Friday, October 7, 2011

Rehab Rundown

As promised, today we'll get back to the Vincent Chronicles. I already told you why we decided to hire a dog rehabilitator, and now I'll tell you what this professional taught us about Vincent and about ourselves as dog owners.

Brandon Fouche was recommended to us by a coworker of mine who had adopted two aggressive dogs that were considered "lost causes" at the dog shelter. Nobody else was willing to take them home because they showed major signs of aggression towards other dogs and people. While the dogs were never aggressive towards her, she knew they couldn't be trusted if she had visitors to her house or if they caught sight of another dog while out on their walk. She turned to Brandon for his help and testified that her dogs were changed forever after working with him.

While Vincent isn't aggressive, we also turned to Brandon because of his knowledge of the dog's mind. In my coworker's case, Brandon knew the dogs still had a pack mentality and were assuming the roles of dominators to survive. The problem was once they were placed in a loving home with a loving owner, they still thought they were the leaders. Brandon went so far as to strap on pads and protective gear to wrestle her dogs into submission in her backyard. However bizarre and extreme it may sound, it worked.

As I mentioned in my previous post about Vincent, our most recent issue with him was that he started barking whenever we'd leave him home alone. It didn't matter if we left him to go to work for the day or we just left him for an hour while we ran an errand on the weekend, he was barking whenever we weren't there. The only reason we found out about it was because neighbors called our building manager to complain. How embarrassing, right? No one wants to be "those neighbors" and there we were, with the building manager calling us while we were at work. Luckily, he's been pretty nice about it and hasn't threatened to kick us out or anything. But since we're not in a position to live anywhere other than an apartment building, where neighbors can and do hear when your dog is barking, we knew we needed to take measures to stop this behavior and the anxiety it was causing both Vincent and us.

Per Brandon's suggestion, we left Vincent with him overnight so he could evaluate him and determine how he could help. When we picked him up the next day, Brandon armed us with really valuable information about why Vincent has been acting out. Believe it or not, he said, Vincent is a good dog. However, he has lacked discipline from his owner, and has learned behavior that will get him want he wants. We spent a good hour to two hours talking to Brandon without Vincent in the room. It was very much like a therapy session, where he really enlightened us and made us understand why a good dog would act out in bad ways because he's confused and encouraged (unbeknownst to us). While it may sound like psychology mumbo jumbo, Brandon worded this in a way that really made sense to us. Justin adopted Vincent at a time in his life when he needed a companion. He was living in a new city, by himself and was lonely. Unknowingly, he projected these emotions onto the dog and because Vincent loved him so much in return, he didn't understand why he was being left alone when it was so clear that they needed each others company. When Vincent would act out, Justin felt like it was his fault for working too many hours, not spending enough time with him, etc. so he didn't focus on being a leader and disciplinarian to Vincent, he focused on consoling him.  Brandon thinks this actually encouraged the dog's mind to feel anxious when he was left alone, knowing he would be babied and showered with love as soon as Justin got home.

Brandon's philosophy is based on studying the behaviors of dogs in the wild, where there is always a leader in the pack. Whoever is not the leader is the follower. It may be a controversial approach to dog ownership, because today dogs are as loved and as much a part of the family as children, but the point he really drove home is that dogs in the wild don't learn by positive reinforcement, and neither will ours. Wolves learn who is more dominant by biting each other and seeing who backs down first. Vincent's behavior has been testing us, and in the past we would back down and let him go to work with Justin so he wasn't alone or rush to his crate as soon as we got home to apologize for leaving him.

So in actuality, the dog rehabilitator really rehabilitated us more than he did Vincent. He taught us ways to gain back our dominance over him and in return, Vincent will want to please us instead of test us. That's the idea anyway. It's only been a few weeks since we met with Brandon, but we're already utilizing information he taught us to ensure that Vincent is on his way to seeing us as the leaders of this household. Although its been really hard to completely change the way we interact with our dogs, we're doing our best to heed the professional's advice not to pay attention to the dogs before we leave or when we come home. We were also told to throw out all dog toys that had squeakers in them, since they give dogs a false sense of dominance when they play with them (they sometimes look like animals and make noises like an animal would if the dog were attacking it). I know most of this sounds crazy to the average reader, but we're at a point with Vincent where we're willing to try anything. Even this....

Yes, those are essentially duct tape booties. The reason for the booties is this - Vincent is a very crafty fellow. We can muzzle him so he doesn't chew our furniture but he'll use his claws to paw it off his face so he can chew again. Brandon showed us how to wrap his claws in gauze and then tape over them so the muzzle stays put. The tape is only sticking to gauze, not his fur, so it doesn't hurt him and despite his craftiness we come home to a muzzled pup asleep on his bed.

So there you have it. Justin and I have been rehabilitated and Vincent has new shoes. Please don't call PETA and please don't tell me that all Vincent needs is more love. Justin loves the crap out of this dog and Vincent has made his way into my heart as well. For that reason, we invested a lot of money into seeking the best professional advice we could and we're going to stick with it. I hope to be back in another month with more progress to share. Since I have agreed to marry Justin, this little guy is going to be in my life for the long haul as well.


  1. Poor family, I know its hard but you won't have to do all this stuff forever. Vincent will still love you just as much and you'll be less stressed so you can love him better! Good luck!

  2. I think what Brandon said makes 100% sense, especially the part about testing v. following the leader. I think Mom & Dad should wrestle Bree into submission so she'll stop biting strangers when they come into the house hahaha I think Mom would just about die. Anyway, sounds like yall gained a lot of good info!

  3. Thanks for the encouragement, guys! All dogs have some quirk. All you can do is discipline and love them and hope for the best.