A dog’s language

Hi friends,

I went to the SPCA last night to walk some of my oranges. As I walked through the kennels I noticed a few things, let me tell you first the good news. I immediately saw that two of the dogs I regularly work with had been adopted, with a third pending!

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Way to go Leela! My Leela, who hates all men.
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Way to go Sophie!!

It’s policy that we are not to take the dogs out once the adoption papers have been finalized as they no longer belong to the SPCA. I immediately gave Newton a “high-5” in my head. I locked eyes and gave them each a “great job”. I was so happy for these dogs. Furthermore that someone else had connected with them, saw beyond the orange and yellow sheets explaining their issues (Colors are a way of identifying a dog’s temperament, Green = easiest, yellow = a few issues, Orange = please read all testing & check with manager before handling).

Then I turned the corner and saw Big Ben’s kennel. It was empty. Ben was an interesting case, a 4 year old half husky, half shepherd. One of the prettiest dogs I’ve ever seen. All alert eyes, with a body that was ready to spring into action upon the snap of some fingers. I took my fiance in to meet him once, all he said was “whoa, that’s a pretty dog”. He was a dog who I’ve learned the most from as a volunteer. Ben made me work for everything.

I had a friend that once said,

“The most stubborn and difficult dogs can be the ones you learn the most from”

Ben had never exhibited aggression to humans to my knowledge, however canine, feline or any other furry friend had better watch out. I don’t know why Ben was surrendered, or anything about Ben’s previous life. He was surrendered without a reason given. Ben had a few issues. He responded to uncertainty with “fight” rather then “flight” when presented with other furry friends. Loud noises and surprises frequently made him feel this uncertainty as well.

Walks with Ben made me more alert , I always had to be aware of my surroundings, ensuring his (and others) safety. When handling, grooming or practicing commands/manners, I had to be completely immersed in the process, ensuring I was aware of his level of comfort at all times. I’ve always felt that I was in tune with the body language of a dog, but he brought me to a whole new level.

It’s a sad story that I write about today. Ben did the unforgivable – he bit another volunteer. I think it may have been quite bad. He sadly wrote his own ending and passed over the rainbow bridge yesterday. I know that some of you may be torn about my next comment – I believe that Ben may have been part victim and part aggressor here. I know that might seem strange to say, and not all of you will understand my way of thinking.

Let me elaborate. I know the volunteer he was with, a green volunteer who just wants to be around dogs. I think this wonderful, further that she’s wonderful. Working with the oranges may not be where some volunteers/owners belong. These dogs deserve love yes and attention – but they also need more: consistency, a firm and fair demeanor and most of all an understanding of boundaries. I’m not saying that what he did was ok. I’m saying this may have been avoidable.

Ben, a dog who I’ve worked with for 5 weeks has never even shown a hint of aggression towards me. He greeted all orange volunteers the same, with the wag of a tail, a hand lick and a love for humanity. I also understand he greeted us this way because we had not ever proved him otherwise. I believed that there was a person out there without kids, without other pets that would have understood him and gave him a forever home.

I think the key is understanding a dogs’ body language and respectful handling, Orange dogs can also find their forever homes. It takes time though, and Shelter dogs aren’t always given all the time they need. In an already tense environment, kenneled with other dogs all around (not a great environment for Ben) – Ben needed to be put through the paces, tired prior to handling, easing his tense nerves. Not everyone might understand this, or take the time to read thoroughly through his temperament testing.

Some people wish that their dogs could talk, I believe if we look close enough – we can read them. Listen to what they have to say. A dogs’ body language can tell us all we need to know.

A few links worth looking at go further into this:

Dog Whisperer, Cesar Milan explains in this video about compatibility and interpretation. Cesar is waaayyyy above my personal abilities, I think these cases are better left to experts. In the meantime, I’ll be comfy just working on my listening skills.

I found this video quite interesting as well, and more pertinent to Ben’s case. We always want to touch dogs, but not all dogs want to be touched. Check out eileenanddogs.com video on body language and petting here.

Since I was not there, I hate to jump to conclusions. What I do know is this: Ben has never exhibited any signs of aggression with me. I’d like to think that if with a little more understanding and respect for a Ben’s comfort level and needs, this all could have been avoided. Some people may argue that Ben was a ticking time bomb. In this case, I do not agree. I know it’s a controversial topic.

I say this as I have seen the positive, the light. Once he became comfy, he seeked out my hand to rub against his ear, his special spot that he loved being scratched. He made me laugh constantly. Ben had a great sense of humor. The right owner may have come along, they also may not have either. As an SPCA volunteer, you cannot afford to think this way.  I like to think that the right home would have worked on this with him, protecting him and others in the process.

In this world of partnerships between human and canine, we have an upperhand. As we can dictate the fate of such dogs. I think it’s a responsibility that we have and should take seriously when handing special dogs, such as Ben. We need to listen to what they have to say.

Another sad side of this is that dogs who have not been given their forever home before passing over the rainbow bridge aren’t given the same respect, grieving, and remembrance of life.  I believe they deserve this too, and I know I’m not alone. So today, despite Ben doing the unforgivable, I dedicate this post to him. Ben, thank you for teaching me to be more compassionate, more understanding, more patient and more alert and in tune with your language.

Lastly I leave you all with this…

Dear Ben, when you pass the rainbow bridge I wish for you lots of doggy treats, big fields without leashes to run and explore, incredible adventures, no other dogs or cats and many humans of your choosing to give you head scratches ONLY when YOU want. I choose to simplify this process and remember you only for the positive.

Ben, If my Newton does meet you, know he will be your friend. He will continue teaching you that not all dogs are enemies, I hope he will show you that some can become friends.

I ask you, if you would, fellow dog lovers to take a moment to think of my friend Ben.

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The only pics

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Rest in peace my dear friend,

Dailyspro

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10 thoughts on “A dog’s language

  1. This is the heartbreak that sometimes comes with working in rescue – and it underscores the importance of foster. Foster provides an opportunity to work one-on-one with a dog in a more peaceful environment of love and support. It takes time and consistency to get over issues like Ben’s. Some are never completely healed, but can find good homes with people who understand and commit to their lifelong boundaries. Finding that home takes time too. Something shelter’s have too little of. Thank you for honoring Ben, and I hope the volunteer is OK. Even good dogs have bad days. Unfortunately, shelter dogs rarely get a second chance. Bless you for the hard – but important – work you do.

    • Aww Ogee, I’m constantly inspired by you and your Goldens for Gardens project. I’ve shared your story and commitment to many others. I’m a bit selfish in my reasons for volunteering (my version of therapy), but I believe it helps so it evens out 🙂

      Ben would have been a wonderful candidate for Foster, you are so very right.

      Thank you for taking the time to think of Ben, despite his momentary lapse of judgement. You put it better then I ever could – Even good dogs have bad days.

      I just learned that the volunteer is doing great, no stitches. She will be back to volunteering, which is also wonderful despite the circumstances.

      • That is good to hear. Some people get scared away by the emotional and, sometimes physical, toll of the work – but the rewards are SO enormous, as you know. We know we can’t save them all. But we cannot stop trying.

  2. Great news and terrible news all rolled into one post – definitely an emotional roller coaster. Nevertheless, at the end of the day you can rest know that you are doing everything you can!

  3. The highs and lows of working at a rescue centre – you can’t have one without the other. As Ogee says, fostering is one of the only ways of truly rescuing these difficult cases as constancy is the cue to unravelling the damage done. Carry on doing the best you can, you know it makes a difference.

  4. Definitely thinking of Ben…Thank you for the love and honor you bestowed on him while he was here. I hope the volunteer will not give up or shy away from her work. You are an inspiration!!!! Blessings.

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