Rocky is, at this point, our only canine sanctuary resident. While we have other dogs who we share our lives with, Rocky is a unique case. He was not well socialized in his youth and so he doesn’t understand the intricacies of human-dog interaction. When I first met him at nine months old, he was incredibly unsure of everything and very easily overstimulated. The individual who got him as a puppy didn’t do anything to get him out into the world and with so few new experiences in his formative months, anything new resulted in intense nervousness which came out as mouthiness, jumping, and leash-grabbing. New was anything from brushing to nail trimming, a dumpster or loud car/truck, or just something in a slightly different place than it was the last time he saw it.
Rocky is an extremely intelligent dog with a high drive and desire to please, so work is the best way to interact with him. Rocky is not a dog who needs or really desires much physical affection and there is his problem. When faced with petting or close physical contact from someone who has not spent weeks gaining his trust, Rocky resorts to using his teeth to communicate that he is uncomfortable and would like to stop the interaction. He accumulated several “bite incidents” during his several-months-long stint at the shelter, including during a brief adoption where he was returned after a week or two. His early warning system was likely ignored and maybe even punished so there is very little time between realizing he is uncomfortable and when he communicates it. He is also unable to live with cats. These things are why a “normal” home life for Rocky is virtually unachievable.
Fortunately, in his youth, he was something of a savant with young, overzealous dogs who didn’t know how to play appropriately with others. Rocky was dog social and has a very rough and tumble play style. This combined with his never ending energy made him the perfect one to teach other dogs how to be a dog. Even after I adopted him, Rocky continued to spend days at the shelter in order to play with young dogs still waiting to be adopted and help them burn off pent up energy.
With Rocky’s intense working drive and intelligence, he has learned a lot that’s made his life and ours much easier. He is clicker trained and he is also incredibly toy-motivated! He loves his jolly ball and will do just about anything for it. All his training sessions are interspersed with plenty of fetch and tug to keep him engaged and happy. Games of fetch are how Rocky learned to tolerate, and even enjoy, care tasks like bathing and brushing. He is also muzzle trained (that one was accomplished with toys and treats).
Another favorite of Rocky’s is water. It really doesn’t matter what kind of water, in a bowl, a stream, a kiddie pool, an actual pool, or a puddle. Rocky will play, wallow, and try to swim in ANY kind of water. He has a neoprene dolphin toy that is his favorite water fetch toy.
With time, Rocky has become less open to unknown dogs in his personal bubble. He still helps with teaching foster dogs neutrality but he has become very dog selective. He likes his sisters, but is happy to keep his distance from new dogs and just be a distraction while they work on training. He will always have a place here and his story will hopefully serve to illustrate the importance of proper socialization for puppies and meeting dogs where they are instead of where we may want them to be.