Fear-based aggression in a dog

The world can be a scary place for animals. Sometimes, in fact, life can get so terrifying that it takes years for an animal to feel safe again. But at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, every animal is given all the time needed to find his way.

Dog with a difficult past

Paladin the dog who has fear-based aggression and his caregiver at the Sanctuary
Sarge and John

A new arrival to the Sanctuary, Sarge (now called Paladin) is one dog who will get all the time and help he needs. He has been diagnosed with fear-based aggression. No big surprise, once you learn how he came to lose his previous home.

He once lived with a family in Ohio. With the help of a friend, his previous person locked Paladin in a cage and the two men took turns shooting at him. The gunshots alerted neighbors who called 911.

By the time police arrived to stop the men, Paladin had suffered six gunshot wounds, most in the head and neck. It was a miracle he survived.

Within a half hour of the shootings authorities rushed Paladin to an emergency vet.

The men responsible for the dog's shootings face criminal charges.

Dog displaying fear-based aggressive behavior

In yet another miracle, Paladin pulled through the surgeries. His physical dangers stabilized in time. The larger remaining obstacle, however, was for Paladin to find a way to move beyond such a horrible ordeal. He had to learn to trust again, and that wouldn’t come easy.

Paladin was moved to the Toledo Area Humane Society where he had a hard time letting people approach him. One person who could get close to him was a dog trainer named John Brown. "Dogs are masters of body language," explains John. And lucky for Paladin, John knows plenty about how to communicate on that level. The key with Paladin, John learned, was to stay calm. No sudden or nervous movements. In doing so time after time, John earned Paladin’s trust. "Apparently I made him feel safe," he says.

Within relatively short order, the two reached a level of friendship where they could even play games — an incredible leap. One of Paladin’s favorite games involves chasing water from a hose. John was able to teach Paladin not only to play with the hose, but to earn this play time by following verbal commands and waiting first. That alone represents significant progress.

Even so, John is the first to admit they didn’t have a perfect relationship. Paladin still carries emotional scars that run deeper than his physical ones. He remained unpredictable.

Care and training at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Paladin stayed at the Toledo Area Humane Society for approximately six weeks before coming to Best Friends.

He is not ready for a home yet and is going to need long-term care and continuous training. The caregivers at Best Friends will make certain Paladin receives exactly what he needs, for as long as he needs it.

Paladin receiving basic training

"I miss him," says John. Yet he knows Paladin is in good hands. "The caregivers and trainers at Best Friends really do a great job with body language," he points out. He came to Best Friends with Paladin for the first two days to help with the transition and to pass along what he knows about his friend. At the Sanctuary, Paladin will have all the love and support he needs to start his new life.

Best Friends' dog caregivers Tyson Horn and Carissa Hendricks have been working with him slowly. Paladin is still uncertain about life and where it’s headed.

Right now, in the beginning, he needs peace and quiet. His caregivers plan to give him a week or so to get his bearings before they try entering his play area in earnest. "We’ll be able to build a relationship with him," Carissa says. "It’s just going to take time."

In his few short days at the Sanctuary thus far, Paladin has already found a few things he likes. He loves his big red ball and he really enjoys food puzzles. As he showed with John Brown before, Paladin is certainly capable of enjoying human interaction.

More will come. It’s OK, though, that it can come on his own terms and on his own timetable. Emotional healing isn’t something that happens overnight. The caregivers at Best Friends know the importance of letting an animal show the way.

"He’s a great dog," says Tyson.

Photos supplied by Patty Gelb

A dog like Paladin needs very special training and support, but if you have a dog who has minor behavioral problems, why not download our free "ABCs of Dog Life."