Chris Waggoner is a fellow Karen Pryor Academy graduate, Husky rescuer extraordinaire, fantastic friend and owner of Deschutes River Dogs in Oregon.
Chris has graciously offered to share with all of us a tribute to her crossover dog, Dante.
How it all began…
It began the day my husband and I walked through the hot crowded shelter and spotted him. He was crazy thin. He was quiet. He was young. The shelter put him at two years of age but I am certain he was barely a year old. He did not seem afraid when the shelter staff placed a lead around his neck and walked us to a small fenced area. People and dogs walked past in every direction. The dog had little to no reaction as he watched them go by.
He seemed like he had always been with us, somehow, as if we all knew each other. He quietly leaned against me, looking up into my eyes.
Of course, I was instantly in love.
He came home to two huskies already in place. We really did not have a training method, other than choke collars recommended by a husky rescue group, but like most of America we watched the Dog Whisperer. So, we all walked for two hours that afternoon to achieve the proper state of balance. All was going incredibly smoothly. This stuff really works, we thought.
The next morning we awoke to a different dog.
As soon as he heard or saw one of my other dogs-dogs he had just walked with the afternoon before- he began to lunge and bark and growl, snapping wildly.
My husband said ‘Lets try an alpha roll’. I said ‘You try it’.
My sweet mild mannered husband forced the skinny, scraggly, terrified dog (still unnamed) onto his back as he struggled to get loose, yelping and urinating in fear. The other dogs (there to witness the submission as instructed by the television personality) began to bark with excitement, and then backed off, confused and worried.
Red faced with the effort of holding down the wildly thrashing dog, my husband let go. The dog sprung up and ran. He seemed even more fearful of the other two dogs and continued to bark and growl and lunge until I placed him in his crate.
I made plans to return him to the shelter as soon as they opened the next day.
But that next morning it was clear he was sick. Really, really sick. He coughed and hacked and would not eat or drink. My vet made a house call that afternoon. I was afraid of his unpredictable response to other dogs, sick or not. Antibiotics and a diagnosis of a nasty upper respiratory infection were given.
Over the next week I boiled chickens and steamed white rice. He slept. In between, I fed him spoonfuls of broth and slept on the couch next to him.
Okay, maybe this can be fixed. I was in love, remember?
Slowly, he recovered.
With recovery came acceptance of the other two dogs (he was too sick to protest their presence) and a name: Dante. It seemed appropriate.
There was peace in my home, but walks were ridiculous (but had to be done-the television man said so). There was no discernable threshold for Dante-if another dog was anywhere in his line of sight he went crazy on the leash barking, lunging, howling, and lowering himself to the ground to dig his way towards the other dog, pulling me along as well as his eyes glowed red and froth flew from his snapping jowls.
I worried about what I would do when he was no longer weak.
People turned and walked in the opposite direction, shaking their heads as they pulled their dog closer.
I did not blame them.
My husband said “You need to correct him when he does that”.
But I had no heart for the job.
So, I began to read, instead. I had found Culture Clash and The Other End of The Leash. But what changed my life completely was Don’t Shoot The Dog.
One particularly difficult day, my husband had had ENOUGH. The leash pops and corrections had no effect at all-Dante seemed to not even feel them.
-I have an idea, I said. I want to try something.
Fine! My husband threw his hands in the air. You fix him, then.
-If it works, will you use the same methods?
If you can fix this, I will do whatever you say.
The next day, armed with a bag of hot dogs and a harness instead of a collar, Dante and I went to the park.
At first, Dante was too far-gone to even think of food. I wondered if this was going to work at all.
But I kept at it.
I learned through many trials and errors to catch him before he erupted. Then, I learned to ask for just a tiny bit more-a nanosecond of attention to me before erupting.
I bought a treat pouch.
When people stared at me holding the leash of a lunging, frothing at the mouth skinny husky, I would smile and shout over the howls ‘He’s in training! Don’t worry!’
And then, one day, Dante saw a dog off in the distance…and looked at ME.
There is indeed light at the end of this tunnel.
From there asking for a “sit” came quickly. This progressed to the sight of another dog = sit and look at me=get fed hot dogs until the Scary Thing passed.
Eventually, we could walk in the park without heart palpitations from any of us.
Over the next two years all choke collars were thrown out. Anything written by the television personality collected dust, although I kept them as reminders. Reminders of a place where I will never return.
Today, Dante is the one I place new fosters and puppies with. He is still reactive in certain situations (on leash) but the difference between now and then is, I am the only one who knows.
“Dante, my heart; my life is forever changed. Thank you.”
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. ”
— Maya Angelou
What a powerful tribute to a crossover dog. Like Monte had for me, Dante gave Chris the tools, understanding, empathy, and knowledge needed to make the world better for hundreds, if not thousands of dogs in need. Thank you, Dante. And thank you too, Chris, for sharing your story!