This is the story of Cody, a dog who was resilient enough to overcome terrible adversity, forgiving enough to trust again and loving enough to become an ambassador for his breed and abused animals everywhere.
Cody was brought to the shelter by the police who had found him tied to a tree. He was frightened, confused and for the first week at the shelter cowered at the back of his kennel. Canine Services assessed him and found him to be hand shy, he would growl when given a command and quickly became territorial in his run. Because they feared he would bite, he was handled by Canine Services only. He progressed from hiding in the back of his run to growling and lunging at anyone unfamiliar to him.
After a period of time, Canine Services asked me if I was willing to take him to Sam Malatesta’s training classes. I was introduced to Cody just two days before our first class. He was indeed very hand shy, had a terrible habit of biting his leash, and, as I discovered over the coming weeks, would not allow me to touch the back-half of his body. The first day in class he could not sit still and he tried to attack another dog and snapped at another handler. It was impossible to work with him in class, in his anxiety he would bite and thrash around on the leash in a mad fury. I remember Sam asking if I was strong enough for this dog.
For the next six months Cody and I attended class every Tuesday and I worked with him at the shelter twice a day, every day. At first it was difficult to get his focus. Sam’s method uses food to initially connect with the dog but Cody was too nervous to take anything from me. Hot dogs, cheese, sandwich meats, I tried anything and everything, but nothing worked. We didn’t give up and when he finally became interested in food, the training quickly fell into place. It was now easy to distract him from other dogs and people; as his main objective was to eat. He began to really improve in class.
The problem then became the shelter environment. Dogs are pack animals and being isolated from humans and surrounded by other dogs, the stress really began to take its toll. He developed “kennel rage” and the animal care workers were afraid of him. If they tried to remove him from his run he would panic and become aggressive. In his efforts to attack the other dogs, and to find some relief from his anxiety, he would sink his teeth into anything that he could reach.
In his run he'd spend his days either spinning or licking the walls. There were always large puddles of drool on the floor and he was once again exhibiting stress in class. He was anxious and frustrated and his focus was going downhill. We knew we'd have to get him adopted before the stress from the shelter became too much. At this point he had been there for about eight months.
He was finally adopted to a man that had previously adopted a difficult dog with great success. A month later he was returned. The man said his wife was afraid of him and he could not crate Cody because he always managed to break out – in one instance he had “eaten” their couch. After this incident they kept Cody in the garage. He ingested transmission fluid and began to seizure. They brought him back to the shelter and he was transported to the emergency clinic for treatment. When he returned to the shelter a few days later, he was a different dog. When I discovered he had been returned I went to see him. This was the one and only time he tried to attack me. I had put my hand in his run; he looked me dead in the eye, stiffened his body, and lashed out. I was able to move quickly enough to avoid being bitten but I was nonetheless shocked. It was his first day back from the clinic and he was clearly a mess from the seizures. The next day I took him out with a member of Canine Services and he was much better with me.
Cody and I returned to class a few days later. He was terrible. His dog aggression was through the roof and his human aggression was chilling. He couldn't sit still and would bark, spin, cry and make the weirdest noises I have ever heard. Good days of training were few and far between and at the shelter he was worse than ever. The breed ban had just been passed in Ontario and I was afraid that if he bit anyone that they would be forced to put him down. This fear drove me to convince my husband to let me bring him home as a foster.
I thought being in a home would give him the chance to “breathe” that he so badly needed but the first month was extremely stressful for him. In his crate he'd lick all day long, on the street he would lunge at people and other dogs. I couldn’t help but wonder how I got myself into this and what could I possibly do to fix something so far gone.
Cody and I continued to attend Sam’s classes and we worked fervently at home. The process was slow but every small step forward gave me hope.
After a lot of hard work and as we began to understand each other, Cody began to settle into life at home. At first we crated him a great deal as I didn’t know how he would get on with my cat. We soon discovered that Cody would not go up or down stairs in the house. We would do everything to encourage him even using food but he’d have no part of it. One night after Cody lived with us for about 3 months we had my sister and her husband over. Our living room is upstairs and that’s where we were spending the night. Cody, not wanting to be alone, finally climbed up the stairs. It took him about 15 minutes and he came up backwards. It was the cutest thing. We were so proud of him and it was obvious he was pretty pleased with himself. Soon after this he discovered the futon that we use for company and which became his bed. He’d sneak up at night and back down in the morning before we got up and before we could notice. Our bedroom is in the basement and he never did come downstairs on his own. When I went to bed at night, he’d lay down at the top of the stairs and be waiting to greet me in the morning. Some nights he’d even bring his own blanket to sleep on!
One night my husband discovered a scar under Cody’s chin and across his neck. It boggles my mind that it had gone unnoticed. The scar was very thick and it looked as though his skin had been ripped open. As well, the hair surrounding the scar grew in a strange pattern. There's been a lot of speculation as to what happened to Cody before the day he was found tied to that tree. Many believe he was used as a bait dog or that he was subjected to the dog fighting rings – something I think about far too often. The truth is I'll never know for sure. What I do know is that what he went through wasn't pleasant, to say the least. By working with him, learning how to “read” him, and letting him set the pace - he could be healed. Instead of focusing on his past I would have to deal with the present and work on changing how he reacted to different situations. To realize that, yes, he was trying to tell me something and by focusing on the moment, instead of trying to see into the past, we'd get there.
A few more months went by and he began to out-perform the other dogs in class. His obedience work was incredible; however, if he wasn't 'working' he was spinning and barking. On the street his lunging decreased. Instead of outright attacking other dogs, he would “stare them down” in the hopes of inciting a reaction and providing himself with an excuse to retaliate.
It’s at this point that a trainer with very poor methods came into the picture. I won’t go into all the details of how this came to fruition but he made the decision to subject Cody to an aggression test. This took about two minutes and resulted in such negative effects that it took months to repair the damage. I stopped the test after only a couple of minutes because I couldn’t figure out what he was doing and why. I was naïve enough that he was able to convince me of its validity. He explained to me that I needed to realize what my dog was capable of doing and to see what I was really dealing with. The test involved the trainer approaching Cody in an aggressive manner. Initially, Cody handled it well. He hid behind me but the trainer kept calling to him and eventually Cody lunged. I’m ashamed to say that I let this happen and didn’t stop it until the damage was done.
The next day Cody tried to bite a man that had extended his hand to pet him. He also tried to bite Diane, someone he had known for a while and that helps Sam with his training classes. Over the next couple of weeks he repeatedly tried to attack Sam’s dog, Ettra, as well as other dogs in the class.
It took hours and hours of work to correct the damage and the proof of our success became evident about five months later. While walking Cody, a man approached and attempted to mug me. Cody simply sat at my side watching me and waiting to see how I would handle the situation. I was so proud of him – so proud of the trust he had in me.
This is when it all started to fall into place. There are a lot of dogs in my neighborhood and many that run around off leash. A number of these dogs are aggressive and there were numerous times, almost weekly, that a dog would approach aggressively and I would chase them away while Cody waited trustingly at my side. He didn’t even attempt to intervene. In class, he was the star...well beside Sam's dogs of course! He stopped lunging out and started coming to me when called or when he was unsure. I was able to put him in a down-stay, leave the area and allow dogs to walk around him. Whenever it became too much for him, instead of attacking, as he once would have, he’d come and find me. I had become his safe place.
One of the most remarkable things about Cody was how he had developed a calming affect on some dogs. This wasn’t with every dog but I would have people who we would see often on our walks say that Cody had a way of settling their dogs down. There were even some dog-aggressive dogs that would be angels in his presence. He would give out his calming signals and they’d respond beautifully. His best bud was a Lab named Diesel and the two of them would walk together a few times a week, increase their empire and Cody would use Diesel’s body to try to nudge the muzzle off his head (they are required by law.)
My friends, family and neighbors all fell in love with him. Friends would come over give him a bunch of commands and watch him work. I was always hearing how he was the smartest, sweetest, most gentle dog. About a year and a half of having him with us as a foster dog, we made the decision adopt him. We knew we could never give him up and wanted him to officially be “our dog”. To describe his behavior in the house is to say he was a dream. He was the most well mannered dog I've ever seen. He obeyed everyone and never once took anything that wasn’t given to him. We could leave him alone in a room with a plate of food on the floor and he wouldn’t touch it. Cody treated my cat, Calvin, with the utmost respect and they developed an incredible relationship.
We made a huge leap of faith and started socializing him with children. This was slow but he was incredible. I'll never forget how he would “melt” when my cousin's five year old would put his hands on him. With my nephew's, he was always gentle, careful, and gave the sweetest kisses.
What amazed me most about Cody was how forgiving he was. It was clear that he had been betrayed, handled horrifically and never socialized. Still, he only ever wanted to please. He never wanted to upset anyone and once he understood right from wrong, he always made the right decision. Cody would never go on furniture unless he was invited and still acted as though he shouldn’t be on it. When he was on the couch with us and my cat would walk in the room he’d quickly get off the couch and lay on the floor.
Last August Cody was diagnosed with Canine Lymphoma. We knew euthanasia would be our only option. He had already gone through so much in his short life it was important to us to safeguard him from any unnecessary pain. He hung in for a few months doing his best to hide his pain, but even with our help and support, we all knew we were losing parts of him everyday. His greatest joy, the thrill of the chase, dwindled to apathy. (This excludes chasing and getting a rat in my back yard the last week of his life. Thank God for two years of training - his recall after cornering it and biting it was wonderful, or maybe it just didn't taste as good as he hoped!) His love of food was next to go. Only the steak we made for him the night before his passing seemed to peak his interest over the last few weeks (the little guy also finished mine that night!) And his love of companionship, that he had learned was possible while he was with us, dissipated as he seemed to just want to go out on his own (or maybe he just got sick of me as I took that last week off work to maul him and do all his favorite things). The night before we brought him in it became clear to us we were making the right decision; the tumors in his neck had grown so large that he could barely catch his breath while lying down. This was tough on us and certainly much harder on him - not that he ever let on. He was brave and courageous until the very end, but never let his guard down. He showed no fear and I am so proud of the dog he had become over the past year, fearless and patient. It was important to us that he go with the dignity, respect and zest for life he embodied. He had suffered enough in this life and it was the last gift we could give him.
I am very grateful to Sam, Diane and Rodger who supported and encouraged us through 2 years of training classes. Their guidance and understanding became the foundation Cody and I built upon. I am also very thankful to my friends and family who were such a big part of Cody’s socialization. We could not have done this without these wonderful souls.
Cody taught me so many things and I am so grateful for the time spent with him. He was my best friend. I only wish he was still in my life. It was a relationship like all good ones... It needed work and was built on trust and patience. I miss him dearly. He was a fighter and a survivor and I am so proud and honored to have had him in my life.