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By Dorothy MinerAny person working in a canine business has met a few truly “broken” dogs. Bad things have happened in these dogs' lives that have left them permanently damaged. They really pull at your heartstrings, because you know that in most cases, the damage could have been avoided. Just how “broken” does a dog have to be before it is unfixable? I don't know. But I do know that with lots of effort, many of these dogs can learn to cope and become loving pets when matched with the right owners.A friend living in Kentucky adopted Annie, an adult Chinese Crested from a rescue organization. This little girl was pathetic. She spent the first couple of weeks cowering in corners, only allowing herself to be touched or picked up if she was cornered. She never sought out any close interaction with her new human companion, but there was a glimmer of hope because she would stay in the same room and watch her from a distance. After several weeks, the dog finally jumped up into my friend's chair. She wouldn't allow the owner to touch her, but she would at least sit with her. For the longest time it looked as if this might be as far as the dog could go in becoming comfortable in her new home. Then an interesting series of events started Annie's journey toward becoming a real dog. I came to visit my friend for a week, and now she had to deal with a second human in the home. This made the owner even more of a safe haven for the timid dog. Then two more surprises followed a few days later. My friend's adult son came to visit from California, bringing with him a lively Bull Terrier puppy. Annie's life was thrown into chaos. The first mini-triumph came when the owner was outdoors and her son and I were in the living room with the dogs. Annie took a look at William and then jumped into my lap. She looked as surprised as I did! Apparently I was now at least slightly safer to be near than the bearded young man. She even allowed me to pat her a bit. When her owner came back in, she immediately glued herself to her, and the bond between them seemed to have strengthened. We wondered how Annie would accept the feisty little Bull Terrier puppy, but after the two scary people had gone home, the puppy didn't present any problem for her. Her owner reports that Annie is getting closer to being a “real dog” now, although she will most likely never be totally comfortable around new people. Another symptom of Annie's extreme fearfulness is her panic when a leash is attached to her collar or harness. This isn't the reaction of a dog that hasn't been leash-trained; this is full-out total meltdown panic. Her reaction is instant and absolute. She flips around, defecates in terror and then melts to the ground, unable to move. Thankfully Annie is small and can be carried without trouble.What broke this dog? We don't know. Obviously there was no socialization. She may have been owned by a hoarder or been a breeding dog in a puppy mill and never given any individual attention. She was clearly the victim of abuse. She is definitely a product of poor breeding and was not bred by conscientious people using carefully selected, physically and mentally sound parents. Whatever it was, she has a permanent fear of everybody other than her owner and a very few select others.Taking on the responsibility for one of these dogs is a huge undertaking. Thankfully there are good people like my Kentucky friend who are willing to accept the challenge. Dogs with behavior problems so serious that they cannot be completely changed need good management for their lifetimes. This may mean avoiding certain places, situations, or even many other people. It's a hard job, and it isn't for everybody. But if you take on one of these unfortunate dogs, you will enjoy the reward of watching a fearful, sometimes hostile dog relax, respond to your thoughtful training and care, and once again become more comfortable in its world. If you're up to the challenge, check with the Humane Society or breed rescue group of your choice. Unfortunately, shelters and rescues will always have dogs like Annie in need of loving “forever homes.”Dorothy Miner is a long-time dog trainer, obedience and tracking instructor and judge of canine events. She is a published author and contributes regular columns to several dog publications. Dorothy currently teaches at the Hollowell Academy of Dog Training and, along with Diane Laratta, teaches weekly classes for the Allen Correctional Institution's PETS Program.


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