It happened so fast that I didn’t know how to react. Our friend JD was browsing the books on our shelves after coming into the house, Stanley was barking at him. Not unusual for Stanley, really. Just about a year old at the time, Stanley was an active barker, but I wasn’t too concerned. I mean, this was not the first time that Stanley had met JD, and he normally calms down after a minute or two. But the barking didn’t stop. Instead, Stanley got louder and more aggressive.
In an effort to diffuse the situation, JD stepped away from the bookshelf and headed toward the kitchen where Kathleen was greeting and chatting with Kim1. In a flash, Stanley charged and snapped at the back of JD’s legs2, snarling and chomping at JD’s exposed calves. His mouth took a swipe at JD’s leg and connected, doing the unthinkable: our dog had bitten somebody in our home and drawn blood.
…And Puppy Makes Three
We adopted Stanley from Northwest Animal Companions as an 11-week old puppy. He was one of seven heeler mix puppies that I had met at an adoption event at a Petco store in Hillsboro. All of them were heartbreaking with cuteness, but only one puppy waddled up in that awkward puppy strut, plopped himself in my lap, and exposed his belly to me. I fell instantly in love with this roly-poly ball of fur and started chatting up the woman in charge of the adoption process.
They had over thirty applications for the seven puppies. The organization had people rank their preferred puppies in order. I asked the woman in charge of the adoption event about the puppies’ temperaments, specifically the one white one with the brown spots and eye patch known as Twinkie. “Twinkie is super laid back. Except for Gunner3, I think Twinkie is probably the friendliest of the litter.”
“Oh, that’s great, because that’s the one I really like,” I said with delight.
“Really?” She sounded surprised. She explained that none of the applications had Twinkie ranked even in the top three. I immediately submitted an application and listed Twinkie as my number one choice.
We received a call from NWAC later that week asking to schedule a home visit. They wanted to check out the home, meet both of us4, and get a general sense if our home would be a good place for the puppy.
The first thing out of Kathleen’s mouth when she met Twinkie was, “I just love him!” The adoption agent approved, left the puppy with us, and we immediately changed his name to Stanley.
Stanley was a bit of surprise addition to our lives. Kathleen and I had only been dating for about six months, and even though the relationship was moving along at a very fast pace, adopting a puppy was a major leap5. But we worked together, took him to puppy classes, walked him, worked on housebreaking.
His personality6 started to come through very quickly. From day one, Stanley was vocal. He shows affection by grumbling7, he barks when he hears something strange outside, he play-growls when he wrestles with other dogs.
For the first year or so, he was just a friendly puppy that grumbled his way into our hearts. We wanted to expose him to all sorts of environments, so we took him everywhere. He joined us on dog-friendly restaurant patios. We took him to the dog park every day. Walked him through quiet neighborhoods and along high-trafficked streets. We brought him over to friends’ houses who owned dogs.
We also had guests over of all kinds. From toddlers to adults, Stanley met the entire range of people, and he seemed to get along with everyone. He would walk up to a new person, grumble, maybe give a friendly nudge with his nose. Everything was going according to our expectation.
The First Sign of Trouble
One warm July afternoon, Stanley and I were at the dog park, just like we had been every day for the past nine months. At 11 months old, he was generally well socialized and playful. He would wrestle; he loved to play with puppies, he loved to chase balls.
On this particular day, we were playing fetch when suddenly Stanley met with another dog and the two went at it in a flash. Hackles up, teeth bared, snarling, hissing, a violent dance of fur and rage. I was stunned at first, but after a beat, I managed to pry Stanley off of the other dog while sustaining a few scratches of my own.
Huh. That was strange.
I didn’t think too much of it at the time. Dogs get into scrapes on occasion; it’s bound to happen. Even Buddy– the friendliest dog I’ve ever had– had to stand up to bullies at the dog park from time to time. What I thought was an isolated incident, however, turned into semi-regular occurrence. Every fourth or fifth trip to the dog park, Stanley would end up in some sort of canine altercation. After about three or four of these little spats, it was pretty clear that Stanley was the problem.
This new dog aggression was strange, but as long as he was getting along with our friends, we figured we could manage it. It only took another month for Stanley to bite one of our friends.
After the Bite
Kathleen and I were in shock after Stanley bit JD. After almost a year of being a friendly, lovable pooch it had never entered our mind that he would do go after a person8. Stanley’s new aggressive behavior rattled us, and he only got worse.
While he was as friendly as could be to the people he knew and trusted9, he would go after anybody else who tried to get in our house. We saw a dog trainer, but the behavioral adjustments she taught us required patience we lacked and specific contexts that were nearly impossible to replicate10.
Heartbroken and utterly in love with our dog, Kathleen and I went into behavior management mode. We stopped taking him to the dog park. We cross the street anytime anyone approaches us on walks. We muzzle him whenever new people come over11.
Creature Enters the Picture
Stanley does not do well with children. His herding instinct kicks in something fierce anytime a miniature human is in his path; he just loses his mind. Simply put, our dog is a jerk.
I really have no idea how to get him used to kids without subjecting myself to potential legal trouble. I mean, it’s not like we have friends enthusiastically offering up their toddlers for us to experiment with. This is obviously a cause for concern. We have no idea how Stanley will react to Creature when we bring her home. I have lost sleep and shed tears more than once over the stress of Stanley meeting our daughter.
We are committed to keeping Stanley. If you’re not a dog person then you probably think we’re nuts for planning on keeping a dog like Stanley12. But I love dogs. You know where you stand with a dog at all times, and you can trust a dog. Dogs wear their emotions on their fur, and they never grow up to think mom and dad are uncool. Dogs have all the characteristics that I think are missing in people.
I’m not sure Stanley would go after a baby. Since infants can’t move, I think that Stanley’s herding instincts may not kick in, giving him time to learn that Creature is part of his family. We’re not going to let Stanley hurt the baby, but we are going to put in the time to get him acquainted to the new addition to the family.
- JD’s girlfriend.
- Stanley is part Australian Cattle Dog, also known as a “Heeler,” so-called because of the dog’s approach to herding through snapping and nipping at the heels of cows or sheep.
- The most popular puppy among the potential adoptees, and probably the one that would qualify as the “cutest” from a classic dog perspective.
- Kathleen had been out of town at a conference when I first saw the puppies.
- We got engaged four months later, but I like to say that Stanley, not the engagement ring, was the actual symbol of commitment..
- Or as I prefer to call it: his dogginality
- Which to the untrained ear can sound a bit like a growl. But his grumble and his growl are two very different sounds.
- We are fortunate that JD is a good friend and an easygoing guy. If Stanley had done this to the wrong person, then this story could have a very different ending.
- A short list that includes my sister-in-law, my father-in-law, and a few friends who regularly dog sit for Stanley
- Oddly, he does quite well at the doggie day care and boarding facilities we’ve taken him to. He’s been to a couple of facilities numerous times, and the staff has never reported him to be a problem.
- We may have recently had a bit of a breakthrough with Stanley. If I take Stanley out on a walk around the block and allow guests to come into the house first, Stanley is very friendly toward new people when he sees them already inside. This has worked more than once with total strangers. I’m hoping the more new people he gets exposed to, the sooner he realizes people are friendly. So JD, next time you and Kim come over, let’s give this a try, ok?
- At least one family member has told us multiple times that we need to get rid of him. We do have a model of hope, however. Some friends of ours have a dog that is not unlike Stanley. It took some time and patience, but their dog eventually accepted their daughter as a member of the family, and now they love each other to bits.