Sophie’s Story

Sophie was a 6-month old “lab mix.”
black shepherd dog head
I’m guessing she was labeled lab mix because she was black. At the time I met her, we took her to a grassy patch in the middle of the shelter and she rolled over and let us pet her belly. She seemed friendly, and she looked like a shepherd to me and I knew shepherd’s were smart. I thought I had the makings of a great agility dog.
sophie jumping up on an oak tree
Sophie had great form for being fast
This, unfortunately, did not prove to be the case. Sophie was not a nice dog. She was very smart. But she was dominant aggressive. She growled and attacked any dog that dared approach her. Whenever we took her out hiking, we’d have to be on alert for other peoples’ off-leash dogs that would run up the trail. “[Buddy] is friendly,” they’d call out. Great. Meanwhile, a family member would move to intercept the friendly dog and I’d drag Sophie 15 feet into the woods and put her in a choke hold until the people passed so that she couldn’t lunge for their dog.
Sophie also bit people. She’s bitten friends who’ve come into our house unannounced. She’s bitten my Dad hard enough to draw blood, twice. Lord forbid you sit down on the couch and place you feet nearby her while she slept, she’d lash out at you for invading her space. We’d have to muzzle her at the vet so they could draw blood for heart worm tests. She fought that tooth and nail and released her anal glands. I didn’t even know dogs did that until after I had Sophie! After that, the vet gave her tranquilizers whenever we needed to draw blood. Sophie did not especially like being touched. At first it was just her feet, but it got worse as she got older. My father describes Sophie as being the dog version of autistic. She was very smart, but did not like people, or other dogs. Sometimes she liked being petted, but only when she approached you.
sophie lying on the porch
However, I tried to make it work. This was MY dog, after all. I wanted to do dog agility and all I had was Sophie.
I took her to an obedience class run by a dog trainer who taught out of the basement of an animal hospital. That class probably made things worst, but I had just gotten Sophie and did not yet know the extent of her behavioral issues. There were too many dogs in the class for the size of the room. Dogs were less than three feet apart, and when Sophie growled and snarled at other dogs, I was instructed to shove two fingers down her throat and gag her. Or pin her to the floor. Having since read the Monks of New Skete, I understand the philosophy the trainer was trying to instill, but it did not work on Sophie, and it did not improve her relationship with me.
Yet, still I tried. I took her to multiple agility classes. She learned all the obstacles and she was good at it. But she only did it when she felt like it. My agility instructor described her as a “bungee dog” because she’d do a couple pieces of equipment, go do her own thing, come back do another jump, and then run off course again. I took her to exactly one trial. I was so stressed, because it wasn’t fenced, she wasn’t wearing a collar, and here we were surrounded by tons of dogs. Of course, she didn’t listen and immediately ran off course into the crowd, but luckily my parents caught her before she instigated anything.
As an added bonus, Sophie took everything she ever learned in agility and started applying it to escape every enclosure that we kept her inside. She jumped fences, dug holes out, clawed the chain mesh off the dog kennel gate so she could squeeze out, and even bit onto fences with her teeth and kept pulling until they snapped. The electric fence usually kept her in, but occasionally the wires would break, and the fence would go down. Sophie was always listening. You’d see her inching towards the roading listening for the beeping and if she heard nothing, she’d run for it. At one point, we built the mother of all dog kennels just to keep her enclosed. We buried two-by-fours under the kennel panels, buried rocks under the kennel door, paneled chicken-wire against a gate that lead into the horse pasture, and then because we were worried she’d be able to jump it, extended a five foot high horse fence by another foot upwards.
Sophie standing in the snow
Three years I tried to train Sophie for agility. It was not meant to be.
Sophie lived to be 15 years old. She had a decent life, all things considered. I did not try to train her for any more dog sports. She lived out her days on the farm. We kept her inside the house, attached to a lead line on the porch, or in the kennel because you couldn’t trust her not to attack passersby. She was happiest in her crate with a full dish of food. (Sophie got a bit neurotic if she could see the bottom of her dish, because she seemed to believe it might be the last dish of food she ever received and she wanted it completely full at all times.)
By the time I gave up on my dream of doing agility with Sophie, Sally had passed away due to old age, and Rocky had passed away from lymphoma. We were always more of a two-dog family, so we began looking for a second dog. Enter Toby.

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