Friday, December 21, 2012

Athena: Dog Aggressive or Dog Social?

Exactly five months ago we adopted Athena from a local shelter.  It feels like just yesterday that I was writing about Athena's two month Adopt-a-Versary and all of the struggles and accomplishments that we had faced.

Five months ago as B and I stared into Athena's kennel at the shelter, I noticed a pile of pee on the floor next to her and a glaring label on her information sheet that read: Dog Aggressive.  I remember turning to B and saying something like, "I don't know if we want to get a dog that's aggressive.  Isn't that bad?"  He of course assured me that this wouldn't be the end of the world (although I now realize how hindering dog aggression can be for everyday activities such as a walk around the neighborhood or even a play date with a friend's dog depending on the severity).

Dog Aggressive?  Who, me?!

Before placing a hold on Athena, we decided to get all of the facts from the shelter workers about her dog aggressive label.  Apparently she received it from the previous family who had adopted her for three weeks and determined that she wasn't the right fit for their family dog.  We were then told that although she came with this negative label, Athena did well with other dogs when introduced into the shelter play groups.

So, with these mixed signals, we adopted a Sorta Dog Aggressive dog.  From that day forward I have continued to be extremely cautious with Athena around other dogs whether it be a dog that we see out on a walk, or a friend's dog that we introduce her to play with.  I'm always wondering if someday she will exhibit the aggressive signals that she showed the family before us who returned her.

Athena loves walking with our dog walking group RespectaBulls

Whenever B and I discuss Athena's 'dog aggression' with others, everyone seems to come to the same conclusion.  They think that Athena wasn't properly introduced to the previous family's dog which may have caused some tension between the two.  If B and I decided to ever get a second dog (or foster) we will most definitely be following some strict dog-dog introduction rules such as those set forth by Bad Rap in their guide A New Dog in the House!

To this day we haven't seen any aggression from Athena.  I will actually go as far as to say that I consider Athena to actually be Dog Social at this point in her life (seeing as she's still sort of a puppy, she could move towards being more dog selective as she matures).  She is the kind of dog who is just DYING to meet other dogs because she loves friends so much.

Athena with one of her doggie BFF's Bingley

When the time came to take Athena to daycare for the first time, part of me thought that I might get a call saying, "Please come pick up your aggressive dog!  She's not allowed back!"  But of course, Athena had a stellar evaluation and was described as a "Daycare Pro."  We now take Athena to her daycare once a week for socialization (both dog and human), exercise, and time away from home.  Each time we pick her up, we hear nothing but rave reviews about how easy she is to incorporate into the pack and how well she plays with her friends.

Pictures sent to us from Athena's daycare
Athena playing with a daycare friend!
Pictures sent to us from Athena's daycare

Even though Athena has proven herself time and time again at being friendly towards other dogs, she will always carry her dog aggressive label.  I always wonder how many people passed by her kennel before us and thought that she was not adoptable based of her label.  To be totally honest, I'm sure many people walked by and thought that there's no way they would adopt a Dog Aggressive Pit Bull.  I also constantly think about the many dogs in the shelter system who may be mislabeled or who receive a label without much to back it up.  A 'dog aggressive' label could be a death sentence for any dog, but especially a pit bull type dog.

So with that, I'm curious if any of you adopted a dog (or know of any in the shelter system) that was mislabeled?


  1. Pallo was a nipper when I first adopted him. It wasn't just a label, either, it was reality. However, he had pretty decent reasons for it, based in having chronic ear infections (which the vet believed he had had his whole life without being treated). If my ears hurt and people kept touching them, I'd find a way to show my displeasure as well...

    Pallo is no longer a nipper. He still takes treats a little too enthusiastically if I don't remind him, and still gets muzzled if the vet is doing anything too excessive, like drawing blood, just in case. But he is trustworthy with kids (when supervised, of course) and will let pretty much anyone touch his ears, feet, and tail without the slightest sign of nipping or snapping.

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  2. That's so awesome that you were able to be open-minded about the dog-aggressive label, and that were responsible and sensible when testing the waters with other dogs. I adopted Monkey from a shelter 3 years ago, and he came with the requirement that he be an 'only dog', and I was fine with that. We added Petey 6 months later without a hitch, because Monkey had proven himself to be dog tolerant. Monkey and Petey have an amazing bond, and it saddens me to think of how much Monkey would have missed out on if he had remained an only dog. We've also had several fosters come through the house without issue. Not to say that you should ignore labels, but in the end you will be the best judge of your dog's needs and preferences.

  3. My Lucas was labeled as dog aggressive. The shelter staff didn't want to adopt him to us since we had another dog, but we insisted they let us try it out - and it worked out perfectly. Although, it turned out that his aggression was limited to being on leash. He's totally fine at doggy daycare and does well when we have other dogs over, but he can't pass a dog on the sidewalk when we're out for a walk. While I wouldn't call him dog aggressive, that label helped us prepare and be ready for his leash aggression.

    1. A lot of dogs are leash aggressive and it is mislabeled as dog aggressive, it has to do with them feeling "trapped", they have no way to escape (or fight back) if that dogs comes over and attacks. My friend has a dog that is like this, we can't walk our dogs down the road together but if we let them go in the backyard they are best friends.

  4. Like everyone said, I think it is so great that you were open-minded, and it is so frustrating to see these types of labels. All dogs have some level of selectivity which is completely different from aggression. Plus, I think a lot of people aren't as informed about making proper introductions and integrating new pets.

  5. Many things could have happened in her previous home to make them think that. Maybe they didn't know what appropriate play was and she was play growling. Maybe she was getting to overwelmed witht the other dog and it kept playing with her when she told him to back off then she had to resort to a snap because she was at her breaking poing. Or maybe they didn't (or wern't willing to) put in the time and love to train her appropratly so therefore she was 'unmanageable'. You also don't know about her baby years (am i right?) maybe she wasn't with her mom & littermates long enough to learn approprate play in the beggining and had to learn it as she grew up. But all that doesn't matter and I think that your doing a great job helping her grow out of her 'dog aggressive' shell. All those pictures show a happy playful dog who loves her friends. I always wonder how Trinity would be if she wasn't in my home and with someone who wouldn't put in the time or love to train her to become the best dog she can be. I also think she would have been returned if that were to happen cause she's so high energy that many people don't want to put up with a dog who constantly needs to be entertained. I love to hear stories like this and how much a dog is growing in a great loving home!

  6. I'm so glad you gave Athena a chance! She's such a sweetie & obviously has blossomed under your care. We need to get together soon for a doggie play date!

  7. Sweet Athena! I love that happy, open-mouthed play face in her daycare photos. She is a lucky girl to have you in her life and have you be so willing to see her beyond her label.

  8. Dog aggressive isn't even a label here! Dog agressive equal death here, no lie.
    Athena is SO dog social! She makes my dogs look like rabid hounds in comparison! My pups love them some other pup but they definitely do best with an intro (doesn't have to be lengthy,) but I'd never trust them just loose with a pack of dogs at a park etc. I could be underestimating them but they do best with slower introductions. Honestly, that was our error in part, I think they both started out more social upon initial adoption but we may not have opened them up to all the best experiences initially. However, I can say they are stars at sharing food, toys, and space with other pups in their own home which is more than I could ask for. I think Athena is a wonderdog!

  9. We have had the opposite experience - dogs that are not given a label to let prospective adopters know they might need more work. We know a couple who adopted a small mixed-breed dog, and the people who fostered him did not mention that he was fear-aggressive. We also did not know that Mushroom was leash reactive (probably because the woman who fostered her rarely had her on a leash). For the longest time, we were very confused about her leash reactivity because she is extremely dog-social when off-leash. We really appreciate folks who foster dogs and give the full story, including the negatives, so that prospective adopters can know what to be prepared for.

  10. I work for a local rescue as the intake coordinator and handle all the owners surrendering their dogs to the rescue as well as all the shelter transfers. I do all the dog evaluations for dogs coming into the Portland area. I can not tell you how many times a family is surrendering their beloved pet because it has become dog aggressive or just aggressive in general. Time and time again, I evaluate these dogs and find that the dog is really not aggressive but, rather lacking structure. No matter how much I tell owners that their dog needs training, structure, and a leader they still are adamant that they are done with this dog. Every single one of these dogs comes into foster care a totally different dog than what is described. There is not dog aggression, there is a dog that needs a fair and proper introduction to another dog to ensure they are set up for success. It breaks my heart that dogs end up in these situations however, it's really wonderful that we have the rescue for these dogs who turn into fabulous parts of a new family!

  11. I have a pit bull named athena and they are so sweet we rescued her too

  12. I have a pit bull named athena and they are so sweet we rescued her too

  13. Kudos to you for giving Athena her forever home ... something that every dog deserves. We adopted a 2 yr old boxer that had been in 3 homes before we were blessed to have her join our family. She was somewhat "wild" when she first came to us but with patience, routine, exercise, boundaries and love, she has grown to be an angel. We can't imagine life without her. We recently introduced a mini schnauzer puppy and they are BFF's. I'm sure you are right in that many dogs get passed over all because of a "label"...such a shame. Wishing you many, many wonderful years with your Athena.






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