To bring everybody up to date in quick summary:
- Leslie's a dork and broke her arm
- Bella thought mom died on her watch
- Once mom came home, Bella decided no one and no thing was going to stop her in protecting mom (her food source and ticket to the good life) again
- Bella turned her protective-ism of mom in dad's direction
We've done a lot right in our time with Bella. Today you have the opportunity to learn from what we did wrong. Really. No excuses. No defense. And no, you don't have to try and make me feel better by saying we did what we could. We screwed up. We didn't see that this was the beginning of something far more serious. And someone got hurt.
The first time Bella lunged at Jan, we were startled. I was sick in bed, Bella was on the bed with me, Jan was approaching the bed. Bella jumped down growling and snapping at Jan. I was alarmed and jumped off the bed to move between them.
Since I was still heavily medicated from breaking my arm, I don't remember what signals, if any, Bella sent but she stopped when I got between her and Jan. She looked quite contrite afterwards and, to be honest, we still thought it was "sweet" that she was "defending" me. (Yes, I know, slap us now.)
To err is human...
But really, we rationalized her behavior. We "understood" why she was "protective" of me. We "knew" she had been traumatized. We "got" her but we didn't acknowledge our own complicity. While we may not have taken these outbursts quite as seriously as we should have, I did set about doing research to figure out how to address the problem.
One of the things we tried was to have Jan turn his back to her during any "outbursts" and, for a while, this really seemed to work. In fact, I wrote in our behaviorial assessment after she bit him that her guarding behavior was reduced to almost nothing over time.
Yes, you read that right - "our behaviorial assessment after she bit him".
Even though we felt we had gotten her guarding under control, on August 9th, 2011, Bella bit Jan. As much as her behavior had been "improving" and we felt we were doing the right things to address the problem, apparently we were wrong.
I'm going to quote directly from what I wrote on the "Behavior Fact Sheet" we filled out for her behaviorist to describe the incident since it will be much more accurate than my memory will allow.
"Please give a detailed description of the last time this problem occurred:
The first time Bella actually bit Jan, we were in the bedroom. She had been afraid to enter because a fly had been in the room.
Jan was sitting in front of her, I was standing somewhere behind. Jan tried lifting her front legs to his shoulders for a hug (she does this on her own as a "trick".) She got nervous and tried to put her feet down but her nail got caught on his shirt at which point she lashed out biting his hand and wrist.
She snapped several times, did not bite and hold. We're pretty sure she inhibited her bite but she still broke skin and caused bruising. I managed to separate them and put Bella in the walk-in closet to cool down."
That, as you can imagine, got our attention. We realized then that we had no idea what we were doing and needed to get professional help. And not just from a training perspective but in understanding our dog and how to help her. The next day we called her vet and her trainer. By the weekend we had two recommendations for local behaviorists, had ruled out physical injury and were awaiting test results from her blood work.
Reading that assessment now, I can see all sorts of red flags and it's painful to admit how naive and foolish we were at the time. It doesn't help that Jan wears glasses and a beard not to mention has a ridiculously deep voice. We really should have known better.
Still, we are "lucky" Bella's bad behavior has been localized to us. It's called "owner-directed aggression" and I'll leave you with this article about it written by Dr. Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, Dipl. ACVB, a professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and founder and director of Tufts’ Animal Behavior Clinic.