Last week I learned that our 5 year old Australian Shepherd, Cody, may have an autoimmune disease, perhaps Lupus. We’ve been on a 2 year search to identify the cause of his chronic lameness, fevers of unknown origin and skin issues and have consulted a plethora of local veterinarians and specialists both near and far. Not good news, certainly. But finally a diagnosis….well, maybe a diagnosis. We still have to wait for the results of yesterday’s meetings with three different veterinarians at Georgia Veterinary Specialists and results of a number of tests.
I remember vividly that day in January 2009 at the Valley River Humane Society when we adopted Cody. We had a hole in our family after the death of our senior dog, Abbey, and wanted to add another canine kid to the household. Brad and I had the appropriate conversations about what type of dog might best suit our lifestyle and agreed we wanted a high energy, young dog and chose another Australian Shepherd since we already had Gibson, a six-year old Aussie.
At the shelter, we performed a thorough Behavior Assessment on Cody and his behavior that day showed us he was good with people, good with other dogs (we took Gibson, our then current Aussie, with us to meet him) and was relaxed around cats (important because we have 4 furry felines). So we chose Cody as our own and slowly introduced him to the other animals in the household. The first couple of days he was seemingly a very relaxed boy, but quickly turned into an out of control young dog!
Actually, it’s not unusual for a dog’s behavior to change after leaving the stress of living in a shelter environment. In Cody’s case, he developed a post neutering infection which caused him not to feel well for a few days and when he began to perk up, any and everything was so very stimulating to him that his behavior was over the top….very over the top! What we thought was going to be a very easy introduction to the household, was quite the opposite. We admit to having had quite a few “what in the world have we done” moments.
So what do you do if you find yourself thinking, “Why did I get this dog?”
First, here a few things that you don’t want to do:
- You don’t compare him to the dog who recently passed away (new dogs can never immediately compare to the Super Dog who has passed on).
- You don’t compare him to the existing dog(s) in your household (who has already settled in and with whom you already have a wonderful relationship).
- You don’t blame the new dog (everything in his world has been turned upside down and he’s adjusting to a new lifestyle too).
Once you’ve quit feeling sorry for yourself because of that out of control canine, you quit complaining and start training!
- You make the commitment to incorporate training into your everyday lifestyle and begin making baby steps in teaching the dog appropriate house manners. If you don’t teach him, who will?
- You interrupt fractious behaviors you DON’T want and begin reinforcing all the behaviors you DO want. For example, when Cody didn’t know what to do in his new home, his tendency was to go UP, so we began feeding him a treat any and every time four feet were on the floor, when he was sitting and when he offered a down position.
- You give him plenty of exercise, both physical exercise and mental stimulation (a tired dog is a happy dog…and makes for a happy human!).
- You change your focus of only paying attention to him when he’s being fractious and begin paying attention and reinforcing all the many things he does that you like.
It’s amazing how quickly the behavior will begin to turn around with consistent focus on rewarding the behaviors that you like. All living beings repeat behaviors that are rewarded; you just want to make sure you’re reinforcing the ones you want.
I guess it’s rather the same thing now with Cody’s health. We’ll quit worrying about what’s wrong and begin to focus on what we CAN do to help his life be the best it can possibly be no matter the diagnosis. We love him more than we can express in mere words.
P.S. For those who are interested in our journey and we explore the Lupus diagnosis or other diagnosis, check back in again. I’ll be posting info as we learn more.
Lisa Lyle Waggoner is a CPDT-KA, a Pat Miller Certified Trainer-Level 2, a dog*tec Professional Dog Walking Academy Instructor, a Peaceable Paws Canine Behavior & Training Academy Instructor and the founder of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina. She enjoys providing behavior consulting and training solutions to clients in the tri-state area of North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, as well as offering educational opportunities for dog trainers and dog hobbyists throughout the U.S. www.coldnosecollege.com