It’s Been One Year And Gia Is Making Good Progress

As I press the “Publish” button to make this post live it is April 9th, 2024 and the 1 year anniversary of the day I decided to accept Gia into my life. A lot has happened with us in that first year and she has improved dramatically. In that time frame she and I have spent 24/7/359 together (I needed to spend a total of 6 nights elsewhere, without her) for various reasons. Since that first day I have been learning much more about her and have been compiling a long list of “issues” that we needed to work on and improve quickly.

The vast majority of those items are essentially null and void while we are out and away from the public in some beautiful, secluded spot. There I don’t have to pay close attention and worry about her reacting “poorly” to a strange dog or scary, new person. This is mainly to lessen the chances of an expensive and unwanted veterinary bill, either for her or the other dog. I also really don’t want a person who she has turned her fearful and aggressive reactions towards to, in response, hurt Gia with a thrown rock or aimed kick or whatever. That would likely devolve with my knee jerk reaction and raised voices and calls to the authorities and possible hospital bills et cetera.

The vet bill scenario is not just my imagination as we have now had one quick, little spat where the other dog ended up with a gash on her neck that eventually needed Veterinary attention.

Human fingers spreading black fur to show neck wound in dog
Neck Gash That Gia Caused

There were interesting and extenuating circumstances that led up to the altercation. The other dog, Luna, is a solid black, female German Shepherd about 7 years old who is very chill and sweet. Earlier in the day when she and Gia had met they got along fine even riding in Luna’s human’s truck up to an awesome spot overlooking South Lake Tahoe and across the lake for a spectacular sunset and then back down to our campsite again.

Pic from hills above and to the East looking out over South Lake Tahoe atsunset
Great Overlook For Sunsets

Even around the campfire where Luna blended into invisibility against the nighttime background all was fine. A bit later though Gia was sitting on her bed next to my tent and apparently Luna and her human walked by a bit too close for Gia’s comfort and a quick spat took place. I was in the tent and did not see the altercation but immediately shouted “Hey” in a command tone as did Luna’s human and that seemed to be the end of it. Even for the following hour or so back around the campfire Luna was laying in the dirt seemingly calm and content and Gia even wandered by her a couple of times with no obvious residual animosity between the two of them and so I thought that was the end of it. Several days later though, after the group had gone their separate ways, I got a text from a friend in the group showing the wound picture above.

I got in touch with Luna’s human, apologized profusely and unreservedly and offered to pay for any Vet bills incurred. They had both left on a business trip the day after the “incident” and he had cleaned the wound up and super glued it together after he found it. It eventually didn’t stay closed and so he ended up at his Vet. $145 later the Vet had declined to stitch it up because it was already healing a bit and he wanted it to continue to drain and only offered antibiotics for the minor infection. As far as unexpected Vet bills go that wasn’t too bad. A bit over a week later I inquired how Luna was doing and was told that the wound was closing up nicely and the puss discharge had stopped and so I now consider that incident closed.

Besides that spat Gia has had two more scuffles of note and both of them happened after dark as well. One was that same night, around the campfire in Tahoe but this time Gia attacked little Rayo, the dog Willow and I had rescued from Baja several years ago.

They had met before and that time they got along great and were running around and chasing each other just fine. Granted there was no food or other “resource” for Gia to guard and it was still daylight out. This time, in Tahoe, like the vast majority of her other spats, there was a lot of “scary dog fight sounds” and human shouts and then I pulled her off Rayo and not a drop of blood was spilled. It almost seems like she has her weird set of boundaries and when some dog steps over one of them she “attacks” in order to make a lot of scary, loud sounds and “make her point” without really wanting to do any physical damage. Still… unacceptable behavior and we will continue to work on that.

The other major spat happened after dark, with a “resource” to guard and the only injury was to two of my fingers when trying to pull Gia and Luna (a different dog named Luna) apart. Lots of blood and a nice line of dripping blood all the way into the house. Hurt a lot and felt much like the last time I got those same fingers slammed in a car door. The “resource” was the face of a toddler. Moments before both dogs had taken turns licking the giggling face and happily it was the other dog who went postal and who probably considered the baby her resource. The spat immediately moved away from the baby and continued for about 30 seconds until I got bit by Luna (I watched it happen in slo-mo), shouted in surprise and pain and finally just tackled Gia away.

composite of two pictures each showing dog bite wound on a single finger
Composite Picture Of Both Fingers About A Week After The Bite

The one on the left, the pointer finger on my right hand, was the worse of the two. It had actually been flayed open and had a flap of skin hanging down. In my non-professional medical opinion neither finger need stitches or any serious care though so I simply cleaned them out, bandaged them up, changed the bandages once a day and in about two weeks all was fine again. My fault for sticking my hand in between two fighting dogs and trying to grab the built-in handle on Gia’s Miles Tactical collar. Dumb. Next time I’ll grab the other dog… and stop having a resource worth guarding near Gia and another dog. No more baby faces… ever.

Even with this short, past history of altercations with other dogs (in dark conditions and/or tight quarters) I am completely comfortable taking her to a dog park to interact with new dogs and we have not had one incident that would cause me to reevaluate that belief. Her leash aggression has subsided by what I would consider about 85-90% even though she is rarely in a situation that calls for a leash. Her resource guarding, especially with dogs she knows has reduced by about the same percentage. She still has a bit of a desire to claim dominion over and defend “her area” and her food bowl but now I have learned to recognize her behaviors when she is about to “protect” either of those and can step in and defuse the situation before it erupts.

If she is on one side of a separator (fence or window) she seems to automatically think that any creature on the other side of that is scary or might be a threat and so starts barking and posturing enthusiastically… even if it is me, a member of my family or another human or animal friend of hers. We’re working on calming that down into just a simple, single “Alert Bark” behavior which is a useful reaction for me. For now that violent behavior is, at least confined to separate physical spaces and so nothing bad physically can occur in that situation.

My biggest challenge with Gia this first year is that, from day one, she has given off the vibes and demeanor of having an extreme prey drive. Freezing up, “pointing,” and staring HARD at the animal and chasing them if the opportunity presented itself. This is not conducive to making friends or getting other animals to trust her. This has been a frequent and continuing problem since my family and many friends have always kept cats as pets. Willow was welcomed at all houses with cats because she was such a chill, relaxed and friendly girl. Some cats actively liked her while the rest just recognized she was not a threat to them and easily allowed her presence in their respective realms. For me this has meant careful, active supervision and physically restraining or separating her from any animal that she focuses on in an uncomfortable or threatening manner. Finally, in the month of March this year I had the perfect opportunity to work on this issue in a deeply immersive environment, the 111 acre (~45 hectares) farm of a friend on the Eel river in Humboldt County, CA. It has as its animal residents, 2 litter mate dog brothers, two cats and a varying number of chickens.

2 cats on a counter
Emma & Ting’m The Resident Mousers

As I understand it “Ting’m” is a Jamaican phrase meaning, essentially, a Whatchamacallit or Thingamajig. He is well named as he is a cat but acts like a dog and is the boss of all the other animals on the farm.

3 chickens on a porch
Three chickens on a porch

I was extremely worried about how Gia would do with the cats and chickens especially. For the first few days I physically kept her away from the chickens and did my best with the cats. She got along fine with the dogs from day one.

3 dogs on a couch
From L to R, BamBam, Tank and my girl staring hard at a cat

Everything was going fine until one morning, as I was in the kitchen making coffee. As usual I had put Gia outside and she was extremely motivated to get inside and “see” the kitties. She had figured out how to come OUT the doggie door but not yet how to come IN so I thought the situation was safe.

Dog using dog door
Going Out Was Easy
dog looking through doggie door
Coming Back In Was Proving More Challenging
dog looking through window on door at cat on a counter
She Really Really Wanted to Meet Him

During the coffee-making process I turned around and was horrified to see Ting’m at my feet and that Gia had apparently learned how to use the flappy dog door to get back into the house just that second, crept up behind him and was enthusiastically and forcefully sniffing his behind.

Dog sniffing cat's butt
Ting’m Was Relaxed About The Encounter So I Was Too

Gia then stepped up to sniff his head and the big wound he had on his neck. She was very calm and so he was as well.

Dog sniffing cat faceAfter a few seconds Ting decided he had had enough, turned around and verbally told Gia to cut it out. As soon as he did that Gia’s tail began wagging and she sniffed him even harder and he responded by smacking her upside her nose but thankfully with his claws retracted. That, literally, seemed to be all the lesson she needed and from that moment on they got along fine, even getting to the point of sunning themselves or laying on a couch or bed right next to each other.

Cat on outdoor dog bed
Ting’m Commandeered Gia’s Outdoor Dog Bed

Even out and about Gia and Ting’m got along very well although there were a few remedial corrections when Ting needed to remind her of his feline supremacy. Gia even tried to get Ting to play a few times.

That sort of correction became rare and those videos below are more like their standard interactions going forward.

Now I need to extend all that progress she has made to my Sister’s cat and those of several other friends and family members. I expect her to shine in those situations as well… eventually.

Beyond the marked progress she has made in her animal interactions she’s also much better at greeting new people. She rarely starts off with growls or barking any more unless they arrive unannounced and then I want her to posture up and make some noise to alert me to their presence.

In the year that I’ve had her she has improved an amazing amount and is now considered a good and accepted family member who is allowed almost anywhere. She will only continue to improve in the coming years and I am very happy with her progress so far. Overall… Far beyond all my expectations and faster then I imagined.

“Good Girl G.”


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