When author and special ed. teacher, Sheri Levy first offered to share the story about her dog Mulligan, she was worried that his ordeal wouldn’t fit in with the theme of special needs pets that I focus on for Lessons From A Paralyzed Dog. Then it occurred to me the label of “special needs” doesn’t just apply to a physical or medical handicap; it also applies to animals with “emotional special needs” after being abused or neglected. So here is Mulligan’s story of recovery after being isolated and abused most of his life.
by Sheri Levy
One morning a brief email-appeared–“This male dog needs to be rescued.” The accompanying photo of a stunning tri-colored Australian shepherd with one sky, blue eye and the other dark amber filled my screen. Mesmerized, curiosity defeated my reservations and I asked for details.
The next day, my dog-trainer friend accompanied me to the dog’s location. The dog lived in a dirt pen, isolated from people. Eventually, someone caught him, hauled him to the front fenced yard, and plopped him on the ground. He ran every direction except towards us. He seemed terribly fearful, but non-aggressive. I sensed severe emotional issues and needed my husband’s involvement. Two days later, he met the dog and carried him to our car.
I had taught emotionally challenged students using positive reinforcement. My students learned if they controlled their behavior, they earned rewards and special privileges. I ignored unwanted behavior and tried to catch a positive activity. The moment a student began working, paying attention, or sitting quietly, brought immediate praise and reward. This dog needed the same type of encouragement as my students.
We named him, Mulligan, hoping to give him a second chance at life. Thrilled he enjoyed food, it gave me a positive way change his behavior. The day we brought Mulligan home, he connected with me. We bathed him for the first time, using many treats. That night, I held him in my arms and spoke in whispers. He had been abused by a man, and kept his distance from Murphy for many, long months. Thinking a training class would help the two bond, back fired. The trainer only wanted to jerk Mulligan and make him obey. I located a new trainer who used positive reinforcement. And our wonderful journey began, but with numerous pot holes and detours.
I also had much to learn. Mulligan had never interacted with people, only with other dogs by nipping and using his body language. With help from my trainer, Sue Conklin, I learned he was being reactive, not aggressive. Sue taught me how to change unwanted behavior by using the Choice Method. That was almost like using magic tricks on him and he learned to control his actions. In time, Mulligan looked at Murphy, followed his directions, entered the same room, and played catch the popcorn. Mulligan learned good things came from Murphy’s hand.
Nothing was ever forced and Mulligan learned to trust. We learned about patience, persistence, and unconditional love. We can now safely travel with him. Mulligan loves the attention and anticipates being petted. He will never be 100% safe around small children, or unleashed in new situations, so it’s our responsibility to keep him safe.
Agility and Rally helped his confidence, and taught both of us how to connect and learn commands. He is an amazing dog, smart, and enjoys affection. It was a lot of work, depressing and frustrating at times, and now we look at him and say, “Can you believe this is the same dog we brought home?”
You can read more about Sheri Levy on her website: www.sherislevy.com. Her new book, Seven Days to Goodbye, will be released this summer. Here is a brief description:
After Trina’s beloved dog dies, she swears she’ll never get another one. But then she learns about service dogs, and realizes that if she becomes a Puppy Raiser, she could train puppy after puppy and never worry about them dying. But like all great ideas, this one has a serious flaw: her first service puppy must be returned to his kennel at the end of their week-long summer vacation on Edisto Island… and saying goodbye to Sydney is going to be much tougher than she ever imagined.
Related Story: Paralyzed Street Dog Travels From Taiwan For A Second Chance – I’d love to hear the story of your special needs pet and share it on the website. Send us an email on the Contact Us page. You may have some tips that will be helpful to another pet guardian of a special needs animal.