Wits End Dog Training: helping you to help your dog be the best it can be

Wits End Dog Training, helping you to help your dog be the best it can be.

Wits End Dog Training | It's a Dog's Life

Ranger loves frisbee! - With all that energy that comes with any GSD, Ranger enjoys to chase his frisbee around the soccer field with his new friends


I have found that the more experience I get, I seem to attract the more complicated cases. Then the more complicated cases give me more experience. Ranger was one of those guys.

Over a period of several years working with a number of wonderful people in the Dog Rescue Network I have built up a reputation for being a problem solver when it comes to rehabilitation of dogs with “issues”.

"I have found that the more experience I get,
I seem to attract the more complicated cases.
Then the more complicated cases
give me more experience.
Ranger was one of those guys."

One day in September I saw an email, a cry for help, from Nicole, a colleague I had met while attending a Training Course on How To Start an Animal Sanctuary at Best Friends in Utah. (A great course if you are interested!).

She had been watching a young family near where she lived who had a puppy. He was a German Shepherd mix who the father had bought for $50 from a back yard breeder as a gift for his two young daughters who he doted on. The girls had pestered the parents for a dog because they enjoyed visiting with a neighbor’s older dog. Unfortunately they had never had a dog before and really were too busy earning a living and bringing up the family to give this puppy the time and attention it deserved and, of course, they had no idea how to train it. The girls were quite young, maybe 5 and 7 years old, and too young to take care of the dog without a parent supervising. Both parents worked, the husband worked two jobs, and the grandmother took care of the kids when they came home from school.

"As so often happens, although it is really a human mistake
(what were they thinking?)
It was the dog who came close
to paying the ultimate price."

Ranger (pre-rescue) - As a fast growing goofy teenager, Ranger quickly became too much of a handle for his owners, resigning him to a life tied to a tree in the back yard.

Ranger was a very cute small ball of fluff who the girls adored for a couple of weeks until they got bored. He never was house trained, was given the run of the house for a few weeks and after a short period of grace the grandmother got tired of cleaning up his messes. In the meanwhile Ranger learned to duck and scurry whenever someone shouted his name, he had no idea why but he knew they were going to chase him around the house, grab him roughly, bark and growl at him loudly maybe rub his nose in a pile of poo and throw him out the back door into the yard. He tried to protect himself by nipping the hand that grabbed him, puppy teeth can be very sharp. Very shortly their patience expired and he was banished to the back yard. When grandma came to the back door he tried to get inside with his family, grandma used her feet to force Ranger out and he bit her bare ankle. Meanwhile Ranger was growing like a weed. By the time he was 7 months old he weighed 80 lbs and really was not the furry fluffy puppy they used to be in love with. In fact he was a big goofy teenager who was bored crazy alone in the back yard, no-one could walk him because he was so powerful that he would pull them off their feet. The only interaction was when the girls came home from school, they would lean out a window and bark at him, he would, of course, bark back. He escaped over the fence.

"Without the training and socialization he needed
when growing up he was a rebellious teenager
nearly out of control.
No love, no affection, no people time.
He barked a lot, he scared the neighbors,
he got tied to a tree so that he could not escape."

The family still were concerned, they called in a local dog trainer who took one look at this lunging, snarling, barking, dog and told them to take him in to get him euthanized. He was “untrainable”. The “expert” had spoken. They were off the hook. (“x” is an unknown quantity and a “spurt” is a drip under pressure!)

Fortunately someone stepped in to help him.Nicole had been watching what was going on and she started talking to the owners about Ranger. Then she emailed all her contacts with a photo of Ranger and a cry for help.

"It only takes one caring person
to start the ball rolling."

By coincidence I was travelling by truck from the Bay Area to Portland the following weekend on another project and so I offered to visit with Ranger and undertake a Behavioral Evaluation. In the nick of time, as it turns out, because the owners had already made an appointment for the following Wednesday for Ranger to be euthanized. Meanwhile Nicole had spent time preparing the family for the visit and suggesting that maybe they would consider re homing him. She explained that it was unlikely that an average family would be able or willing to take on a strong, tough, out of control dog, but at least the option was on the table. Would they keep him while she searched for someone? They said they would, so the stage was set.

He sure was a handful! He had grown to understand that if he used force he could intimidate any of his family and get his own way. I spent some time with him, could see that even after all the testing, and a drag around the block on leash, the chance of finding him a home on Craigslist was not going to work. He had learned what worked for him and he was pretty successful at it. Power and energy wound up in a package that had not had any meaningful exercise for months was not going to suddenly turn into Lassie because he changed his house.

"He had built no real relationship with people,
could not see the point of them really!"

Well, to cut a long story short I could see that he was actually a bomb waiting to go off. I was already surprised that he had not bitten anyone in anger because his feelings of frustration were palpable. It was only a matter of days or hours before someone was hurt. If he managed not to hurt the children or the grandma, he might not have been so tolerant of one of their friends who came to visit and got too close, even in play.

He sounds like a disaster, doesn’t he? I even thought of rewriting that so that he sounds more loving, but the truth is he was out of control, had no respect for humans. It was not his fault! He was just being a dog, doing the best he can with the guidance he had been given, or more correctly not been given. It just did not seem fair to consign him to death.

Ranger now loves playing in the surf. Shortly after he was rescued, Lucy taught the German Shepard mix how nice it is to feel the ocean surf flow between his paws.

Lucy, the matriarch of my pack, was his saviour, she parented him, took him under her wing, told his teenage butt off a couple of times. She taught him to play and wrestle for hours like the energizer bunny, to bite softly and to give her first dibs at food, toys or sticks whenever she said so. How to play fetch and drop the frizbee, how to do a recall so swiftly that when he hears the whistle I have literally seen him turn in mid air 800 yards away and sprint race back to me. Teddy my Yellow Lab (and pack leader) taught him quickly that there are going to be dogs who are bigger, stronger and in charge, without once fighting him. He taught him what pure joy is at the beach, how to run and bounce and jump in the surf (a rare skill in a German Shepherd)

In the first couple of days I really thought I would have to change his name, but Ranger really suits him and gradually he stopped ducking whenever I used his name. Now he comes running. He is totally reliable and attentive, calm and gracious with other dogs and people. He does not need a leash. He tolerates people he does not know but is not needy like a Lab, he can climb all over me but does not jump up on anyone else. He will sit calmly for people to say hi but will not go to them. He is not ever aggressive. He is loyal and loving with all the children we have met and is a great playmate for other dogs as young as ten weeks old. He will be a great family dog, will require daily exercise and needs to be part of the family, will welcome another dog in the home. A single athletic owner who works a lot from home would also work well for him. I feel proud to have him in my life.

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