Please help with advice - EXTREME fearful biting behavior
First of all, let me apologize in advance for the length of this post. I just want to try and give enough information about myself, my dog and the situation to hopefully elicit some learned advice from you experienced and very kind folks.
My name is Bill. I live in North Barrington, in a house in a semi-rural area, on about an acre of wooded land. (No fences in this neighborhood). I have had dogs all through my life, and as an adult, I agreed to "foster" a GSD mix from the shelter I was working at, he ended up being my best friend for an astonishing 17.5 years. He was fearful at snappy/growly at first, but quickly became very socialized with humans. Then, I "inherited" my mom's GSD-Husky mix when she had to go into a care facility. This dog was honestly the sweetest animal I have ever known, never showed any aggression or even growled at anything the entire time I was with her. She recently passed away just past her 13th birthday (approx.).
I also have a pet pigeon that I found in the park when I lived in Chicago. She is a Utility King pigeon, which is sort of like a white lab mouse in that she cannot survive in the wild. Someone had left her in a box on a park bench, and she had gotten out of the box and was just sitting, trembling on the box. To be honest, at first I thought she was a chicken, because I had never seen a pigeon that big. Anyway, that was 7.5 years ago. Pigeons mate for life, and she has decided I am her "mate." She stays on my desk all day in a repurposed cat bed (I work from home), and follows me everywhere. She is never caged, she has free run of the house. None of the dogs we have had have ever had a problem with her, they seemed to intuitively grasp she is part of the "pack," even though they loved to chase all the wildlife here outdoors.
Lastly, I am married and my wife is doing her medical residency in Kentucky right now. We see each other about once a month. While she has been in Kentucky, she adopted a dog about to be euthanized at a local shelter. He is an 8 year old "lab mix" very friendly, loves all people and dogs (and pigeon) --like traditional labs.
So, after the Husky mix passed away, about one month ago I adopted a dog from a shelter here. He was listed as a "GSD mix," he looks like a GSD, but is very slight compared to a "regular" sized GSD. He was about 62 emaciated pounds when I got him, now he is closer to 70. The shelter had no information about him whatsoever. He was brought in by the police as a stray. He is estimated to be 3-4 years old. The only item on his sheet was "NO KIDS" in large red letters, but no explanation. He had been at the shelter only about 10 or 11 days, and it was clear to me he was not doing well in that environment. He was not wagging and jumping to greet people walking past his kennel, he was just kind of sitting in the back looking down.
I walked him on two separate days and he seemed alert and guardedly friendly. He was VERY shy of hands, if I extended a hand to pet him, he would cower and wince like he was expecting a blow. I kind of held back and let him come to me at his own pace. Also, I did notice he was drooling quite a bit, but the shelter volunteer told me that was because he was excited and nervous. Later I discovered that his right upper canine tooth is broken off just above the gum line. (As part of the adoption contract, the shelter will pay for their vet clinic to do an extraction. I will get to that part later, but for the time being he is taking light pain meds even though showing no sign of swelling or discomfort at all and enjoys chewing with great gusto.) Because of the missing canine, his upper lip often gets caught awkwardly, which causes the drooling.
After I adopted him, the shelter kept him to send to their vet hospital the next day to be neutered and to get his full battery of vaccinations. I was told to call the hospital around noon and they would give me a time to pick him up after his surgery. The vet doing the surgery called me around 8:30 and asked me if I was aware he was "extremely aggressive." I said no, I had no idea. She said that when they were getting him ready for his surgery, she "tried to take her face off, as in 'seriously', not a warning." She asked me if I wanted them to just send him back to the shelter, because she thought he was a "dangerous animal." I replied that I would try to work with him, and since, for the time being at least, I live alone with no other people or dogs and no small children, I could give him plenty of time, and, depending on how things develop, work with a trainer on socialization down the line.
I brought him home, he was in a drug haze, I had prepared a metal wire crate in the bedroom for him, he was fine in it the first night. He showed no aggression toward me at all. I gave him the name "Wheelie."
Since that had gone well, I let him have the run of the bedroom the next day, with his crate to return to if he needed or wished. I still did not even know if he was housebroken at this time. At night, he did not want to go back into his crate, but wanted to sleep on the bed with me.
(As an aside, I know that some people believe that dogs should not sleep on the human bed, it confuses the idea of who is in charge of the pack, etc. Personally, all of my dogs have been allowed to sleep on the bed with me and then, after I was married, me and my wife. We have never had any difficulties from this, the dogs usually lean against our legs, or sleep on the foot of the bed.)
I allowed him to sleep on the bed, and he huddled against me the entire night. He seemed to bond very quickly, to the point where he does not want me out of his sight, even when I go into the bathroom. If I do close a door, he is fine, does not whine or scratch, just waits on the other side of the door.
He was, and is, exceptionally interested in the pigeon, but he has displayed no aggression toward her. He wants to get close to examine her, but I do not let him, and she puffs up and threatens him with wing slaps if he gets too close.
Two other items of note: he appears to be housebroken, he had one accident day 2, and then, a few days later I had not let him out for awhile to pee, and he cocked his leg on our bookcase. I was surprised, and exclaimed --but did not shout or scream or bellow in any way -- "NO!" When I did, he immediately stopped and fell to his belly and crouched into a ball and winced. Right away, I took him outside and praised him for peeing when he finally did. He has not had any other accidents, but another time when I sharply said "No!" to him, he collapsed again into the quivering ball. It is very sad to see and makes me really wish I could go back in time and materialize right when whoever abused him was about to do so, but that is my own hang up.
The other thing that he is extremely, violently carsick. It appears he is more afraid of the car that actually a victim of motion sickness. Twice I have taken him in the car, once to try and show him good places are gone to in the car, and another time to the vet for his tooth, and both times he was very agitated just getting in the car, and then continued to get more and more agitated until he vomited numerous times. Seven times on the trip to and from the vet. Again, because he did not react that way when I initially brought him home form his surgery, I suspect it is a mix of fear and motion issues. I got Benadryl and was going to begin just having him sit in the car, going nowhere, then around the block, etc. working our way up to trips to drive thru windows for doggie hamburgers, but the other events have kind of put that on hold.
We have neighbors who have a partially fenced area in their yard that they let their dogs out in, they have an older Chesapeake Bay Retriever which is very old and immobile and incontinent and also one about 3-4 years old which is very healthy and active and about 125 lbs. Wheelie had met this dog, Marley, out walking on leash (I have a 6ft lead and a harness) and he loved the dog. He wanted to play very badly, doing play bows and stop and start running, etc. (In may ways, with dogs, I thought he was like an unsocialized puppy that just wants to platy all the time). One day a little over a week ago, I was walking and the neighbor lady, Maud, who walks Marley was out in the yard with him and also her husband, who was grilling. Because Wheelie loves Marley so much, when I take him out, if he thinks Marley is outside in the yard, he will not do any business, just looks for him. So, she asked me to bring Wheelie into the yard, since Marley used to play with the older dog and now misses that he cannot play any longer. I brought him into the yard and he and Marley played for about 15 minutes, they played with a ball, "keep away" from each other, "chase" taking turns chasing each other, the usual doggie play games. Wheelie is exceptionally fast but did not seem to be trying to be dominant all the time. He seems to like Maud because she gives him treats and he greeted and was briefly petted by Ken.
Then when we were getting ready to go, I had put clipped Wheelie's leash back on his harness, and he was running around the back yard, and he started to pee on a new tree Ken had planted, and all three of us yelled "No!" not bellow, just a surprised No! And Wheelie cowered and was slinking away. Ken stepped on his leash to keep him from running, and walked into his space looking down at him with his arms raised. Both Maud and I told him not to do that, because Wheelie had turned to face him, stock still with his tail curled underneath his legs. They locked eyes, and then the moment was over. Wheelie then froze and stared at Ken and then leapt at him, trying to bite him, apparently in the throat. Ken was wearing a short sleeve shirt and it had two large holes in the sleeve from Wheelie almost getting him.
Then, a few days later, my neighbor on the other side, John, was out. He likes to always come over and talk, he likes his tipple too, so usually a little in the bag. He was definitely on this occasion. He likes Wheelie, and Wheelie has always been indifferently friendly toward him. He is one of those people who (foolishly) "pets" dogs by grabbing their head and shaking it and hard patting on the head. He started doing that to Wheelie, and I asked him to stop. After a bit he did. I was holding Wheelie, who had not tried to get away or shown any emotion while that "petting" was going on, even though I was backing away and John was following us. Then Wheelie looked up at John and did that same freeze and thousand yard stare at him. I told John to back away quickly, and I grabbed as much of Wheelie's leash as I could and he leapt in the air, snarling, trying to go for John's throat. Because I had choked up on the leash at the last moment, he fell short of any contact, but he meant it.
Both of those incidents, immediately after I gave Wheelie strong "No!" correction, which resulted in him cowering and cringing.
My wife was coming into town this Wednesday evening, bringing her dog Snow, she was going on a flight to WA where she has accepted a job and we will be moving sometime this autumn. Just had to fly there for one day for licensing and credentialing. Needless to say, she was a little concerned after I told her about these two incidents. She arrived very late, around 1 am. I thought it would be best if Wheelie and Snow met outside the house for the first time, so I brought him out on lead to meet her first, then she was going to let Snow out of the car.
I was relaxed with the lead, she was calm and speaking softly to him, as was I. He looked at her for a few seconds, then did that freeze and lunged for her, but I held him back. She was afraid--correctly--so that evening she slept with Snow in our bedroom and I stayed with Wheelie in the guest bedroom.
She left the next morning. Snow and Wheelie had been apart, but now we left them together, since they seemed to be getting along quite well. This was Thursday. They were both fine, Wheelie wanted to play with Snow more than Snow did, Snow growled at him when he did not want to be bother, and Wheelie seemed to understand and leave him alone.
When discussing what to do, we had talked about buying a muzzle, so hopefully Wheelie could be around my wife and perhaps get a bit acclimated. So, Friday night (last night) after I picked her up at the airport, she came home and I put the muzzle on him (I had put it on him earlier in the evening, giving him praise so he would not associate the muzzle with her). She was sitting on the bed in the bedroom, and he came running into the bedroom and jumped up on the bed, wagging. She was still nervous and asked me to have him give her space on the bed. As I was coming to get him, he did the same freeze thing, and went for her. She jumped up and he was trying to bite her through the muzzle. She was wearing a skirt and tights, and he managed to leave two toothmarks on her upper thigh, one just a depression and the other like a blood blister.
Again, we slept in different rooms with the dogs. This morning, we went to breakfast, after a long walk with the dogs together, where Wheelie did not pay attention to her, but she did not get close to him either. When we got back from breakfast, we found Snow bleeding from multiple bites on his head, ears and neck. We took him to my vet, who agreed to see him this afternoon without an appointment, and they did $200 worth of work, none of the bites were deep, but that had to shave parts of his head and neck and glue the wounds closed, as well as his ears have severe hemotomas from years of neglect before my wife adopted him, both ears had surgery after she got him, the hematomas were bleeding as well.
In retrospect, it was certainly foolish to leave them alone together, but he had never shown any aggression toward any other dog, and had been with Snow for almost three days, getting along fine.
After we returned from the vet, I moved Wheelie to the basement, which is the size of our house, partially finished. The W/D is here, storage, a queen size bed, several dog beds, etc. I put his food down there, and some toys and played with him for awhile. He is very sweet and gentle and playful with me, but he is a clear danger to other people and dogs. I do not know if my wife will ever be able to trust him again. The bite of her was bad, but what he did to her dog was worse in her eyes.
Thus, I need some advice from you all. I do not know what to do at all. I do not want to fail this dog like people have in the past. The shelter of course will take him back, but a) he does not do well in that environment, and b) with serious "biter" on his record, I don't think he would ever get adopted, and if he did, someone would probably just mistreat him more. Thus, he would either have to spend the rest of his life miserable in a shelter kennel surrounded by barking dogs that make him nervous, with no hope of being adopted, or probably put down at some point as "unadoptable."
I desperately do not want that fate for him. He really is a sweet, good, intelligent dog that wants very much to please. But right now, he cannot be trusted at all around humans or dogs.
I have read many of the posts on this thread, about other people with "fearful" or "aggression issues" dogs. As I am sure probably everyone says, I do not feel like my exact situation has been discussed in such a way that I can take that advice and apply it to this situation. I am asking for any and all advice, comments, suggestions, etc. I really want what is best for this poor doggie, but also need to keep my family and other people and animals safe.
If you have read this far, I thank you very much and again apologize for such a long post. Thanks in advance, too, for your help.