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Diesel’s Journey Out Of Aggression
This story details the the aggressive behavioral issues of a dog named Diesel, and the extraordinary challenges his pet parent faced in finding a trainer that could help them both.
Editor’s Note: At aapp, we only support positive-reinforcement training, and do not believe in “adversives”, or punishment-based corrections that involve instilling pain or fear in animals. We think Diesel’s story offers a compelling example of the problems with fear-based training, as well as the dedication of one pet parent to find the right path. We hope you find inspiration in this family who refused to give up on their dog–one who might easily have been euthanized for aggression had he had less devoted humans by his side and in his pack. The author, Brit Jasperson, is a 33 year-old wife, wellness coach, and cattle dog mom from Southern California.
I don’t know about you, but dogs are my lifeline.
Since pretty much the day I was born, I knew that loving and serving dogs was the reason I was placed on this planet, and that knowing has never wavered in 33 years of life. So it was no big surprise when our first rescue dog, Daisy, passed away, that I immediately went on the hunt for a new rescue baby to welcome in to our family. I began scouring the internet for our perfect match: a 3-7 year-old, female cattle dog who weighed 40 pounds.
I noticed right away (at no big surprise to my Southern Californian self) that cattle dogs were few and far between here. And of the ones I found, I received rejection after rejection from the rescues I was contacting.
“Sorry, this dog needs a yard.”
“Sorry, this dog would do better with children.”
“Sorry, you’re not active enough to handle this dog.”
So I just continued to put out the feelers—graciously accepting their rejections (and secretly laughing because I know we’re the best canine owners on the planet), while passing along my number in case our perfect pet found her way to their doorstep. Meanwhile, we were scouring every shelter and rescue in our area hoping to find that special pup who would steal our hearts.
Daisy passed on a Thursday, and on Saturday evening, we were leaving yet another shelter empty-handed (and a bit defeated). We were hopping in the car when I received a text from a rescue advocate I’d been in touch with—a photo of a gorgeous heeler mutt, who also happened to be a 4-month old male labeled “huge.”
Okay, so he was a cattle dog, but he didn’t check off any of the other boxes!!
Then I did something that sealed my fate; I showed the photo to my husband, Anthony. Have you ever seen those cartoons where a character gazes upon the love of their life for the first time, their eyes glaze over, and hearts start swarming above their head? Did you know that’s a real-life thing that can happen? Because I sure didn’t until I saw my husband lay his eyes upon our little boy!!
We picked up Diesel Weasel at an adoption event the very next day.
Now this is the part where I wish I could say, “…and we lived happily ever after.” But nope!! This was only the beginning of our journey…
You see, when we brought him home, he had some health issues that the rescue was dishonest about—ringworm (a highly contagious fungal infection), to be precise. He shortly thereafter acquired roundworm too, and we noticed he had generalized gastrointestinal issues. This was significant because it meant that for the first month of his life with us, we couldn’t do much training or socialization. We did have a personal friend of mine (who was a trainer at Petsmart) teach us to teach him basic obedience (sit, stay, lay down, look, drop it, and leave it). But as intelligent as cattle dogs are, this all took him just a matter of days to master.
Finally, at 5 months-old, he was cleared of his infection, and we immediately began doing everything in our power to socialize him:
-dog-friendly restaurant patios
-having friends puppy-sit
-taking him to my parent’s house
-doggy daycare // training
A day didn’t go by that we weren’t doing something to get him out of the house to work on his social skills. And at each of these places, we could be found with a pouch full of treats on our hip, feeding him or having others do the same. We were told that this would give him a positive association with social situations, and we wanted a dog that could go everywhere with us, so we were diligent.
The first time I realized we were moving in the wrong direction was when Weez turned 6 months-old. In an effort to further his “education,” we threw a little party to introduce our new puppy to all of our friends. He immediately hid under the table, and began growling and lunging at people as they arrived. It wasn’t long before we had to remove him from the situation entirely.
Looking back, I now realize there were signs even before this. Subtle things we chalked up to “puppy fear,” like growling at a couple in Petsmart the day we rescued him, staring at strangers on patios with a little too much intensity, etc. But it wasn’t until he started lunging that I realized, in spite of our best training efforts, his reactivity was getting worse—not better.
At this point, I went straight to his trainers and let them know what had happened. I told them I was very concerned about his behavior, and they suggested we pay an additional $250 for a 1:1 session with the owner of their facility. Up until this point, we had been doing two sessions a week with their other staff members, so we agreed to meet with the “expert.”
During this session, we learned a bit. The owner pointed out that Weez had an exceptionally bad attitude towards children, amongst other things. He recommended we begin using the “training collar” (AKA choke chain), purposely put him in triggering situations (but far enough away from the trigger to not react), and feed him treats in a seated position. Then, when the dog didn’t react, praise him, move a bit closer to the trigger, and repeat the process.
The owner also taught us to make everything a “job” for our guy. Because we chose an extremely active breed but live in a condo, we learned it’s imperative to give Weez tasks (like eating his breakfast out of a treat toy, or learning new tricks) to help wear him out mentally.
We went home from that session feeling empowered and ready to do work!!
And work we did…
For 2.5 years.
As our dog became more and more aggressive.
And with each incident—with every setback—my heart was breaking.
At it’s worst, we really shouldn’t have even been taking Diesel Weasel outside our front door. When I say he reacted to everything, I mean everything!! Squirrels. Cats. Skateboards. Scooters. Children. Adults. Guests in our home. That girl passing us on the sidewalk. That guy walking his dog across the street.
It was a mess!! But what other choice did we have with an active dog and condo living?
And with every aggressive act, I would contact our trainer (who we continued to work with the entire time) to express my frustration. I would cry and explain to them that we were doing everything they taught us and it simply wasn’t working. And every time, I was met with the same response:
“We don’t see his aggression, so we can’t help you, but positive-reinforcement training takes time. So keep implementing what we’ve taught you and he’ll get better. Also, do not try any form of disciplinary training or you will ruin him forever.”
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Until one day, the trainers finally saw it…
See, we had explained to them that Weasel’s aggression was actually protection. Anthony and I were his “herd,” therefore, he would lash out to protect us as he saw fit. So the reason the training facility never saw what we did was because, in our dog’s eyes, they weren’t his herd to protect.
Knowing this, the facility had made plenty of notes on Diesel’s file: must only be left with trainers he knows. Must not be allowed on the yard with more than 10 dogs. Etc. But they maintained that he was always a well-mannered boy while he was there.
Fast-forward to when my husband, Anthony, began to volunteer for a rescue being run out of the same facility as Weasel’s training. He showed up and Weez happened to be on the yard. And the moment he laid eyes on “his” person? Welp, remember that shark in “Finding Nemo,” who said, “Fish are friends—not food,” until he smelled blood? And then his eyes would glaze over and he’d uncontrollably rage looking for a fish to eat? Pretty sure that guy was modeled after our dog!!
As soon as Weez saw Anthony, a switch flipped, and he went in to “protect” mode—nipping at the shin of the (unfamiliar) trainer who was monitoring the yard with him and approximately 20 other dogs.
Thankfully, being a cattle dog, he’s not the kind of pup who would maul anybody. Rather, he’s a nip-and-retreat kinda guy—telling this stranger to kindly back off!! Nonetheless, the facility disrespected their own guidelines for handling Diesel, and the end result was a trainer with broken skin.
Again, I wish I could tell you that this is the part where we were given the proper support and lived happily ever after. But… nope!! Instead, this business (which we had spent $14,000 at in just 3 years), caused us a ton of grief. They began insisting that we pay double daycare fees for “special handling,” in addition to paying double fees for “aggression training.” I told them I was completely open to paying extra for help with his behavior, but inquired what they were going to do differently? Especially considering I had been honest about his aggression the entire time, and they had offered us zero help.
No one could answer my simple question, so I requested a meeting with the owner… who refused to speak with me. And after a full month of being treated with absolute disrespect every time we walked in the door, I finally lost it!!
And for the record, I am not a person who loses it.
But I finally told them I was done!! I informed them that we had given their company our trust for three years, only to watch our dog’s poor behavior escalate. They had attempted to blame us for “inconsistent” training (absolutely false), continued taking our money, and now, at the first sign of an issue, offered absolutely no solutions aside from taking even more of our money. And I was being fear-mongered in to believing that any other trainer would destroy my dog.
So I looked them straight in the eye and said, “You can’t ruin a dog who is already ruined. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain by moving on. I will never darken the door of this establishment again!!”
And I never did.
But a month later, I was sent papers from a lawyer attempting to sue us on their behalf. And bless this poor lawyer’s heart, because I have two close lawyer friends I immediately contacted who informed me I was not liable. So I called him right up and said, “Hi. I want to begin this phone conversation by apologizing to you for being the unfortunate soul caught in the crossfire. With that said, this company has wronged me, and I will gladly spend even more money than they’re asking for to take them down.”
My fierce mama bear vibes must have translated, because I never heard from him again either.
So at this point, we were a free agent!! Completely lost as to what our next step should be, but hopeful that a change would lead to some sort of actual results. This is when we found a local company who specialized in training K-9 unit. Knowing very little about training ourselves, we suspected that it might be helpful for our aggressive dog to be taught how to harness his aggression for good instead of evil (insert maniacal laugh here), so this sounded like a perfect fit.
And admittedly, this was a very helpful move!! They were the first trainers who I felt actually listened to us. They got us in group classes because, even though Weez had obedience down, they knew it would be useful to train him around strangers and dogs. They continued to utilize the training collar, and we all felt that everything was going quite well after several months of working together!!
And then it happened…
One afternoon, Weez was sitting in “place” command when one of the trainers walked by, he broke his place, and bit her through her blue jeans. We were horrified!! Especially after what we had already gone through with the previous facility.
Thankfully, these were much more knowledgeable and compassionate professionals, and they saw this as a sign that we needed to course-correct our training method. So next up was the e-collar (AKA shock collar). And while we absolutely abhorred the idea, we were desperate to help our dog, and agreed to a private lesson to learn how to properly use this tool.
Unfortunately, we knew within a matter of weeks this was going to be another miss for our Weez. The ideal situation is that you have two pre-determined levels you use with the e-collar: one for a minor correction and one for a “come to Jesus” correction. You test the dog before each walk to figure out where those levels lie—that way, when he reacts, you are prepared to discipline him accordingly.
Small reaction? Small correction.
Big reaction? Big correction.
Our issue was that Weez, being the weirdo he is, would change from moment to moment. I’m no expert, but I suspect it had something to do with his adrenaline. Because at the beginning of his walk, a level 4 would give him the tiniest reminder to stay well-mannered. Then halfway through his walk, a level 4 would make him cry out. Meanwhile, a level 30 “come to Jesus” correction would have absolutely no effect on him when he was lunging at a cat.
Another miss!! And to be completely honest, I gave up at this point. As far as I knew, we were out of options. Out of new methods to try. And I accepted that we were going to live an unfortunately tiny and anxiety-riddled life together. I would reluctantly walk him, making sure to cross the street anytime I saw a potential trigger. And I otherwise spent my days holed up, working my virtual health-coaching business with Diesel by my side.
And then, a miracle…
One of my clients had rescued a new terrier who began fighting with her old one. So she sent them to a doggy bootcamp for two weeks, and then excitedly messaged me Facebook. “Brit!! I took my dogs to this amazing trainer who fixed them in just two weeks!! I know you’ve had issues with Weez. Would you want to give her a call?”
She was met with a healthy dose of skepticism from my end. On one hand, yes please—I absolutely want to help my dog!! On the other, I doubt this lady can help us. But then again… what if she can? A call can’t hurt, right?
So I gave Heaven Sent K9 a call, and I immediately knew this was the trainer for us when she said, “My methods are a little unconventional. Not everyone is willing to implement them. Come to my house for a $100 consultation, and I’ll let you know if I’m willing to take you on as a client.”
Wait, what? I pay you to decide if you even want me? YAS QUEEN!! This is the kind of energy that we needed to make some truly positive changes in our life!!
Thankfully, because my client had already attended Sogi’s Bootcamp, we knew what we were in for, so we showed up to our day 1 appointment ready to work. And boy, did we!! Weez immediately began trying to attack Sogi, so she grabbed the leash and his scruff, and got him on the ground until he stopped struggling. Then she handed us the leash and said, “Your turn.”
But this was exactly the creative method, hands-on training, and accountability we needed to finally make progress. And this is when I finally get to tell you we lived happily ever after…!!
After that initial session, Sogi took us on as clients. Weasel spent 2 weeks at Bootcamp with her, and she then taught us exactly how to continue with her training at home. She informed us that we needed to purposely be putting him in triggering situations (we would generally take him to a local park at night) so that we could consistently use her methods of correction and praise.
We saw changes in him immediately, but within 6 months, my anxiety had lifted. Within 1 year, we had a well-mannered boy who could easily walk in public, go to the vet, spend time at Sogi’s ranch with clients—both dog and human. And now at 3 years, we can even have strangers in to our home and he is able to make new friends!!
I’m not crying; you’re crying!!
But in all seriousness, I cannot adequately tell you what a gift it is to have our lives back, and what a gift this whole convoluted process has been in retrospect. So allow me to wrap up this saga by telling you what I learned from the journey of our Lil Weez:
- Any trainer who tells you their way is the only way is no good. PERIOD. Dog training is like raising a child in that each dog has it’s own personality, and requires something a little different to understand your desires and boundaries. A truly wonderful trainer will have a basic philosophy, but then course-correct each session based on your feedback. An effective trainer will pull from an arsenal of tools—from treats to praise to training collars to your physical body and beyond. If they are married to one particular tool… RUN!! If they tell you that any other method of training will destroy your relationship with your dog… RUN FASTER!!
- Be prepared to work harder than you thought, longer than you thought to train your aggressive dog. Just finding the right trainer was an absolutely exhausting process. Then once we found her, that “one-year” time table sounded a bit intimidating. Truth be told, one-year handled the bulk of his issues, but Weez is still not perfect. There are certain quirks we haven’t diligently worked on. And god forbid we ditch regular training sessions for a couple weeks?! It sometimes feels like we’re starting from square one. But much like muscle memory, he rebounds back to good behavior faster and faster each time. Training our aggressive pooch is a lifelong commitment at this point. A staple in our lives. And that’s okay.
- Be thankful for the lessons your pup’s journey is teaching you. Instead of getting frustrated, view your learning curve as a challenge!! Going through this arduous process will strengthen your bond with your dog, in addition to sharpening your leadership skills—and that will have a positive impact on your entire life.
- Tune out the judgment of others. You may not be a professional trainer, but YOU are the expert of your own family. If a trainer or training method feels off? Move on. If a family member shames you for muzzle training? Or a neighbor yells at you for alpha rolling? Or an Internet stranger scoffs at your treat pouch? Well, consider this a lovely opportunity to learn to value your own instincts over the opinions of others. At the end of the day, they don’t have to live with your pet, so this isn’t about them!! It’s about keeping your dog safe and your life happy.
- You never know what unexpected blessings will come from hard situations!! Because of this excruciating struggle, Sogi is my absolute best friend, and Weez and I spend time roaming her gorgeous ranch bi-weekly. Not to mention, I’m here writing to you all—an opportunity to connect and serve I never would have had without my aggressive dude. And as someone who has always dreamt of using her entrepreneurial income to start a rescue? Well, after reforming an aggressive animal, I think it s safe to say I’m genuinely prepared to take that on now!!
If you’re struggling with the isolation of a hostile pup, do not hesitate to reach out!! My inbox is always open at firstname.lastname@example.org. From the bottom of my heart, I know how you’re feeling. And please know that if our hopeless situation can improve, so can yours—if only you’ll harness the patience and the work ethic it takes.
You’ve got this!!
All my love to you and your furry friends.
Brit Jasperson is a 33 year-old wife, wellness coach, and cattle dog mom from Southern California. As a child, she had a passion for learning, so it was no surprise to anyone when she earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Biology as an adult. Her intention was to continue her education and become a veterinarian, but life threw her a curveball when she was diagnosed with autoimmunity at the young age of 25. That battle ultimately led her down a different, entrepreneurial path—which is how she came to own her own virtual health coaching biz. But God has a way of bringing things full-circle, so in addition to being a work-from-home fur mom, she is also now able to donate a portion of her weekly income to animal rescue. Talk about win-win!! If you’d like to connect with Brit and join her virtual fit fam, you can reach her via E-Mail at email@example.com. If you’d like to connect with her informally for alternative fashion, mindset inspo, free workouts, puppy pics, and humor, give her a follow over on Instagram @missvonfrankenstein. And don’t forget to give your dog an extra hug today on her behalf!!
The American Association of Pet Parents (AAPP) is a national nonprofit dedicated to keeping pets happy, healthy and in their loving homes – and out of animal shelters.