Bayshore Dog Training to the Rescue!

On October 22nd, local channels released breaking news of this horrific story:

In summary, a dog fighting ring was uncovered and initially, they reported around 50 dogs being seized. Shortly thereafter, that number gradually rose to 69 dogs in total. The news reporters were emphasizing how aggressive the majority of these dogs were, and that it was inevitable that most would be euthanized (with the exception of a few puppies that would go to SPCA Florida). There was an outcry from many of the local rescues, where they demanded that these dogs be temperament tested before immediately sentencing them to death.

Connie Johnson, who is the SafetyNET Manager of SPCA Florida called me to ask if I would assist in testing these dogs to see if any would be deemed “adoptable”. I had performed temperament testing for many years at Hillsborough County Animal Services, as a county requirement for adopting out “bully breeds” and for dogs coming onto the adoption floor from the investigation kennels. To get the best results, it is imperative that these tests are done with confident handlers that will not send nervous energy down the leash, as this, in itself, may cause a good dog to react, and therefore fail. Testers must also be very aware of warning signs and the subtleties of the dogs’ body language. Most importantly, they must expect each and every dog to succeed, but also be ready for them to fail.

A week after the news reports came out, a fellow dog trainer and colleague of mine from Jacksonville and I arrived at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office/Animal Control. We were lead down row after row of dogs from this bust. Many of them bore the scars of recent battles. Some were pregnant bitches, some were just puppies, and some were much older. What I soon discovered was that most of them were “old school” fighting dogs, or as we commonly refer to the breed as Pit Bulls, or a smaller mixed variation of this breed. I saw scrawny, wirey, high drive dogs, without the bulk of the bully breeds we see normally. With dog fighting, bulky dogs don’t have the stamina needed to succeed in the ring. Many of the dogs had their teeth filed down, a practice that allows these dogs to be used as trainer dogs. This is to ensure the prize fighting dogs did not get badly hurt during training.

It was a daunting prospect as we were entering this day, feeling that if we were lucky enough to save just a few, it would all be worthwhile. As we carried on it became obvious that media hype and breed prejudice had played into the story a LOT. None of the dogs had any human aggression, and most of the dogs turned out to be pretty stable around other dogs too. We did see excitement, drive, poor manners, and we did see some dogs that were truly “game” dogs. However, out of the 69 dogs, only 6 dogs, did, ultimately fail the test. Even these 6 were not the cold hard killers described on the news. They offered a willingness to play with the youngsters or dogs of the opposite sex. Unfortunately, iit was only when presented with an equal opponent that they were not able to override what had been hardwired into them from a young age.

As a result of our findings, Connie contacted Dr. Reed, who is the head of animal cruelty and behavior at the local ASPCA. She agreed to take any, and all of the dogs from this case to the new ASPCA Rehabilitation Center. The group was ultimately split between three rescues: SPCA Florida, HSTB and ASPCA.

My experience in temperament testing, both in this specific case, and over the years at HCAS, has taught me the importance of expecting success, and more often than not, you will find it. You will come across the failed cases, but it is important that every dog of ANY breed, is given a chance of life. Dogs are strong creatures and even with some of the most traumatic and violent experiences, they can still overcome major behavior issues and soon find a life of happiness and stability.

If the majority of these fighting dogs can survive and pass temperament tests, the possibilities are endless. We must always be prepared to face possible failure, but it does not mean we should automatically give up. With any behavioral issues, I am capable of administering a full assessment on the dog, and if training is an option, I and the owner can then determine a reward-based training regimen where the dog can succeed, conquer the behavioral problems, and find harmony in the household.

If you have any questions about canine behavioral issues and are seeking help for a dog, please do not hesitate to call me at 800-649-7297! Even with the most severe cases, I will not turn you and your dog away!