Before he lived with me, Chico had at least three other homes. A family in the Washington, DC area gave him to the Humane Society for adoption and I’m not sure how long he was there before my sister’s family took him home. He was about one and a half when he joined their family. When he was five, he came to me, his home number four. At my sister’s I’d always found him sociable, but not extremely well mannered. He tended to bark at passersby, so he spent most of his time in the back of the house where he couldn’t see the sidewalk. He got pretty excited at the arrival of pretty much anyone, so if there was a big family dinner, he went to doggie daycare (where he was, I’ve heard, very well liked and well socialized) for an overnight. They worked with a dog trainer, but different family members asked different things of him, and I think sometimes he wasn’t always sure exactly what behaviors the humans really wanted from him.
There was a period of almost a month, between the time my sister’s family moved and the time I was able to get Chico, when he lived alone in their old house. He had food, he had water, he had a chew-bone, he got let out several times a day, but he was alone almost all the time. His people were gone, the furniture was gone; I wonder what he must have thought.
It’s understandable that after his stint in solitary he attached to me quite quickly and that makes life both easier and harder. To this day he still believes that he owns me and that makes him sometimes dog aggressive. In Chico’s mind, no dog ought to get closer to me than he is. But, the same attachment means he can go off leash in the woods and fields without running away. He’ll run like the dickens across a field, but he won’t go off after a deer or to see what’s on the other side of the hill.
My sister was always saying “Chico is a big wuss,” and I didn’t really get it until he came to live with me. He’d bark furiously, ferociously (teeth bared, spit flying) and uncontrollably at anything that could be interpreted as being even the teensiest threat of any type. And that, it seemed, was pretty much everything. His list of triggers included, but was in no way limited to: anyone that came to the door, motorcycles, pickup trucks, 18 wheelers, the UPS man, and anyone who walked up to the car to talk to me. He lunged at cars passing us on the road when we walked. He picked fights with other dogs. If something or someone surprised him he reacted with “the best defense is a good offense” behavior – looking as scary as he can. Which is moderately scary, with that wolfish pointed nose of his. And at a furry 40 pounds, he looks big enough to back up his “words” with painful action.
That’s when I learned the phrase “fear aggression” and that I could do something to help him be a braver dog.