Dog Blog

First Chance

I was pulled over in the sketchy parking lot of an East Oakland convenience store desperately trying to figure out why Google had me led me there. Trucks roared on the overpass above me, and the dog in the crate on passengers seat was barking deafeningly- as she hurled herself against the crate door trying to attack at me. I was close to my breaking point, but little did I know that deaf 26 pound Jack Russell/Bull Terrier originally from New Mexico, that I would name Chance, was to become my dog soulmate. 

Chance was originally from New Mexico, but now she was located near San Francisco and was a “short listing” on a deaf dog website.  She was listed as reactive and, wow, I was about to learn that was definitely an understatement!

I called the number on the listing and I was told that she had been surrendered that day to a high Kill Facility in the Bay area. When I contacted that facility they informed me she was on the list to be euthanized Monday morning, and she was unavailable for adoption because of her aggression towards people and dogs. 

At that time we already had experience with one deaf dog in our family, and I tried to explain to the women on the phone that she was deaf and it was “fear aggression”, but she wouldn’t budge. I pressed further and told her I was experienced with deaf dogs and she had a chance to help save a dog’s life but instead she was going to let this dog die. Surprisingly it worked, and she told me the only possible solution was to convince the owner to come claim the dog. 

Unfortunately, the owner was a substance abuser just out of rehab and relapsing. I tried everything, including offering money, and eventually convinced his mother to go and claim the dog -who I would pick up from her later that day. During the exchange at the mother’s house she used a long stick to slam on the floor by Chance to keep her at bay, while three Doberman’s in a dog run out back barked non-stop. She told me that Chance’s leg had been broken in  a fight with them.  As we stood there talking, Chance suddenly ran at me and bit me hard on the leg, but with the mother’s help I was able to get her off me and into the crate. My last challenge before leaving was to carefully remove and return one of the doberman’s large prong collars the woman had been using around her neck.

Which is how I ended up in that dismal parking lot questioning my sanity, as she was ramming and biting the cage trying to attack me.

I pulled myself together- knowing I had no clue what I was doing, but also positive that for some reason I was going to try to help this dog. Then I called my husband and told him to stay in the house with our other dogs when I got home and I released her in our yard.

However, much to my surprise, our other dogs really liked Chance and she was completely fine with them. In fact, the next dog we rescued became Chance’s bonded hearing dog and seeing the two of them together was truly amazing. But we were still a long way from that because Chance had a really big problem with people. 

In the coming weeks she bit me again, bit a neighbor who reached over the gate (convinced he was great with animals) and shattered the glass on our front door attacking my husband (who defended himself with a bicycle). She was unrelenting, we were desperate, unable to see any way to make the situation safer.  This eventually led to another vet visit and me placing her on a metal table to be euthanized. But when I started to set her down, she began climbing back into my arms and I broke down sobbing, unable to do it.

Chance didn’t just transform overnight. I had no idea what I was doing and felt way over my head, but along with taking care of my other two rescues, I dedicated every possible moment into Chance’s recovery. At UC Davis Veterinary Medical Facility, where a team of medical students were studying deaf dog behavior, they told me on top of being deaf she had suffered some kind of brain damage like “shaken baby syndrome”.

Chance is a very long story but one of the best stories I could imagine. Through some very creative exposure techniques, long peaceful hikes with her family of small dogs, and a lifelong commitment to giving her structure and setting her up regularly for success- Chance recovered and became a calm, happy, friendly dog- and my soulmate.

Captive Pet Dogs- Aggression & Bites

The purpose of aggressive behavior in dogs towards humans or another dog is 1) to gain distance from a threat 2) protect a resource or 3) predation- to acquire food. Aggression is not a single behavior but rather a cluster of behaviors that occur across the universe of organisms. When a dog perceives a threat and is trying to gain distance or is protecting a resource such as food or their caregiver, the dog will display a natural cluster of individual behaviors, strung together to warn off the threat . If the warnings are dismissed and the threat moves closer to the dog then it may result in a bite. The antagonistic behavior is not a switch, there are many signals that lead up to the bite. Reading the communication through the dog’s body language and signaling is often where human’s miss the mark. Lack of communication between species is an important factor in dog aggression and bites.

As well, there have been studies on street dogs (fondly referred to as “streeties”) looking at behavior in comparison to captive dogs in pet homes. In general streeties resort less frequently to biting when faced with conflict. It seems likely that dogs that move more “freely” as opposed to being captive in a pet home, have a more intact ritualized aggression language (signaling & body language) are less inclined to escalate to dog fights and biting. This seems plausible as 1) streeties have more agency-less barriers/confinement 2) Their ability to communicate with ritualized aggression (converse) is still intact 3) They are aware of the expense of physical conflict-injury and no human to help them if they are injured. There is a clear difference in behavior when comparing street dogs and the captive pet dog. They are still the same species but are evolving in different ways. When responding to stimuli the captive dog, more frequently, reaches “fight or flight”decisions in a modern environment that both restricts freedom of choice and freedom of movement. The streetie (free dog) does not lead an “ideal” life free of disease with plentiful food, however, they have agency and resort much less frequently to aggressive behavior. Many street dogs “rescued” from many different states and countries frequently have difficulty adjusting to captivity. The idea that we are giving them the “ideal” life through saving them from “dire” lives may not be what they want. It may be what humans want. Many welfare advocates are providing capture and release programs for medical and vaccination. They have created sanctuaries for the elderly and special needs but their goal is not to take free world dogs out of their environments.

As a captive species dogs are highly prone to experiencing frustration as they come face to face with barriers preventing them from being able to meet their biological needs.
Pet/modern dogs often have an “interrupted” language and often lacks of ritualized signaling. Many of the behaviors can be fueled by frustration.Most pet dogs are punished for signals such as barking, growling and showing teeth. Pet dogs as opposed to street dogs lack agency which is known to attribute to many of the frustration behaviors we see in owned dogs. When owned dogs are permitted to interact in designated places such as dog parks and daycare facilities, there seems to be a lost language between them at times. If you’ve ever seen any videos of street dogs interacting compared to a group of dogs at a dog park you’ll see very different energy and signaling. Conflict among dogs in the modern world is possibly more intense than “free” dogs. Owned dogs that live in “captivity”are often experiencing a communication break with humans. Even among their own species the communication often fails. Owned dogs often develop “learned helplessness” and become compliant. Many people miss this reality and mistake the behavior as the dog being calm or easy to handle.

Communicating with dogs

How can we communicate in a clear and comprehensible manner in order for our dogs to understand what is expected of them? How can we give them the intel they need to understand the environment in order to feel safer?

Many people believe that dogs need to be taught obedience or else they will become uncontrollable and difficult to to handle. It’s true they do need rules and boundaries to live with us successfully but we can teach that without suppressing their behaviors by teaching obedience through commands. We can teach co-operatively.

It is possible for dogs to make associations with words then string together those words so they can understand entire concepts of what you are communicating. Once a dog understands one concept you have taught them, through chosen word patterns, you can teach them others and string those basic concepts together. However, we’ve been taught not to speak too much to our dogs because it confuses them. So people don’t speak at all to them-which in fact, also confuse them. So the idea of speaking in a string of words to a dog will seem silly to some people but witnessing it’s effects is truly an enlightening moment that can turn into many more moments with many different dogs.
They are masters at reading body language, pheromones between other dogs and people- chemical communication. So its not really a stretch that they can learn to put basic concepts together to link some ideas of what is going on in the environment- they are capable of understanding quite a bit more than many humans realize.

This evolving understanding of the learning experience of a dog offers more possibilities in communicating effectively. More importantly it creates a base of safety and trust which carries through your entire relationship with your dog. We all want to understand our environments but what if we can’t communicate because we’re in another country and don’t speak the language? How do you navigate your day? It’s the same concept with your dog. They are a species with a language that is not the same as ours.

Teaching commands with a cue whether it’s with treats or a shock collar does not teach concepts. It doesn’t help them understand their environment as it’s meant to suppress an unwanted behavior that we have a problem with. Cueing a dog to perform behaviors we want is not clear communication for the dog as its a robotic procedure under the concept of rewarding with food or punishment through tools.

Breeders, shelters, World Dogs-The genetic Pool

I live in upstate New York and most of the dogs in this particular area are breed specific (mainly labradoodles, labs/retrievers, poodles, bully breeds) and many people seem to acquire their dogs from online breeders. There are many east coast Commercial Breeding Operations (aka. Puppy Mills) that supply consumers to the area of Upstate New York. The dog breeding business is very lucrative while at the same time almost a million healthy, adoptable dogs, primarily mixed breeds, are being killed yearly at shelters in the United States. Adopted shelter dogs are neutered/spayed so they are unable to carry on their “mixed breed”genetics to offspring. Hence the dog species gene pool is being narrowed by breeder’s genetic selection to satisfy consumer demand. Inbred and dysfunctional dogs are quickly becoming the majority of family owned dogs.

Breeders are producing and selling breed types based on product demand and genetically selecting for physical traits, often with no regard to the other genetic behavior traits that go along with the physical selection. Breeders are also “enhancing” genes in sport dogs so they perform with more drive. The problem with manipulating gene traits is the chaos it creates in the gene pool. With the lack of consumer education we are seeing a lot more Guardian, Scent & Sight breed dogs living in cities. This type of environment doesn’t make any sense to these dogs and causes a lot of turmoil. Animals have become a commodity and the breeding practices that supply the demand are causing fallout hence creating a steep increase in behavior and aggression issues.

A few hours drive from my city, is a known Puppy Mill area. Within the past year seven Commercial Breeding Operations in the area were listed in the ‘Horrible Hundred’. This is a list composed yearly to distinguish some of the most horrific, filthy, unhealthy large scale breeding operations known in the country. These facilities are typically in lower populated counties and hidden away.

Commercial Breeding Operations ship dogs wherever there is a consumer willing to pay. In fact it’s an easy search online to find sites that guarantee the “No PuppyMill Promise”, but also advertises special promotions just after Christmas, so they can unload all the leftover puppies. Need Shipping? No Problem! There are transport companies that offer comprehensive guides making it easier for the consumer. I’ve seen numerous one star reviews in which the puppy purchased was delivered via air or ground transport really quite ill. One disturbing factor in some of the reviews was that there was little to no concern for the dog’s suffering- instead the reviewers were infuriated about the extra cost of the ensuing vet bills and were trying to get the Commercial Breeding Operation to pay. Another big complaint was that the reviewers had not received documentation on “bloodline” so they were unable to register their puppies with the AKC.

The solutions are complicated and the issue clearly goes beyond just those seeking to profit through cruel breeding operations and false marketing. As a society we need to change the way we see dogs and stop falling for the false ideal of a “bloodline” dog. Many experts are looking towards the newer research on “World Dogs”. This is a newer phenomenon of the dog species that are populating a number of countries worldwide. The World Dog may be the species to “re-balance” the scale as we seek ways to redefine homeostasis for the human/dog relationship. Regardless of where it comes from the answer will involve seeing dogs as they truly are recognizing their needs as well as our own.

The Human/Dog Relationship in the Modern World

The dogs we live with today are so far removed from the wolf species physically and behaviorally that there is very little in common between the two. Dogs began forming relationships with people many thousands of years ago, as they began to live closer to villages and settlements, and scavenge the garbage that humans discarded.  The boldest dogs came closer to acquire food and once humans realized the benefits of the working dog the two began to cohabitate.  They were a non domesticated type of dog that evolved closely with humans and, over many generations, changed physically,cognitively and emotionally alongside their human counterparts. They evolved synergistically with humans in order to ensure survival success.  In fact we evolved so closely together that when we pet a dog the levels of the “feel good hormone” oxytocin increases in both our brain and the dogs brain. 


But in recent times, as humans have created the “modern world”, dogs are now considered among the species “domesticated and living in captivity.”

Wait, Whaat!? Our dogs have a dream life! 

Well, that’s not necessarily how they see it or the truth. In reality, we guess at their needs, demand obedience and micro-manage them. We don’t actually know the dog’s truth.  It’s not that long ago that dogs ran freely in the neighborhood and returned home as they felt the need. This would not be recommended now but at one time, dogs had autonomy and had the freedom to choose and meet their own needs. 


In addition to modernization and this reduction in freedom, an increase in specialized breeding and increases in de-sexing mixed breeds (shelter dogs) have caused drastic changes in the dog species. This genetic manipulation and general human influence is not only creating animals with some inherently unhealthy physical attributes that society has placed value on, but it is also playing a role in a dramatic and alarming rise in sensitivity issues.


We are now living in a modern world, designer breeds are highly sought after. Many dogs live in cities and high rise apartments without any outlets for their inherent, original working purpose. Guardian, SightHound, Gun Dog and Herding Dog are some popular breeds purchased to live in populated areas without any relief activities for what they have been genetically designed to do. Having a successful relationship under these circumstances is difficult especially when the dog’s needs are misunderstood and we implement training to control and change the behavior. As well,dogs have their own language that is oftentimes misunderstood by people because dogs communicate primarily through a unique body language which people are not typically taught to understand.   The language barrier and lack of breed acknowledgement/understanding can cause miscommunications that often result in the “unwanted behaviors”.  Frustration, fear, anxiety, reactivity and aggression- Are they behavior issues or sensory sensitivities?  This phenomenon has become very stressful for people who are trying to resolve the issues. Over the past 5-10 yrs these behaviors have been on a sharp rise.


Dogs have become a multi-billion dollar industry and the “experts” have overloaded us with marketing that supports this industry. While many of us feel guilt, shame, or embarrassment when we need help with our dogs, we are offered quick fixes through marketing and/or cycle through trainers that modify an unwanted behavior only to have others crop up or flare up. We discover putting a bandaid on nuisance behaviors will solve the problem in the short term, but will most likely cause fallout and fracture the relationship we have with our dogs. If we suppress the natural behaviors that our dogs have been bred for and demand absolute obedience which in turn only suppresses the behaviors further, the bond will suffer, the dog will suffer and at some point we deal with the fallout of more serious behaviors.

At this point the solutions are complicated but you can draw some parallels to our dog crisis and climate crisis. When you interfere with nature for your own gain there will always be fallout. We need to take stock of the damage and make some decisions. Taking a different approach, understand what nature intended, consider how a dog learns, its environment, genetics and the dog as a unique individual. We can find different ways to help our dogs and give them autonomy in our modern world. We can change the trajectory of the human/dog relationship and understand one another better. It is worth it. We’ve all been victims to the billion dollar industry, fed misinformation/conflicting information. We’re all trying to help our dogs and give them what they need but we have to stop buying into the immediate fixes, step back and look at the bigger picture.