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Gil: 603-305-0511 or Susie: 603-305-7084

Fear Aggression – Can we save Colleen?

By: wetnosesfb | May 18th, 2010 10:48 pm

Hello dog lovers,

It has been long debated whether or not dogs with fear aggression could be rehabilitated and turned around. Many would say that a dog that has been growling, showing teeth and nip, even if it hasn’t harmed anyone yet, will eventually bite thus, needs to be euthanized, and sooner the better.

Me and Susie belong to the ones that will think it over several times and rather give a dog a chance, or to be more precise, will give it a chance if in proper hands. The handling, the love and patience with rehabilitating dogs is the profound key to success and as long as an aggressive dog has not gone beyond the point of no return, there is always a good chance for recovery.

Colleen is rescued female coming from a shelter in North Carolina. She has been with her adopting loving family for three months before they called us in Mid November 2009 to see if we could possibly save her as she was showing aggressive behavior such as growling, showing teeth and nip occasionally. They feared she might harm their grandchildren or someone else. Colleen’s family was close to bringing her back to the shelter. However, knowing that dogs returning to the shelter with signs for aggressive behavior are not adoptable and will end up euthanized, they decided they want to try and save her.

We went to see Colleen for evaluation:

About two years old midsize Lab like mix spayed female, has been on good diet looking healthy with a shiny coat. Prior history before getting to the shelter is unknown. She was growling and showing teeth at family members and strangers yet has not exhibited any dog-dog aggression. There wasn’t any bite history and she has not bitten anyone yet but displayed clear Fear Aggression at the Vet’s office and had to be sedated for exams. Colleen would not let anyone touch her and definitely not pick her up onto the examination table. She will growl and show teeth in any touch attempt.

She is okay when walked on leash yet, will make it a challenge to put the collar on her.

Colleen is extremely fearful from any noise such as falling dishes, clapping etc. She gets scared when the upper freezer fridge compartment is being opened and will run away. She is horrified by passing cars when walked out and will shiver, pant and pull the leash, when her tail is deeply tucked under, even away from the sidewalk. She is so stressful that it takes her a while to recuperate.

Colleen’s constant fear is tremendously reducing her ability to focus. She is awfully suspicious and tail is tucked under for most of time while we were there. Colleen did not take a treat from our hands and was fearful from men more then women thus, our trainer, Susie, tossed a cookie away and Colleen picked it up and dropped it looking around suspiciously and then ate it.

Susie and I continued to drop and toss treats on the floor and after a while Colleen picked it up and swallowed them right away. Slowly, she approached closer and closer until eventually she ate from our hands. As soon as that happened I said to myself “we’ve got ya”!!! At this moment I knew that we can help this dog. This was a critical icebreaker.

We took Colleen out to the back yard and she was willingly playing with Adele (her owner) retrieving a tennis ball. Susie and I have tried to engage in the play as well but Colleen wasn’t comfortable with us at all. When I raised my hand to throw the ball she growled at me and showed her teeth in a threatening way. She must have got scared from my raised hand and an immediate thought crossed my mind: “has this dog been beaten by a man?”

Known Medical History: Has been treated for heart worms, had complications in spaying and had one litter per Vet’s examination.

Although, not mentioned by the Vet, we have observed a tight and non-smooth movement in her rears while trotting or running. Also, Colleen wouldn’t seat to urinate but go while walking or standing. I suspect she had a hip injury of some sort.


Colleen has been most definitely traumatized some time in her life, whether she has been badly abused and beaten or got hit by a car we will never know and guessing will not change the way we would treat her. What we are looking for are the little hints that will tell us she is worth the try and she has given it to us – eating from our hands.

Conclusions and immediate recommendations:

Fear Aggression Level 1 – No serious bites and has not broken the skin.

1.Basic training in very short sessions (dog has difficulty to focus)

2. Minimize exposure to fear inducing stimulus

3. Desensitization and counter-conditioning

4. Handling exercises

5. Increase activity level

6. Diet – exclude artificial flavors and preservatives and increase good source of protein.

7. Try to use head halter or no-pull harness

8. Try background music

9. Orthopedic examination

So where is Colleen now? Has she been saved?

Yes, she has been in training for 18 weeks now and is way into rehabilitation. She is a completely different dog now and if you are interested in how she has been turned around come back and visit us on this site.

See you soon…

You trainers,

Gil & Susie.

Posted In Dogs Behavior