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American Staffordshire Terrier poisoned

I have a one-year-old male American Staffordshire Terrier, Sniffer. In October he and his sister were poisoned, we believe, by a neighbor who was very hateful toward us for having "Pit Bulls." Lilac, the female, died, and Sniffer was very sick. Luckily he has seemed to have made a full recovery, at least physically. But he seemed to be really pining for Lilac and also very stressed out by strangers, from the moment he came home from the animal hospital. He had never shown any aggression toward anyone before the poisoning incident; everyone was his friend. Now he growls and runs and hides in his kennel when anyone except my husband, our two-year-old daughter, or I come in our home. My breeder offered to take him to her home to work with him on his confidence (she is also a dog trainer). He has shown no sign of aggression toward her or the others who come in and out of her house. Still, he scares me. I feel like I do not trust his behavior and do not know what he will do with our little girl. He has never shown any aggression toward her, but, then again, he had never shown aggression toward anyone else before he was poisoned! I am worried it gave him brain damage and now he will turn on us. Will he? Our breeder assures us he is not vicious, just terribly scared by what happened, and lost without his sister. Can you give me any advice? My breeder says she will keep him there, if we'd like, with his mother dog, with whom he gets along great. I feel like a traitor if I don't keep him and feel like it gives the neighbor (or whoever did this) a double victory.

Your story is terribly sad, and I'm very sorry for what you all have had to go through. I'm sure your dog has been traumatized both physically and emotionally by the ordeal. Many dogs suffer when humans with breed-specific hysteria react. These humans' fear and hostility toward certain breeds is only based on the rumors they have heard about them when, in truth, dogs of any breed can bite. Some breeds have a bad reputation because irresponsible owners allowed individual dogs to get into trouble, fueling the fires of hatred in people like your neighbor. No matter the circumstances, your dogs were victims. I appreciate your concern and desire not to see your remaining dog, nor any people he comes in contact with, become the next victims of this ongoing tragedy. If he has become aggressive in response to what has occurred, it is important to deal with it.

Unfortunately, I can't give you specific advice about Sniffer because I haven't personally seen or evaluated him. He will require one-on-one behavioral modification to rebuild his trust and reduce his aggressiveness. It seems like your breeder is just the person to accomplish this. Your breeder's willingness to work with Sniffer, and even take him back if you decide not to keep him, is an impressive example of responsibility! The fact she is getting positive responses from him in her home shows his behavioral change is most likely the result of his bad experience, and not brain damage. Perhaps she can help you regain confidence in Sniffer by working with you at her home, where he seems to feel most secure. If you become more confident, you might ask her to accompany him on visits back to your house, where she can work with you and Sniffer in the environment where he's had more of a problem.

You can gradually rebuild your dog's trust in humans, with patience and positive reinforcement. But the harder question is, can your trust in your dog be rebuilt? Your fear that he might hurt your daughter shouldn't be ignored, but it needs to be carefully examined. Has he ever shown any indication he might behave aggressively toward her? Has he shown aggression toward any other children? While maternal instincts shouldn't be ignored, you might want to give some consideration to the possibility that the same myths and hysteria have subliminally fueled your own fear that lead to this sad situation in the first place.

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