When we adopted Gale Hawthorne from Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue we were largely trying to right a great many wrongs that had taken place for us during a previous failed adoption.

Two years earlier (the weekend after Hurricane Sandy to be exact), we had adopted an elderly Cocker Spaniel from a local rescue shelter. He was about 13 years old. All of his teeth, except one, had to be pulled by the vet due to years of neglect. He was a little hard of hearing, but the staff assured us he seemed friendly and good-natured. They thought he would be good in a house with kids. I did quick math: mature dog + no teeth + small kids = what harm? Ugh, hindsight. At home, the dog quickly went from calm and sedate to wanting to gobble the kids up whole with his gums. He guarded his food, he bared his tooth and growled, he lunged at our kids and bit our youngest child, and also bit my husband, drawing blood with the one tooth. We talked to the vet and to a couple of behavioral therapists who told us there was little that could be done with a dog his age. We couldn’t keep him, and it was heartbreaking for everyone and traumatic when we we put him down.

Fast forward two years later, and we were ready to try dog adoption again. We had heard great things from friends and family about Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue, but we needed to avoid a situation like the last adoption at all costs. We were cautious and patient, and we felt like we were in great hands with Whitney from Badass, who was very transparent about any of the dogs we expressed interest in. When she suggested that we meet a new dog, Gale Hawthorne, at the November adoption event, we were hopeful.

And after meeting him, we felt confident that he was a good match for us. We named him Sir Charles Shadowboxer.

We had Jason Cohen from Canine Cohen Dog Training come to our home that first day to ensure a good start for us all. He showed us basic commands, and how to start training him to walk on a leash properly. The first day and a half went well—Charlie was quiet and seemed to enjoy his crate best. He was house-trained. Bonus!

And then, things started to go downhill pretty fast. On the second evening, as we were watching television with the kids, Charlie started to growl at our oldest son, Jack, who had been sitting quietly near the edge of the couch.

We intervened with distractions, but he lunged at our 4-year-old unexpectedly. The next day, the kids were again engrossed in the television when Charlie went very quiet. I noticed his change and luckily was able to grab his leash when he slowly got up and stalked toward the kids with a low growl and bared teeth. Our cat, Buster Kitten, during this time, was vanquished to the upstairs bedroom to avoid being ripped into shreds by Charlie. On our walks, Charlie was exhibiting increasingly aggressive behaviors: lunging at small kids, frightening the neighbors with growling. My husband began having horrible nightmares. I could barely move my head from left to right due to stress in my neck. I wrote a letter to Jason, our trainer, and Candace at Badass at the end of our first week: “We are on high alert right now. We are afraid for our safety.”

Jason Cohen came over immediately to assess the situation. I honestly thought he was going to end up leaving the session with our dog, another failed adoption, another heart rending talk with the kids that we couldn’t keep him, that this was happening AGAIN. Jason stayed with us for three hours, trying to determine the nature and extent of our dog’s aggression. He put a training collar on Charlie, and showed us how to use it along with the positive reinforcements he had previously taught us. I still don’t know how or why or what happened during that three hour session (which Jason offered to do pro bono, by the way), but when Jason left that night, we had an entirely different situation on our hands. I may have cried and over-hugged Jason. The relief in my husband’s face and body posture was immediate.

With the new collar and Jason’s presence there in the house, Charlie just relaxed or something. It was like he had been trying to figure out who was in charge, and once the pressure was off of him, he could get around to being a house pet again. Jason taught Andy and I how to step into his role as a leader, and Charlie responded to us, too. That night (THAT NIGHT!!!), Charlie fell asleep with his head on our lap.

We have not had a growling or lunging incident inside or outside since then, and he’s become intentionally more gentle when he plays. The most remarkable part is that only a couple of weeks later, we’ve hardly had to use the training collar at all. The cat is now back on top in the hierarchy of the household. It is all working. Unreal.

Obviously, our relief can’t be overstated. But I think our story is a really important one for anyone thinking about adopting a dog. It is so worth it to hire a trainer. It was a good chunk of money, but we now have the most behaved dog I’ve ever owned. We went from nightmares to starting to love our dog in one day with Jason’s help. We went into our adoption with best of intentions, but it didn’t mean we had the knowledge to communicate effectively with our animal. For anyone thinking of adopting or in a situation with an animal you feel is untenable, make the call for help. I wish we had done it the first time around.

by Sarah Klock

Read Aulë’s Tale: Trauma, Patience, and Recovery

Here's fun video showing some of the great progress in our 4th session, guaranteed to make you smile.

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