Pablo was about to become a statistic. Why, you ask? He survived a few weeks in the shelter system of California, being one of the two breeds that are most commonly euthanized: pitbulls and chihuahuas.
Truth be told, Pablo’s life was saved because he was young, handsome and had interesting markings - and he is still handsome. On a cold December day many years ago he came to Oregon on a rescue transport from Los Angeles. There wasn’t any information about his behavior. Upon his arrival it became apparent that Pablo was quite reactive, some might have called him a freaking lunatic.
He was highly reactive towards other animals, especially when they were in motion. The local rescue organization wasn’t in a position to house Pablo away from other dogs. Due to his extreme behavior he was in a tiny bathroom all by himself. I was asked to foster him but I refused. Quite frankly I was concerned about my own pets’ safety. Eventually I caved and took him home for a short visit. Upon arrival at my house Pablo fell instantaneously in love with my dog Toddy who was the archetypal neutral dog, neither too needy nor too independent and most importantly quite indifferent towards other dogs. Because of Toddy’s calm demeanor I decided to foster Pablo short term. Oh boy!
Initially Pablo peed all over my house. He attacked my cats and couldn’t handle any movement in front of my living room window without screaming from the top of his lungs. He also couldn’t handle any of the emotional visitors of my pet hospice support group and screamed from the top of his lungs with them, too. Let’s just say that in the early days most people were scared of Pablo.
During the first few months Pablo received “therapy” - in the sense that I eliminated or reduced any triggers that could potentially flood his nervous system and shielded him from sensory overload as much as possible. We only walked in low traffic areas. Dog parks were and still are a NoNo. He was only allowed in the main house with careful supervision for short periods of time and then took a break to process - we did this many times throughout the day. When I had to leave, Pablo had the privilege of lounging in my bedroom listening to soothing music, safely confined behind a baby gate. He also received calming remedies and body work - and lots of praise when he did well. He had countless TTouch sessions and other energy work to help reduce his PTSD. And slowly, slowly he began to recover to the point that we could actually do regular dog training. The world became a safe place and over time the cats became his aloof friends. My dog Toddy remained Pablo’s idol and teacher until the day he died.
When I talk to clients who approach me about their pet’s behavior, some of the first questions I ask are these: Are you willing to be patient? Are you willing to break things down into manageable increments for your dog? Are you willing to learn together WITH your dog and learn about your own signals and behaviors as well as your pup’s?
It took about eight months for Pablo to release his habitual stress responses and to become a more balanced dog. Is he perfect? No, he still barks at the window expecting bribes from passers by. Other than that I am happy to say that he has become an ambassador for his breed. I love you, Pablo Potato Head.
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Photo Credits: Kristin Zabawa, Malcolm Pullen, Nancy Yamin