke some anger and Jason reached out and bit his arm. He had light scratches on his arm but nothing serious. On a later date he decided to provoke him again and when Jason lunged to bite him he grabbed his jaws with both hands and held Jason’s mouth open in the same position until Jason gladly pulled away. And I was amazed at the speed and ability of my boyfriend’s reaction time to be able to accomplish this. My boyfriend’s dominance over Jason was established. From then on, Jason would listen to him and follow commands such as stopping growling at me when Jason was in my room with me in the evenings. Sometimes it would reoccur over and over, but Jason listened to him and quieted down.
When Jason was very young he destroyed the first plant of mine that I had just planted in the living room. When came into the living room to discover it, I stood by it and ranted and raved like a furious maniac with him standing in front of me. I was a threat to him so he jumped up and nipped me on the chin. I should have expected something like this would happen with the plant, and not put it in a low area in the first place. After that episode I never got so mad at Jason again.
When Jason became full grown he growled at the vets that were going to take care of him. His first vet suggested that he take Jason in the back room to examine him where he would be less protective. This worked out well. Later on, I brought Jason to another vet wearing a muzzle for reassurance. I requested that they examine and treat him in the back room so he could remain calm for his visit. This worked out very well also.
Jason was adorable as a puppy. When he grew up to be such a large dog I became fearful of him and was very intimidated by him being next to me. He was 125 lbs, muscular and so powerful looking, with a huge head, jaws, and such large teeth. My fearfulness made us both unhappy, so I knew I needed to develop enough confidence in order to take care of him. I didn’t want to give him away so I developed the confidence that taking care of him required. I did this when I learned to talk to him with pure love and reassurance. And it got easier and more natural each time I did it. This change made Jason a very happy dog and I realized my own power was paying off. After a short while I forgot all about ever being afraid of him.
If you have an aggressive dog, your confidence and awareness are the first two things that will determine your ability to control situations that you are in. You cannot be fearful or your dog will pick up on this and will not be positive as a result. You must be aware of what the dog is doing at all times. You need to be prepared for an aggressive action from the dog at all times, and it takes a lot of extra work to take care of an aggressive dog.