Adopted on September 20, 2010
We entered the local pet store and he paused at the entrance to savor the many smells. He couldn’t believe there were so many! Bunnies, reptiles, dog food, treats, other people’s dogs’ scents; he just stood with his nose in the air, taking it all in. So excited he could hardly contain himself, he began to wag while trying to look and smell in every direction, head swiveling, as we walked forward between a delightful aisle of smoked rawhide on one side and the delectable odors of pet beds on the other.
We moved along, straight down the center, pausing for good sniffs every few feet. After inspecting most of the store, I began to encourage him towards our ultimate destination, the dog food aisle. But the marketing people weren’t fools, and before we got very far we had run a gamut of different kinds of toys in bins, on shelves, and on hang clips conveniently sited at his head height. He finally couldn’t help himself, sat down in front of a clip of cheap plastic reproductions of Sponge Bob, and began to alternately lick them and bark, excited over all the possibilities. By now he was dancing in place, looking at me, back at the toys, back at me expectantly, woofing quietly all the while. When we moved along the aisle, he stopped at the next set of toys and started in all over again, adding whirling in circles in case I hadn’t gotten the idea that these were really GOOD toys, mom!
Did I have a little puppy on the end of that leash? Sounds it, doesn’t it? No, I had Cutter, GSRNE #306. He’s 8 years old, 100 lbs when in good weight, and we aren’t sure he’d ever seen a toy until we got him last year. He came to us as a foster in October 2009 after spending months in a shelter in NH after his owner died. Cutter had issues about everything and default behaviors whenever things didn’t go his way, tearing up crates when confined, as well as chasing cats and chickens. He didn’t know how to walk on a lead and would hit the end of it running with all his 100 lbs. The first few days he was here, several times a day, he would panic, run into the bedroom and climb on furniture to get to windows to try to claw his way out. We began keeping him on a long line after losing a few lamps, whereupon he would climb the furniture in the living room and claw at the solid paneled wall. We finally figured out that the trigger for that behavior was the noise of the refrigerator opening. We’ll never know what caused that one! Most dogs think the fridge is the source of all goodness.
Cutter found it very hard to trust. He couldn’t handle people touching him (think checking for ticks) or looking directly at him (think training a dog to focus on you). It was difficult dealing with him, but every now and then he’d look at me hopefully, as though he wanted to be friends but didn’t know how. Or he’d quietly move over to Glenn and lean up against him if he thought no one was paying attention. The signs were visible – there was a good dog in there. We tried to let him know he was safe and that we loved him, but sometimes love isn’t enough for a frightened, independent minded GSD.
Cutter spent weeks tethered to me in the house and on a 20 foot long line outside of it. Once, the second week he was here, he flatly refused to go into the hated crate no matter the inducement. I put his long line on, ran it through the wires in the back of the crate, applied light pressure, and waited. Every time the pressure of him pulling away eased up, even a touch, I’d praise him and offer treats (which he was too stressed to take at that time). 45 minutes later, he was safely in the crate and I was exhausted.
Fast forward to the present (March 2011). After more than a year and a lot of training, the good dog inside is coming out and he is such a very good boy. We don’t know if he didn’t get much socialization or if his owner thought it was ok for him to act like that, but we know he had a hard time trusting people. He was always pretty sure if something good happened he would have to fight for it to keep from losing it. When Cutter finally did begin to trust us, things moved along quickly, and he now listens, sleeps where he is asked without argument, goes to dog training class and interacts (mostly) politely with the other dogs, and even allows chickens to roost on his back (with a long-suffering expression on his face).
He continues to allow more and more liberties; we groom and bathe him without argument now and can check for ticks at will, all things that were not on his “ok to do” list when he arrived. It had become clear after several months that he wouldn’t be a good candidate to move on to yet another household, so we applied to adopt him and were accepted. His training continues as does his large contribution to our lives. He is a joy and a delight every day despite the challenges he can still provide us with.
I’ve learned more from Cutter than I have from any of the dozens of other dogs I’ve trained, fostered, or had permanently. I’ve learned to have more patience than I thought was possible for me, to enjoy and appreciate baby steps in improvement, and to love unconditionally. Once trust is earned, German Shepherds already know how to love like nobody’s business, and Cutter is no exception. He just needed the structure, time, and love from us to let him show it. Taking him to the pet store now is a gift because he is confident enough to ask for things and has self-control enough to not just take them; he can now show me how happy he is to be there. And yes, if he’s polite he often does get a new toy while we are there.
We wouldn’t swap our “problem child” for anything in the world.
Carol & Glenn Visser