It’s not the dog, it’s the people!


How often do we hear those words?

“It’s not the dog, it’s the people!”

I have to admit I really take offence when I hear it and I’m not shy about speaking up when I’m faced with someone who says it so off-the-cuff.

When we bring a dog into our lives, we do so with the best of intentions. We do so because we love dogs, we want companionship, we crave unconditional love, we want to excel at a sport or activity, because we long to care for something or someone. We visualize our lives with said dog – family barbeques with our lovely dog running with the kids, playing fetch or running through a sprinkler, hiking with our dog, dog parks, play groups, daycare, training classes, sports like agility or flyball, long road trips with Fido’s head out the window, tongue flapping in the wind, lazy days at the beach, tossing a stick into the water only to have it retrieved and barked at for more.

Most people don’t adopt a dog with the hopes of having a dog who barks and lunges at other dogs, people, children, cars, small animals, cyclists and joggers. We don’t dream of adopting a dog whose separation anxiety is so bad that they claw through our walls, barking all day, causing us to get eviction notices. It’s not often we check off the “most desired behaviour challenges” on that checklist at the breeder or shelter. Most of these behaviours are founded in fear and anxiety and not always because the dog had a traumatic event relating to one of these triggers.

We often hear clients tell us that their new rescue is afraid of men with beards and it’s likely that the dog was abused by a man with a beard. We trainers beg to differ. I would say that more often than not, it’s because the dog had little to no opportunity to build a positive association with men and beards; it’s likely that they were simply not socialized together and now this trigger is ‘new and scary’.

Fear doesn’t need a reason. Sometimes it just is.

Whether we adopt an eight week old puppy from the most spectacular breeder or a four year old rescue dog from the streets of Mexico or a nine year old dog from a hoarding situation, the bottom line is that it’s not always the people who have caused the issues. Genetics and environment always play a part in behaviour so let’s not be so quick to judge the person holding the leash. They’re doing the best they can with the knowledge they have.

I remember the looks I used to get walking Parker down the street two weeks after I adopted him from the SPCA where he had his hind leg amputated. He had been starved and was a wobbly bone-rack, hauling it down the street, barking and lunging at dogs.

People assumed it was me who was so cruel, when I was the one who pulled him from that shelter and gave him soft beds, home cooked food, four walks a day, so much love. If someone had ever said to me “it’s not the dog, it’s the YOU”, I would have crumpled into a ball on the floor.

So before you speak those words, please rethink it and give the person a compassionate word of support and remember that even if they’re making mistakes in training, creating negative associations, even using outdated methods and tools; they’re doing the best they can with the knowledge they have and they truly have the dog’s best interest at heart. 

The world doesn’t need more judgment; that’s for sure.


Quick Georgie-update

I got an email from the supervisor at the THS today:

“I was actually going to e-mail you today to let you know that we are sending George to a neurologist on Monday so we can find out exactly what is wrong and what we can do to fix it.”

I’m going there tomorrow to visit him and take him out for a walk. I’ll also be brining his favourite liver treats. I can’t wait to see him.

I’ll be sure to wear waterproof mascara.

** UPDATE **

On October 13, 2009, I received this email from the THS:

“Dear Caryn,
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but George’s seizures got worse and we could not get them under control so he had to be put to sleep. I am so sorry to tell you this but there was nothing more we could do. George died on August 19th, 2009.”

I wanted to be there. To feed him a big steak dinner topped with fresh beef liver. To kiss him on his beautiful snout and to hold him as he fell asleep forever. I will forever feel like I failed him, though I know nothing more could have been done to save him.

Rest in peace, Georgie. I loved you.

Later, Georgie.

On the Monday after I adopted George, I took him to my vet. Two grand-mal seizures every day and increasing concerns about his vision; it didn’t seem to be epilepsy.

My vet did a neurological test on him and found that his vision is very poor and that the seizures are caused by something neurological. Read: brain injury or brain tumor.

$300 later, I’m sitting outside at Broadview and Danforth, crying my eyes out. There are few options. I can take him to a canine neurologist which would be upwards of $1500 or ride it out and see what happens. I can’t do either. I also can’t keep a dog that is going to seize twice a day and have to be on waaaaay more medication than i was expecting. He needs to be somewhere where there is veterinary care for him.

I hail a taxi in rush-hour traffic and finally one stops for me – probably because I’m still crying hysterically… “To the Toronto Humane Society on River Street, please” I tell him. He keeps glancing in his rearview mirror at me with concern. Georgie is on my lap with his head out the window (he loves car rides) and I’m hugging him as hard as he’ll let me.

We get there and walk in – it takes me two hours to surrender him because I can barely breathe, let alone talk. The staff is amazing. Zana (who set up the adoption) is warm, caring, understanding, and all the things you would need at a time like this. She gives me my options and tells me what she has to, according to the THS policies: “if you re-surrender an animal, you’ll never be able to adopt from here again.” That doesn’t matter to me. I just want George to be safe. I need to think about it (again) so I sit outside on the bench and think (read: cry). The vet comes outside and sits with me. He touches my arm and says that it is a very difficult situation and that George might be better off back at the THS so that they can do the testing that needs to be done. This is what I needed to hear, so I go back inside and am told that I can visit him whenever I want to and that I did the best I could.

I let George go back into the clinic for the night and walk out of there missing half my heart.

It’s amazing how quickly we fall in love…and how easily our hearts can be broken.

Georgie Pordgie, Puddin’ & Pie…

Last night I adopted a dog from the local Humane Society. His name is George and he’s about 5 years old. He’s a German Shepherd and Husky cross, just like Parker. When they first met two nights ago at an arranged Meet & Greet at the shelter, they got along famously. He is a very quiet, sweet-tempered dog with a gentle disposition and a puppy-like curiosity for everything. 

He walks around bumping everything with his nose as if he’s testing it to see if it topples over or moves at all. He lays down beside the toy basket and sticks his face in there so that he can play with all the toys at one time; when he finds one, he shakes it and lets it fly across the room, chases it, pounces on it and the cycle begins again.

Unfortunately George was surrendered by his owners because he was having seizures and they were becoming more frequent. The vets couldn’t find the reason for these seizures but put him onto an anti-seizure medication in order to lessen the episodes (nothing cures them, but they can be lessened).

This morning at 5am, I awoke to the sound of George thrashing about in his crate, his face frozen in a silent scream and all four legs straightened out and stiff. 

I waited it out for the 60 seconds it took to run its course and he slowly settled down, panting and foaming at the mouth, eyes rolled back in his head. After about 2 or 3 minutes, he sat up straight with his eyes opened wide, looking straight at me as if to say “hey! What are you doing here? Is it morning time?” He had no idea what had happened, but the effects were obvious. He stumbled around, banging into things for about 10 minutes or more, his legs giving out on him occasionally, sending him crashing to the floor. 

It was pretty terrifying. I’m not going to lie. I’d never seen anything like it. 


It happened again tonight at 6h30pm. Again, while he was sleeping in his crate. I put a big towel over him as he shook and again, I waited it out. I gave him the Valium that the vet had given me and he immediately started to get dopey. It’s been an hour now and he has the same after-effects that he had this morning, plus the dopeyness from the Valium.

I’ve had to lock him in his crate to keep him safe as he’s bumping into corners of tables and yelping out from the pain. He’s asleep now. I hope he can rest peacefully this time. 

Perhaps a different dosage is needed? Perhaps a different medication altogether?