Adoption Update: Bruno!

In this update, we celebrate the commitment of and challenges faced by a pair of patient, compassionate and loving adopters who are, step by conscientious step, changing the life a “rescue” dog into one of a “rescued” dog.

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When we decided to adopt a rescue dog through the BTRC, rather than buy a puppy again, it was not a decision we took lightly. We knew that there was a chance we’d have to work on training and deal with some existing behavioural issues, but we figured we’d done this before and could do it again. How hard could it be? So, after we came across Bruno’s online profile and adopted him last August we were happy to bring him home, show him love and attention, and get to work on training. Let’s just say that Bruno is like no other dog we’ve ever known . . .

Since adopting our beloved Bruno, the experience has been a learning curve – for all of us. Bruno has an excitable nature and while this can mean that he eats really fast or plays a little rough, it can also appear as aggression when he’s too stimulated. We soon discovered that despite our best intentions and previous breed experience, this was not enough to help Bruno overcome some of these more serious behavioural traits. With the help of two extraordinary behaviourists, we’ve been learning his triggers and how to properly respond to them, so that we can help Bruno to find ways to become calm and relaxed. We were pleased to learn that Bruno is not an aggressive dog, something we were really concerned about, but he is reacting to stimuli that he feels he can’t control or understand. We can’t know everything he’s been through in the past, but we are doing are best to help him move forward. Knowing the distinction between aggression and excitement has really helped with our approach to training.

Luckily for us, Bruno is a highly food motivated dog. If you offer Bruno a hot dog slice, or anything else he finds delicious, he’ll follow you anywhere! This serves as a successful distraction especially during his walks. As a reactive dog, Bruno is best served by being given space and time to adjust to those situations. One of these situations is meeting strangers, an event that he finds stressful and threatening. We are now getting to the point where food is not always necessary for training. Bruno can be satisfied with a soft pat on the head or back. Even telling him he’s a “good boy” or that he did a “good job” is enough encouragement. We’re so proud of him!

Day by day, the little guy continues to melt our hearts with his silly antics, and we’ve made some progress in our “easier” training tasks. He’s slowed down his eating since being introduced to a special bowl with an insert, and his food and toy possessiveness only only becomes an issue for us once in awhile. As long as Bruno understands that we’re removing some food or a toy to help him relax or to play better with our other dog, Pippa, all is well. If, however, he growls or snaps at us, we offer him an alternative, such as a walk, another toy, or a butt scratch, to keep him from feeling that he’s being punished.

That said, we’re continuing to work on Bruno’s more serious behavioural issues. Unfortunately, Bruno has developed a bite history, which led to a 10-day confinement order from the Department of Health in Durham Region; and several apologies from us. As a result, we haven’t had visitors to our house, and we avoid people and other dogs on our walks whenever possible. He’s just not ready. It may be frustrating, but we’re fully aware that the biting Bruno isn’t the “real” Bruno we’ve come to love. We’re still learning to control Bruno’s reactive triggers, and hopefully we’ll be able to become more social with Bruno. But it will take time.

The more training we all receive, the more we realize that Bruno will always need to be managed, but that he can eventually be taught how to engage people and pets appropriately. There’s some hard work ahead of us, including compromising on some of the things we took for granted with Pippa, who is such a friendly and easy-going dog. But we made a commitment to Bruno, and he’s so smart and so eager to please when he’s in the right frame of mind.

The hardest part is accepting some failures as we repeat the same process again and again, but each milestone is a cause for celebration. We know this won’t be a “quick fix”, that it’s going to be frustrating, time consuming and expensive. We know that it’s going to require patience and perseverance. But when Bruno puts his soft warm snout in our hands, and looks at us with those soulful brown eyes, we can accept this.

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