Fearful Pit Bull

by Kathy
(Newton Iowa)

Tugger

Tugger

Hello,

I am a volunteer at our local animal shelter and I am fostering a pit bull mix that had been at the shelter for 3 mos. Her name is Tugger and she's approx. 2 yrs. old. (she was a stray).

From the day I began interacting with her at the shelter it was clear that she had trust issues. She would cower when anyone approached her, but she would always have her tail wagging.

Eventually, she would roll over to have her belly rubbed. Because she was at the shelter for 3 mos., the director felt that she was "depreciating" and would need to be euthanized based on "fence fighting".

I didn't buy it and I brought her home. I admit that I had been wary given everything that you hear about pits, but Tugger has changed my attitude entirely. Unfortunately, my husband is not so convinced.

She's very bonded with me and has proven herself to be a wonderful, loving dog; however, she is extremely fearful of my husband. She barks when he comes through the door and I can tell that he's concerned that she may bite him.

My husband has been patiently working with her by providing treats and coaxing and she seems to be making very small progress. We attempted to walk her together and she wasn't comfortable with it. She has a way of looking at him that has us both wondering if she's going to bite.

I have two cats and the meet and greet didn't go well so they have to remain in a bedroom. A visit to the Petco adoption day was stressful for me because most people don't get that dogs need to be approached in a certain way. She was very good, but two encounters with very assertive dogs didn't go well.

She seems to be afraid of everything. We walk on a windy day and she jumps at every noise. Tugger also has a very bad habit of pulling when walked on a leash. I am covered with bruises from either falling or being pulled into an inanimate object. We are now working with a gentle leader, but again, I'll get the look that has me wondering if she's going to fight back.

The whole experience is taking its toll on my family life. I am afraid that if she goes back to the shelter she'll be euthanized, but I can't see her being adopted the way she is either. Is there any hope for a dog with fear issues specifically towards men and is it possible that her fears could turn to aggression? Also, she whines when I'm out of her sight. Will a new adopter have to contend with separation anxiety?

Gale's Reply:

Hi Kathy:

You were able to connect with Tugger and win her trust as her foster mom. So, I believe it's a matter of finding Tugger the right home which I will grant you is a lot harder than it sounds.



It seems like she would do best in a home with no other pets. Someone who like you, has the gentle manner and patience to win her trust first and who will then gradually socialize her at a pace she can handle. And not insist on pushing her past her limits. Though this may not be representative of the typical person looking to adopt a dog--such people and situations do exist.

The problem for the animal shelter where you volunteer is that finding the right home for a dog like Tugger may be a matter of months or even a year or two rather than days or weeks. They can't help but think in terms of all the other dogs they might help if Tugger weren't taking up their kennel space. And so, yes, if you take her back to the shelter, there's a good chance she'll be euthanized.

Although your husband is wary of her, it's sounds like Tugger has a special place in your heart and you want a happy ending for her. I would suggest you talk to some local pit bull rescues about her. They may not have room for her. But they may be able thru their network to help you find the right home for Tugger.

Pit Bull Rescue Central maintains a list of rescues by state. You can also list her on their website for free and they will pre-screen potential adopters for you (providing you have permission from the shelter to handle her adoption yourself).

About Tugger giving your husband the "whale eye" (which I presume is what you're referring to--where a dog cuts its eyes to one side so that a lot of the white is showing), this is a sign of concern and discomfort. The dog thinks it's a situation that bears watching. It doesn't necessarily mean she's going to bite. (She could, of course, but that's true of any dog.) In fact, it sounds like she hasn't offered to bite anyone at this point. But, she is on high alert for possible threats.

If this is directed towards your husband, advise him to back off. Give her some space until she relaxes. That space is her baseline for comfort. Requiring her to go past it should be done slowly. Small gains should be praised and rewarded. A book you may find helpful in easing the tension is Patricia McConnell's The Cautious Canine - How to Help Dogs Overcome Their Fears.

Best of luck to you. I hope you are able to keep Tugger with you long enough to find her the right home. Please feel free to write back and let us know how it's going.

Comments for Fearful Pit Bull

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Jan 12, 2012
what i find works
by: Amanda

I have a very cautious and jumpy 2 1/2 year old. She has never been stray or abused but is still cautious of strangers, my husband, and even jumpy around my kids when they get to rambunctious. She is getting more comfortable as she gets older. I found when she greets new people i make them respect her boundaries, and let her approach them when she is ready. My husband will take very slow movements till he is sitting with her petting her and cuddling her. When she tries to get away from him he gently holds her collar so she faces her insecurities and see he is safe, and she is safe with him. She used to jump on walks when big trucks drove past etc and i found that if she stopped i would let her, but i wouldnt let her bolt or got backwards. Its mostly about being patient and letting her face her insecurities and work through them with out getting frustrated with her. If her first reaction is to bolt, i wouldnt assume she will bite. My female is very vocal with moans and whines when she is not comfortable but has never bit out of fear.
I think the best home would be as an only pet with no kids, and naturally calm owners who of course are relaxed and understand the breed. Good luck :)

Jan 12, 2012
Baby steps
by: Kathy

Thank you both so much for your comments and suggestions. Today Tugger and my husband made progress. With some coaxing, he was able to pet her before I took her out to walk and again later in the evening. We praised her like crazy. Additionally, I read the article on training your dog to sit and it worked like a charm! I had been trying the the old way (push the butt down while saying "sit" and repeat...) and she had no clue. I don't want to give up on her and plan to contact my local city rescue league to potentially place her in their good manners class. They are very active in terms of educating people about the breed. I have also reached out to a gal from Petco who is part of the group, "Peace 4 Pits". She has put the word out as well. I know that it's going to take a lot of patience and honestly, the biggest hurdle is having to navigate the cats who remain confined in my bedroom. I keep telling myself that it's better than being in a cage. Thank you again.

Jan 13, 2012
Congrats
by: Gale

Congratulations on the progress you've made with Tugger. It sounds like you have a really good plan for networking her and working with her while looking for her forever home. I'm glad you found the article helpful too. Thank you for caring for a needy pit bull.

Jan 13, 2012
Thank you
by: Kathy

Thanks Gale. I wanted to add that because she is a foster dog, they require that when I need to board her, she be brought back to the shelter. I'm going out of town for 2 days and just dropped her off. We have a program called Pups on Parole and work with the local Sheriff's Dept. The convicts come to the shelter M - F to help clean and we wouldn't be able to keep our doors open otherwise. Additionally, they take select dogs and train them for 8 weeks at the jail. Unfortunately, they will not take pit bulls. That being said, when Tugger went to the shelter this morning, one of the regular guys was there and she immediately went to him. He received the same type of affection she gives to me. So I know that there's hope for her. She's not afraid of all men...just those that she's not familiar with. This is encouraging and I can't wait to tell my husband. The other thing is that there was a cage w/ 2 cats in it and while she's curious, she wasn't trying to get at them. Can I take this as a sign that she may actually be able to live with cats?

Jan 13, 2012
Cats--it's possible but...
by: Gale

Hi Kathy:

Sounds like Tugger is starting to blossom a bit. It's possible she might be able to live with cats one day. I think it's just too early to tell right now.

Here's an article I wrote a few years ago regarding pit bulls and cats.

Jan 16, 2012
Concerns
by: Kathy

Hi Gale,
I had gone out of town and left Tugger with the shelter (per their request) and am now contemplating whether to bring her back home. Having had 2 days to be away from her made me realize how stressed out I was having to care for her. The issue with being fearful of my husband, not getting along with my cats and having to keep them locked in a room 23 hours a day (which they haven't been adjusting to), attempting to leash train her (finally recovering from my bruises), I had been losing a lot of sleep and it was taking a physical toll. She's great with me and if I were a single woman with no other animals, I'd keep her, but this isn't the case. More importantly, I went to the Pit Bull Rescue Central and it clearly states that prior to listing a pit bull for adoption it must clear the behavior evaluation. "Traits like human aggression, severe shyness and instability are not typically found in the breed, nor are they acceptable. Dogs with these traits are not good representatives of the breed and PBRC does not recommend that they be placed into adoptive homes". Tugger has moderate to severe shyness when it comes to my husband or individuals she's not familiar with. Additionally, you mentioned the "whale eye" and I think the picture I've posted illustrates this look - am I wrong? When he or anyone else (including myself at times) touches her from the side, she gives you a look that says, "I'm not comfortable with this." She's also extremely jumpy. Petco adoption days was stressful because she was clearly uncomfortable, but tolerated it well. Will there be a time that she reaches her level of tolerance and says, "Enough!". My heart is breaking because I think with the right foster situation she would thrive, but it requires a commitment, not only from myself, but from my family and I've been asked to not bring her back. I wish I had a better update.

Jan 17, 2012
Re: Concerns
by: Gale

Hi Kathy:

This is sad news indeed. I had high hopes for Tugger and I know that before you left on your trip, you did too. It looked as though she was beginning to blossom under your wing. I'm sorry you find yourself in this predicament.

This is a side of fostering that most people never see or talk about much. There's the strain it can place on family life. The heaviness of knowing that an innocent life hangs in the balance. I've often thought that shelters should at least provide free support groups or counseling for their employees and volunteers.

My heart goes out to you, your husband and especially to Tugger. May you find wisdom and peace in your decision.


Jan 19, 2012
Not over yet....
by: Kathy

Hi Gale,
Since posting I had received an inquiry about Tugger. I had high hopes, but ultimately it wasn't a good fit. The board at my shelter has stated that she needs to be euthanized because she is a "liability". This is code for "She's taking up space." I disagree and am making one last ditch effort to save her. When I lived in Ohio, I fostered many dogs and all went on to find homes within months. This was due to a collective effort from a small group of people who truly felt that ALL animals deserve a second chance. I've had two foster dogs now from this shelter and if Tugger is euthanized, it would be my second foster that had to be euthanized. The first had severe food and toy aggression. I have never had a foster dog euthanized and as you can imagine, it's been quite traumatic. We have 14 board members and not a single one actively assists to help find homes for dogs. They leave this up to the Director. I've tried to get then to work with transports and it falls on deaf ears. I am consistently frustrated, but refuse to give up. I'll keep you updated. Thank you again for your help.

Jan 20, 2012
Fighting the Good Fight
by: Gale

Hi Kathy:

I noticed on another post that you said you reached out to a group in Chicago. If it wasn't Chicagoland Bully Breed Rescue, you might try them. Also, Midwest Rescue of Illinois is a group you may want to contact if you haven't already.

If you think you have enough time to let others respond, you are welcome to create a page for Tugger at our pit bull pictures page explaining the situation and asking for rescue contacts.

I must say I am SHOCKED that the shelter would euthanize a dog for space after it has been fostered by a volunteer. This should never happen--not if they expect volunteers to continue to be willing to foster their dogs.

Even with the other dog you fostered for them, it sounds like the problems were ones that could have been modified with counter-conditioning. Maybe they're only interested in placing dogs that look and act like they just stepped out of a Walt Disney movie. How sad. :(

Jun 28, 2012
if only there were more ppl like you
by: mrts mum

hi i myself recued a pitbul whom had no name no human contact except bad and came from the bad world my friend over heard the men talking about a pit that was too much, and that they were going to take him fighting my friend says i know 2 people who will take him as i had already succesfully rescued a pit before from bad owners, we had that pit for over 10 yrs she lived with my staffie terrior they were both bitches i never once had a dog fight a biting incedint, this dog i have now was worse than my other, he would not walk on a lead so we got him a harness and muzzle, then straight away he was walking oky, i never approached my dog 1st few days eventually he came to me i was crying as my wish which honestly i thought id never get was for him to come up sit on my knee and get petted, and i got it and its only got better, i would say for your husband to take over the feeding of the dog and the walks with a muzzle if need be at first untill there is trust, only take him very small walks in noisy areas at 1st then build up, keep the dog on a short lead when in noisy surroundings, i dnt mean the dog will always need a muzzle but then your husband will not be sending the signal that he is fearfull, & head up walk confidently but with you being there while your husband is walking him could be causing the dog to act up. if in the home the dog looks at you as though you are not sure what he will do, sternly say no bad boy and walk out of room closing the door and leave the dog alone so they know you dont approve, i realise its not a good idea to approach the dog in that instant but with your voice let them know you are not backing down, then go back into room and ignore dog let him come to u i know you feel tierd it is hard, these dogs are high tempo dogs,get a running machine and let the dog run off steam before your husband walks him so the dog is not coming from a place of high energy, he will take instruction easier, i can vouch for that my pit was fearfull and unsure he was 6mnths old and had 6 owners, i can only imagine what he went through he has a scar that goes right round his mouth like his mouth was tied shut but there is 1 thing i will NOT let my pit do and that is be around children, children are so excitable and that combined with your dogs energy could very well be disaster, i love pits always have but if your pit has come from a hard start in life,its just not worth the risk,try take him to other dogs with a muzzle on at 1st your dog has to learn you and your husband have his back nothing will get to harm him i used to have that in my head all the time( no 1 or dog will harm you i will protect you)sounds mad i know and now my dog doesnt even look up when a dog barks at him because he knows i have the confidence to protect him he doesnt have to protect me, good luck i hope even a tiny bit of my story helped you, and whatever the out come you tried and may god bless you for that.

Jun 28, 2012
Thank you
by: Anonymous

Thank you so much for your advice and for your support. Sadly, Tugger was euthanized. The shelter demanded that I either adopt her or bring her back to the shelter. I wasn't able to adopt her and was unable to find anyone who would be willing to do so. The shelter would not permit me to find another foster home as they felt she was too much of a liability. On the day I returned her, I took her to the dog park and when it was time to go, I called her to me and watched as she trotted over. I was burning this image to memory as one that I could look back on and feel good about. She was so excited to get to the shelter. Ironically, this was the one place she was familiar with and loved the people there. I allowed her to run around in the outdoor exercise area and she was so clearly loving life. She willingly walked through the shelter door. I removed her collar and gave her one last hug. I have to admit that I did'nt think the shelter would do it. As I'm writing this my heart breaks and tears fill my eyes. I haven't been back to the shelter....it's simply to painful. I did my best to try and save her, but it simply wasn't enough. I try to educate anyone who will listen about how wonderful this breed truly is. I owe it Tugger.

Jun 29, 2012
Tugger
by: Gale

Hi Kathy:

You and Tugger are frequently in my thoughts. The way the shelter handled that whole situation was so unfair to both of you.

I hope you can take solace in the fact that you gave her the best moments of her life while she was here. You were her earth angel. Loved ones die. But Love itself never does.

Jun 29, 2012
Thank you
by: Anonymous

Thank you Gale. I've had a lot of foster dogs, but none have touched my heart the way Tugger did. This forum has provided me with more comfort than you know. I'm always encouraged and uplifted by the number of positive stories I read here. Thank you for all that you do!

Jun 30, 2012
ur an angel who walks amoung us
by: mrts mum

Hi i am very sorry that mugger had to be put to sleep, but u & mugger know you done your best and beyond and the relationship you both shared. Some dogs and people arent made for this world, they are gifted 2 us for a purpose then they go back, mugger has changed your perceptions of pitbulls thats 1 persons mind of how pitbulls are loving, funny and of course hyper :)and who knows what you will go on to do for pitbulls maybe there will be another 1 who is for this world and needs your help, trust that dog will find you my 2 pits came to me for rescue at times when I needed them,i believe mugger will be waiting for you in the place he is meant to be,if you never took mugger, he would be gone long ago without knowing you and what yous had, he done his job he brought pitbull love into your life, something tells me your not finished helping this amazing & understood breed, even if its a year or so away mugger will send that pitbull thats meant for you. as is said do not stand at my grave and weep i am not there i do not sleep. if you get a feeling to go back to the shelter go u never know.

Jul 01, 2012
to TUGGERS mum
by: mrts mum

Hiya, i just had to email to tuggers mum, and say i am really sorry i says mugger and not tugger please dont think it was because of lack of intrest that i forgot tuggers name, you were both very much in my thoughts and i was a bit emotional writing last email, now i have a smile when i think of you and tugger after the shock of tugger getting put to sleep & the pain you must be feeling, but i now smile when i think of you both as i know tugger done his earthly job and that your life with pitbulls began with tugger but wont finish with him, please believe i know how much you will be saying no i cant go back to the shelter or no i cant see me taking on a pitbull again as your pain is so deep, but 1 day you will get a feeling to go back to the shelter (as it wasnt the animals who let you both down it was humans)or youll hear of a pitbull in need & you will have the tools you have learned with tugger that u think now u dnt have but youll see! tugger came to you for a reason once again i am sorry for getting TUGGERS name wrong and keep us updated when your pitbull is sent to you :-). And gale thank you for putting my comments up i know i do go on & on but i get so passonate,cesar millan, you & your site is the only place i look for true answers about pits thank you.

Feb 22, 2014
Tugger NEW
by: Monica

I am so upset with how the shelter handled Tugger. I'm so sorry for your loss. Thank you for taking her in and providing a good life with love. This makes me so sad. I'm fostering so pitbull similar to Tugger. She's made a huge turn since we've started fostering her and I'm so proud. There's hope in these pups. Thank you for sharing. I'm sure Tugger is looking down on you and protecting you.

Feb 22, 2014
Tugger NEW
by: Monica

I am so upset with how the shelter handled Tugger. I'm so sorry for your loss. Thank you for taking her in and providing a good life with love. This makes me so sad. I'm fostering so pitbull similar to Tugger. She's made a huge turn since we've started fostering her and I'm so proud. There's hope in these pups. Thank you for sharing. I'm sure Tugger is looking down on you and protecting you.

Feb 22, 2014
Tugger NEW
by: Monica

I am so upset with how the shelter handled Tugger. I'm so sorry for your loss. Thank you for taking her in and providing a good life with love. This makes me so sad. I'm fostering so pitbull similar to Tugger. She's made a huge turn since we've started fostering her and I'm so proud. There's hope in these pups. Thank you for sharing. I'm sure Tugger is looking down on you and protecting you.

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