Mango came out of Gabbs, described by one of the ranch hands as "mean and dog aggressive".
His coat was bleached and matted and he had a sad face. There was something in his dull eyes that made me think really hard about taking him. So I brought him out of the pen on a leash and allowed my big yellow lab Teddy do an off leash temperament test on him, he passed that and deferred to Ted and so I also let Lucy my Border Collie cross matriarch out off leash. He gave to her as well, so I lifted him up into the back of the truck (I have a crate big enough for eight or nine dogs) and we drove back via Lake Alpine and camped overnight. He was doing great! I have a soft spot for Labs and somehow we connected.
Part of my rehabilitation protocol at my home is something called large field socialization and I work in an eighty acre field with a pack of between seven and fourteen dogs. The large area allows the dogs to relax and just run and play. If they feel intimidated or extra brave the large area allows them to select the dogs they want to meet and greet first and also allows them to give the more exuberant dogs a wide berth until they feel more confident. They use the space to manage the intensity of the energy in the group, spread out or move together, walk quietly sniffing the ground or play catch me if you can! We walk together around as a pack and I provide leadership for the group. Often times the dogs select from the group a playmate of matching energy and within two or three sessions even the shy dogs are getting involved with at least one other dog. Often they will pair up. Also there is the old two is company three is a crowd and one tries to join an existing pair, this often does not work, because the dynamic is different but it actually helps the dog gain calmness when they are ignored by the pair of best friends. When I let Mango off leash for the first time he took off and ran and ran away from the group for about 800 yards then stopped and turned and stood and watched. Waiting to see what I would do, expecting me to pay attention to him and follow him. I turned and walked in the opposite direction. he stood there for what seemed an eternity, then sniffed the ground, then looked up decided that he wanted to be with us and ran back to the group at full speed. Thankfully!
Early on, in spite of being a bulky dufus, Mango was pretty timid for a Lab and easily surprised, his first visit to the Orvis store was a typical Mango moment, being a Lab he was bouncy and pulling on the leash curious and sniffing until he sniffed a fishing net a little too hard and it crashed to the ground bringing several other display items down with it. He had a little panic attack but calmed down within a minute or two. He was a lot more careful with his body when we went in there again! Over a period of a few weeks he was socialized every day and gradually acquired his wonderful Labrador temperament, obedience training went well, leash training was a big step forward because he is a big boy and could pull like a steam train at first. He would drop his shoulder and pull towards whatever was interesting his nose at the time dragging whoever was on the other end of the leash along like a dragging anchor!
Any way Mango never showed any behavioral problems and once he had reduced his anxiety, built up his trust and acquired a solid foundation of obedience training he turned into a perfect dog. I came to the conclusion after a lot of testing that he did not have a mean bone in his body!
Off leash he started to respond well and I do try to work the dogs off leash as much as possible, easier with some dogs than others! My opinion is if your dog will not come with you off leash, you don't have a dog!
I invest a lot of myself into building the relationship with the dogs I rescue and the hard part is acknowledging when they are ready to take the next step and find a permanent home. While I am working with the dogs in public I often drop a hint that they might be ready soon so that I build up a list of potential families. Word of mouth is very valuable too, often people say that they know someone who might be interested. I interviewed a couple of potential families and then one of my contacts whose opinion I value contacted me saying they had a friend who was looking for a family dog. They lived in OC, quite a way from the Bay area but after a chat on the phone we decided that Mango would be a good fit. They had two boys who were in their early teens and he was still kind of bouncy, might have been a handful for younger kids, not mean or anything but they might have been knocked over!
Mango after his rehab and a few days before he went on to his forever home, a little wistful, I hope counting his blessings!
Mango on the road trip going down to OC
A little over a year has gone by and I had an email from the family today :
Mango is the most wonderful dog anyone could ever have. He is as much one of the family as we are. He goes everywhere we do. Camping , desert and Tahoe and Sierras. We could not have a better dog. Still the kisser and hugger. Attracts everyone. Loves doggie Park.
Aaah! Love Happy Endings!