Monday, November 12, 2012

Star - the stray who jumped INTO the window of a police cruiser

Recently I got an email from the head trainer at the shelter asking me if I might take in a tough case as a foster dog. Star was a bit of a celebrity, having been in the papers after she jumped in the window of a police cruiser stopped at a red light. The officer, stunned but laughing as he submitted to a furious facewash, called Animal Control and Star was taken to the shelter. 

Despite her high energy, it did not take long for her to be adopted as she loved people and was only about 6 months old. But she was returned after her adopter reported she became very defensive, barking and lunging, when she was sternly reprimanded for chewing on a rug.

Star had a big, raw wound on her back, and it was clear that wherever she came from, she'd gone through some rough times. Either she was abused in a previous home, or she had a really bad accident while she was running around the streets. Either way, she had reason to be frightened at the first sign that someone might hurt her and she had little tolerance for any hint of harshness.

Star needed time with someone who would be sensitive to her sensitivity. I couldn't in good conscience bring her into my household, where she could get into all sorts of trouble with my own behaviorally challenged dogs, but I did commit to working with her at the shelter whenever I could. 

In the little room where I brought her, she immediately started jumping up on me and going after my scarf, hat, and hands. It took some doing to get said objects out of her mouth, which I had to do just by prying it open and then replacing the items with treats. 

She did love the treats and seemed to relax as soon as she saw that she could work for them.  She knew her Sit and did it pretty readily when asked, but she got frustrated quickly when I tried to get her to Wait. She picked up on Down quickly and once she got into that, she seemed to relax. She calmed down overall as we worked together, but if I stopped asking her for behaviors and let down my guard for a moment then she was back to launching up on me, mouthing my hands, trying to steal my gloves and hat and scarf. 

When I turned my back for a moment, she went after my stuff that I thought I'd put out of reach and I reflexively said "uh uh!" Her response was to jump at me and start intensely mouthing again. I wasn't exactly scared, and she focused and calmed almost immediately when I whipped out a treat and asked for a sit. But you can imagine that this behavior is not something most adopters will be thrilled to discover.

I took her for a walk, using my metal leash since I'd already learned that anything chewable near her mouth will end up inside it, and she relaxed once outside the confined indoor space. She didn't pull badly on the leash, and looked up at me sweetly as we were walking. When I gave her treats for walking nicely, she took them more gently. Whenever we walked past another pedestrian, she wiggled happily and wagged and wanted to greet like a typical happy puppy.

At one point I stopped to connect with her and pet her, which was more than she could calmly handle.  She got really excited again, jumping up, mouthing my hands, trying to rip my clothes. Good thing I still had treats! I sprinkled them on the ground and she settled down, and we were able to proceed.

Star is the clearest argument I have seen yet for positive training. Here's a dog with some pretty significant behavioral issues, and I could just imagine someone coming along and trying to show her he's "pack leader" and producing a dog who not only has mouthy impulsive issues but has been labeled "aggressive" or has a bite history and needs far more work to rehabilitate. Her "aggression" is 100 percent the result of fear which is the result of God knows what happened to her, and will need gentle, positive, treat-filled treatment in order to abate.

I hesitated to even write this post because this is the first dog I've worked with where I've had some doubts about the prognosis. What if I post about her, and get all you guys attached to her just like I am, and then the decision is made to euthanize her?

The shelter for now is committed to continuing to work with her--with all she's been through, they want this story to have a happy ending! She is certainly not an easy dog, but I do feel that at her age her potential to turn around, mellow out, and learn better coping mechanisms is huge. She's super treat motivated and loves people, just needs to learn calm behaviors and better ways of coping with stress. 

I'll keep you posted as I work with her, and if anyone knows of an incredible patient person who really wants to adopt a high energy celebrity pittie mix who's had a rough life but whose love for humans is undiminished, or has any ideas about how to help her in case the shelter decides it can't, please let me know!


  1. I'm glad you are telling us about your positive training efforts. Sending my best wishes, hopes and prayers that Star does well. However it plays out, she is getting good treatment and a chance now.

  2. Hi - what a beautiful pup! It certainly sounds like she has amazing potential and with your knowledge and the support of the shelter, fingers and paws crossed for her. Someday we hope to add a pittie, currently we live in a place where they are a banned breed. (Don't get me started on that crap) Please keep us updated on her progress. (We're at:

  3. Poor, poor sweetie, good thing she has you in her corner. I had an encounter with a fearful dog this past weekend. I didn't write about it in the post because I wanted that post to be positive but I do intend to write about it in a future post.

    I would say if she needs more work perhaps Best Friends could be contacted, they seem to have some really good results and perhaps they know of someone in the area that would be able to take her. Obviously the quicker she can get out of the shelter and into a home environment where she can be really worked, the better off she'll be. Keep us posted Kirsten, I can already see I'll cry when this ones adopted. :-)

  4. Sounds like you're doing all the right things for her. Let's just hope the shelter has enough patience to wait for the perfect foster or forever home to come along! Cthanks for sharing her story. She's adorable!

  5. She has such a sweet face! I don't know, I'm pretty confident that you'll be able to learn her needs and how to work with her.

    I wonder if something like trick training and finding her a job would help her with all of that manic energy (plus love for treats)? That way she'll get a lot of positive experience, and her little brain will get some work and help calm her down.

  6. What a beautiful Star. I hope there is a good match out there for her. You are right, what a story in positive reinforcement!

  7. What a "treat" to hear how committed the shelter is to her and working with you. Smart of you to be able to say "no" to taking her home with your dogs, yet work with her in shelter. I have a trainer/rescue colleague who would label her "aggressive" and kill her asap. Even she ends up being euthanized (big difference), it won't be for lack of compassion and trying. Thank you!

    1. Gosh, the pages of this blog are peopled with dogs who would have been killed right away by some "rescuers"...but are now in loving homes and have never harmed a soul. I wish there were a Hippocratic Oath for dog rescuers and trainers too :( Thank you for everything YOU do Roberta!

  8. Poor baby, glad Star is safe
    Benny & Lily

  9. How great that you are working with Star. I sure hope everything works out for her. :)

  10. What a great thing to do. I really hope someone takes her in.

    Oink oink,
    Katie and Coccolino the mini pig

  11. I hope that things turn out well for her. It sounds like she has a lot of potential, if she winds up in the right place.

  12. Hi Kirsten, obviously you'll do what you can for her but great care must be taken in finding her a home and more importantly, a human who is aware of her background and who loves her enough to work through those with her.

  13. That's a amazing that she jumped in a police car! And that scar is incredible, I hope it doesn't hurt her. It's great that the shelter is willing to keep her there instead of turning her into a number because she needs extra work.

    I did a lot of positive training with Shaka which really helped her. Even though she was wary of strangers and a generally calm dog, she wanted to be first out the door, through the gate and in and out of the car and she'd climb all over me when I'd get the leash, which didn't really work with 3 dogs! Within a week, she was even better than my dogs and sat like a little princess to wait her turn:)

    It's sad her first adopters didn't realize how to work with her, but it was probably for the best. I hope she finds a loving home!

  14. Well done on taking Star on. we are sure she will shine with you helping her.

    We've been missing for a while so we have a lot of catching up to do!

    Big Nose Pokes
    The Thugletsx

  15. She definitely wouldn't benefit from "pack leader" training. However, my dog Calhoun, who has NEVER known an ounce of meanness in his life because I've had him since he was 8 weeks old, has benefitted from some of those methods. He is a Boxer- Olde English Bulldogge and HARD HEADED... and 85 lbs. I knew early on that I HAD to be a strong leader for him. But this silly girl you have here is like my Lucy. I get the feeling that once she recovers from her fight or flight issues, she'll get her feelings hurt really easily. People have no idea what they can do to a dog's psyche.

    Mamma Heartbeat

  16. I've seen lots of scars like that on pups at our local shelter. So sickening, and she's so young! She's got a lovely face, you're lucky your shelter tries to work with dogs, our shelters here jump at any chance to euthanize a dog since we're so overcrowded.

  17. I'm glad to hear the shelter she is at will continue to work with her. The behaviour she is showing - the mouthing and licking - might easily stem rom the fact that she might have been taken away to early from her mom and was never socialized among dogs properly who would have shown her that her behaviour was inappropriate. I have a dachshound girl who was born in a shelter and kept separate from her mom at a very early age and she display(ed) the same behaviour. While in a dachshound that behaviour might be acceptable and 'cute' we were also determined to change it with positive reassurance and turning her behaviour onto more acceptable and less painful routes. It takes a long time and one needs a long breath but it is worth it. Our beautiful Lulu - while still the quickest kisser in our little village LOL - is now a gentle little girl who doesn't mouth and 'pinch' anymore ... well almost always. sometimes when she really gets excited she still falls back into the behaviour but with a quick little training lesson with lying her down and putting a treat on her paws, she snaps out of the hyper excitement.
    Any more updates on that beautiful little star-backed girl?


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