Bella came into my life at one of the most pivotal times of my life, and my initial intention was just to help bring this dog out of her shell and prepare her for adoption, then things changed. Let me first talk about a little what was going on in my personal life, I was working at an animal shelter at the time during my last two years of college. I was working, going to school and trying to maintain a social life as well, It was not right time to adopt a dog. I had planned to adopt a dog when I graduated to join me in my journey to my master dog training course. Bella was a dog that was surrendered in March of 2016. She had just had a litter of puppies, but the puppies were not surrendered.
When I first met Bella, I had no idea that I would be writing anything like this over 2 years later. So, when I first met Bella she was extremely nervous and growling at everyone who came by her kennel. She was not trusting of people at all. I spent every morning that I worked taking Bella out and introducing her to the shelter to make her more comfortable. We began to bond in order to help her thrive.
As Bella began to become comfortable at the shelter, her true personality began to come out. She was sweet, affectionate, but very environment centered and would much rather explore then listen to people. She also had a very high prey drive and was becoming increasingly dog aggressive/reactive. This began limiting her adopter pool, she needed a home that could work with her and handle her quirks. Finally, one day a family saw Bella at an adoption event and adopted her. I was so happy for her to have a chance, but sadly two weeks later Bella was returned for dog aggression that they could not control or felt they could not work with.
I was sad to hear the news that they could not keep her and wondered about her future. Now she had even more restrictions, now she needed a very experienced adopter who could handle a dog with aggression. Making matters worse, Bella was becoming extremely reactive in her kennel and going kennel crazy. We tried to give her puzzles and extra walks but it was only helping in spurts. Soon her kennel presentation became terrible and we on could show her by request.
In order to help with her kennel issues, I decided to foster her on nights in between days I worked, I soon found this amazing dog who was winning a place in my heart. Yes, her issues were there and they put stress on normal activities I wanted to do with my dog like hiking, biking, being active. The first time I took Bella on a trail was while I was fostering her and she tried to chase every squirrel and would explode at other dogs. While I was fostering her it did not help once I would bring her back to the shelter to hope she would get showed to an adopter. She began to snap at some people and the final straw was when Bella chased something that ran under the shelter wall and she began ripping wall. The shelter did not know what to do, and I knew there was only one option, I had to find a way to take her.
So I proceeded to convince my landlord, while still being a full-time student at a top 50 college in America, having to deal with school and this dog who needed A LOT of work. I did the first thing I had learned in dog training, I bought her a gentle leader and began using food reward to teach her commands and try to desensitize her. Soon I realized the food( i even went to grilled chicken) could not keep her focus on me and she would not pay attention in the presence of another dog or prey. She was well-trained though, everything I did was what some trainers would call perfect. She walked well on leash, listened the 8/10 times to all commands, but I still had to live around her issues.
This led to me finding better ways that could actually allow me to live my life with Bella. She could not be off leash when I rode the mountain bike trails or hiked, we couldn’t go out and sit outside, we couldn’t play with other dogs and be social. I know a lot of people felt the same way I did, trapped. I then learned about prong collars and remote collar or ecollar training. I learned from some trainers who could show me how to do it right, as I was a young trainer still learning. I read all the negative articles that people use to scare you into not using these tools. I was so hesitant, but then I began her training and it was like the clouds broke over my head.
We took it slow and with these tools, Bella soon began to come when called while we were hiking and biking. She then started to walk by other dogs with no reactions. I cried the first time she walked by another dog because it was such a strong emotion, I can only see it now in my clients I work with everyday. The biggest break came when Bella met her first friend, our neighbor allowed his dog to meet and we worked her through her initial reactions to get her to relax and she began to do the unthinkable, PLAY!
I had never been so happy in my entire life, I could now begin to socialize Bella, and really fine tune and bring her everywhere I wanted with complete control. We soon were able to play with a lot of other dogs, then we went to North Carolina and she played with even more dogs and was the cherry on top of her rehabilitation, she was a model dog who would make people laugh everywhere. She enjoyed even sharing a bedroom with a dog. So we went form a dog who could not even hear another dog without becoming intense to a dog sharing a bedroom and even her bed, all through simple changes in my training philosophy and tools I used. That is why I cannot fathom people who are talking so negatively about these literal life saving tools, or shame people who use them. They should be shamed for not allowing someone to actually be happy with their dog and making someone feel bad, nice people do not shame other people, they encourage them and help.
I am Sharing all of this information to most importantly inspire others with problems dogs to know that there is help out there. If someone tells you to keep your dog on a leash their whole life, or say they can never do something, don’t believe them! You can do anything you can’t with your dog, just find the right tools and dog trainers that will help you get there. Do what you need for your dog. I’m also sharing this to tell others to not buy into any scare tactics that you may hear about certain training tools, they are all in fact false. The only thing that is hurting your relationship with your dog, is keeping them at home, isolated because the situation and timing has to be perfect to take them out. We need to work our dogs through situations and feel confident we can. If people judge you on your dog, and what you do, well they do not have your dog and don’t live with those issues, keep doing what you’re doing! Bella Now helps us Rehabilitate other dogs just like her everyday, and show that any dog can live the life they deserve!