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Behavioral Success Cases

Snickers finds the right home (May 2015)

It's with great joy that I announce that Snickers, a CHR long-term foster, has been finally adopted.


Snickers came into CHR at the end of 2012 from a DC Shelter.  He was a cruelty case, and was taken

away from his owners by DC Animal Control. Attached by chain to a tree in a front yard in SE, Washington DC the first year and a half of his life, and his reaction to any handling was biting. Because he was unsafe for the public, he was set to be euthanized, and would only going to be released to a dog rescue. We took Snickers in the hope of rehabilitating him to the point where he could function as a companion animal to an experienced owner. 


Over time, Snickers has shown reactivity to strangers, but with positive reinforcement was able to trust his

foster guardians to the point of never snapping at them at all. His ability to tolerate grooming care improved over the time as well. During the beginning of his foster stay we had to put him under anesthesia in order to have him shaved down, since he was so reactive to touch. Over time and with the help of positive reinforcement, Snickers learned to tolerate grooming. A groomer who was patient and worked with Snickers helped tremendously.   


A clear understanding of Snickers' needs was very helpful. We know that "fear is sticky" and that rescue dogs can show improvement months after rescue once they are in the right environment to help them thrive. Or the fearful behavior can "plateau" and never really improve as the months pass.  Having a clear understanding of fear in canines helps our adopters understand their new dogs and what the dog's needs will encompass.  


Some of the key areas of support that CHR focuses on:


Why does it take so long to rehabilitate a dog with behavioral issues?

Finding the right match takes time!  We do feel that it's critical to keep the public safe so a full understanding to any potential adopter of behavioral concerns is divulged at the time of any interviews. This often extends the foster dog's stay with CHR. Recently I was speaking to a friend and she mentioned that she knew someone who was going to give her new foster dog six months to get better with its behavioral issues. After the six months, if there was no improvement in the dog's behavior, then the dog was to be euthanized. While I do understand the extensive commitment in taking on a behavioral needs dog, I have to disagree with making such a claim as to limit the time to six months. It can take that long for an average dog to adjust to a new home. Dogs with fear behavior issues can take years to take a turn in behavior. Quite often we tell our adoption applicants, that it may be months of work, but that one day will come when you see a change for the better and your heart will swell because you now know that canine behavioral issues can improve.   


Keeping his environment calm and safe  

It's easy for us to understand that dogs want to avoid conflict and feel safe. We humans too are always

seeking to keep our life as stress free as possible. By keeping Snickers away from strangers

and scary triggers that upset him, he was able to open up and learn that being safe is relaxing and soothing

to the mind. Providing him with mental stimulation that he liked, he was able to learn what it is to enjoy life.

Providing him with puzzle games, bully sticks, stuffed kongs and quiet walks during times when less people

were out, Snickers found that life is good and people can be kind.     


Understanding the role of positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement plays an important role in rehabilitating a dog like Snickers. Quite often people think that a dog with behavioral issues will always have behavioral issues because that's "just the way the dog is," but what they don't understand is that many canine behaviors can change for the better. With a treatment plan in place, dogs like Snickers can improve greatly. Management, positive training and a whole lot of patience and love is a recipe to helping these dogs. Snickers was placed on holistic medications to help with his behavior modification process. Some of our cases do require conventional medications, but in Snicker's case his time in foster care played a vital role for him to adjust to a life as a companion animal. The added holistic medications just give him a little boost to help with his progress in trusting and feeling more relaxed and safe. 


Understanding the right fit for a dog with fear reactive behaviors 

 It saddens us to see adopters in a position of not understanding that they just adopted a reactive dog and have no idea that the commitment really is lifelong. That's why it's a top priority to CHR to make all of the behavioral history on a CHR foster dog available to the adopter. CHR foster dogs typically stay in foster care for several months at a minimum, so we can get a good assessment of their behavioral issues and the correct home setting that would further enhance the rescue dog's emotional and well being.  Making sure that the new adopters keep Snickers away from any reaching hands will be a lifelong commitment. And of course, Snickers will never have any interaction with kids.  


Making the transition into a new home

Often a daunting task for the rescuer is the placement of the fear reactive dog into the new home once the application process has been approved and both the adopter and rescue group want to move forward with adoption. In this particular case a positive-reinforcement dog trainer did go to the applicant's home to do a full behavior consult with the potential adopters. For example, with Snickers consultation, the consult covered every area of concern regarding Snickers care. In this particular case Snickers' triggers were as follows:

  • Sudden movement.  

  • Resource guarding of sofa, bones and owner lap.   

  • Fearful of hands reaching for him. Response is biting hands 

  • Reactive to grooming

  • Mild separation anxiety  

  • Fearful on walks

  • More fearful of men


During the consult the most critical areas were covered to get the adopters through the first two weeks without getting bitten. Safety was, and is, a priority. To get around the grooming and boarding concerns, the adopters agreed to have Snickers stay with a CHR representative when the family is out of town. Providing the adopter with a reduced-cost groomer who understood reactive dogs and who would follow a calm and stress free grooming protocol was a win-win outcome for both Snickers and the adopter. During his first two weeks in the new home, the positive-reinforcement trainer was on hand to answer any questions. We're happy to say that the transition went well, without any biting incidents at all. Providing a behavioral consultation two weeks into the adoption of a fear reactive dog allows the adopter to discuss any areas of concern or trouble and allows our trainer to offer advice and a treatment plan that offers changes in the behavior and the right path to healing and success in not only understanding the behavioral problem, but taking the right positive steps to eliminating, or at the very least improving, the problem behaviors.   




Always seek help from a positive-reinforcement trainer when you run into trouble with your dog with behavior problems.

For involved behavioral issues take the extra step by seeking out a canine behaviorist .  

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