Mia and DeDe, two pit bull mixes,were about to go up in smoke after biting incidents sent them to an animal shelter in Maui. Unsuitable for adoption, they were scheduled for euthanasia. Fortunately, the Hawaiian Animal Rescue Foundation discovered them and believed they had a chance to be rehabilitated.
Scott Argus, of TalkDog, a dog trainer in Honolulu, took them into his home with his other rescued dogs, Rufus and Nani. The idea was to foster the new dogs, using his pack of rehabilitated dogs who had also been slated for euthanasia when Argus found them in a shelter. Argus had fallen in love with Rufus, an Alaskan Malamute/Great Dane cross, and Nani, a Labrador/Pointer cross, both who had been previously assessed as impossibly aggressive and were within hours of being euthanized.
“Mia and DeDe responded to their new environment at a nice pace,” Argus said about his first days with the new dogs. “I give dogs like these full run of my home and yard as much as I can, unrestrained but carefully watched. My two canine assistants knew to give them plenty of room and time to calm down. I didn't try to approach them, just gave them food and water until they were ready for human interaction.”
Argus observed the new dogs carefully, watching for signs that they could be approached before he attempted to make contact. “First I assessed their ‘flight distance’ which means how close I can get before the dog has a fear response. I don’t try to touch or approach them until I understand their needs, and what that safe distance is for them. Then I can begin to approach indirectly, not going directly towards them. I would just leave food, then after just a few days, they got used to me. They figured I was a permanent fixture that brought food.
"Then they wanted to sniff me. I would walk away and let them follow, watching me from behind, then let them sniff the back of my hand. Pretty soon they would approach on their own. That’s when you have to resist the temptation to pet them too soon.”
After just a few days, the newly fostered dogs, Mia and De-De became inseparable, sleeping together, eating together. “All the dogs got along so well, it was like one huge doggie family.”
Two weeks later, Argus began pack leadership training with them. After several weeks, he felt the dogs were ready for a permanent home. But because they were so devoted to each other, he wanted a family that could take them both. Finding the perfect match took another couple months. Fortunately an Army family fell in love with the now gentle and loving dogs.
“It’s always bittersweet to see them go,” Argus said, “But I am so happy we found them the perfect home. All dogs deserve love. And happy dogs make happy families.”
There are no bad dogs. But sometimes - especially if a dog has been mistreated - they may find it difficult to adjust to living in a human world. They need an environment that makes sense to a dog. We now understand that even when a dog has been given food, water, safety, shelter, entertainment, love and affection - they still desperately need a good pack leader to make them confident, secure and comfortable in our world. Then they will voluntarily behave so well that their pack leader can take them anywhere.
TalkDog is partnering up with Act Resilient, a program that teaches military families how to use laughter and comedy to heal from stress. The new combined program, “Dogs are Healer,s” teaches military families with traumatized warriors how to foster traumatized dogs so they will be ready for adoption. The service members will always have first-refusal on the adoption. This process of mutual healing is good for the dogs and good for the family. For more information visit Act-Resilient.org or TalkDogHawaii.com.