Amstaff, dog rescue, foster fail, fostering, Frankie, Pit bull, training

Beware of Dog/s?

Over the weekend, Nick posted a Beware of Dog sign on our driveway.


He did it in response to the fact that two of our neighbors were burglarized, but he also did it because legally it’s a good idea. You should be aware of my dogs.

It’s a sign we should have posted long ago since Lucy bit the UPS guy and Gracie tried to bite the Fed Ex man (and bit me instead when I stepped between them). And now Frankie is following their tradition, threatening everyone who comes near.

If he’s given a slow introduction on his terms, Frankie is a lover, welcoming all guests, but people who arrive unannounced or approach him before he has a chance to approach them, get a much fiercer welcome.

This behavior turned up right around Frankie’s first birthday and I was distraught. What had I done? He’d been socialized at home and out in public, and done beautifully. He was a rockstar at doggie classes, even earning his Canine Good Citizenship certificate.

canine good citizen (2)

With us and with people he accepts into the house, he is all love. Keeping his happy kisses out of people’s faces is the biggest challenge.

Where was this aggressive/defensive behavior coming from? Was it because he was a ‘teenager’? Or were people right – it’s the breed?

Frankie is a pitbull. He’s got the big head and the muscular physique and the intensity and over-the-top affection that are trademarks of the breed. Does he also have the attitude assumed of all pitbulls by an ignorant public? Am I wrong about this breed?

All summer, I’ve been distressed – what happened to my sweetheart dog who loves everyone? I don’t want the judgmental people to be right. I was certain Frankie would prove them wrong. I’ve lost sleep and spent tears on this. I love my wubba bubba. I’ve done everything you’re supposed to do to raise a loving, friendly dog. Why wasn’t that enough?

I guess what happened is Frankie grew up, and as he was growing up he had Gracie and Gala as he role models. Gracie and Gala do not automatically trust people. They bark first and wag later. They are fierce in their defense of what’s theirs. Frankie loves them both with absolute devotion. It was inevitable that he would want to be like them.

It took Oreo’s presence at our house for me to realize this. Oreo loves EVERYONE.


He might be the biggest dog in this house right now, but he is no guard dog. In fact, I’ve heard him bark exactly once. And it was a ‘don’t pet her, pet me’ plea when Ian’s friends went through the baby gate and left him so they could pet Gracie.

In just a few days of witnessing Oreo as he greets people, Frankie is softening. There was no growling or threatening when he met new people who came to the house on Saturday evening. He still jumped on them and tried to kiss their faces and goosed them when they turned around to avoid his leaping love. But at least there were no bared teeth.

Can Oreo re-program him?


I don’t know. I’m not counting on it.

I’ve also been plying Frankie with high-value treats whenever he meets new people. We’re back in doggie school taking a class called ‘Try It’ which consists of an introduction to Rally Obedience, Tricks, and Nosework classes. Frankie is happy and shining at class. (that’s him in a clothes basket I asked him to get into during Tricks class – see how focused and obedient he is?)


Dogs are work. No one should ever think otherwise. They are intelligent and emotional creatures who need us to nurture and instruct and challenge them. If we don’t, it’s our fault and not theirs when they misbehave.

I’ve always wondered why there are so many 1-2 year old dogs in the shelters. Witnessing Frankie’s transition to that age—I understand. Housebreaking and leash training is nothing compared to adolescence. Now is when the real work begins.

Let me update you on the fosters –

DSC_5811Flannery Oconner went home to have a happy, busy life in a home with four kids! They met her at my signing event last weekend and on Saturday they came to take her home. They seemed more than prepared, but I’m guessing a family with four young kids will take one more right in stride. I am thrilled for her – she deserves the awesome forever family she got. What a great pup!

The puppies are ridiculously cute. Their eyes are open and they are getting even more vocal. Dixie is a good mama, but she’s still shy and skittish when away from the puppies. It will be interesting to see what happens when weaning starts.

Dixieland is finally gaining some weight and so are her babes. All but one are thriving and fat. Little Ramblin Man is struggling.

I’ve started attempting to bottle feed him, but so far that isn’t going so well. He’s also getting some alone time with mom. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with him except he isn’t growing as fast as the others and has less body fat and muscle tone.

This happens with puppies sometimes, it’s labeled ‘failure to thrive’ and there is no real explanation for why it happens. He loves to snuggle with his siblings and loves to burrow to the bottom of the pile for warmth. His fury when I attempted to bottle feed him, bodes well for his fighting spirit. I’m hoping we can pull him through this, but at the same time I would ask for your prayers.

And Oreo.


If you follow the Another Good Dog facebook page, you may have noticed, I don’t post much about him. For now, I’m keeping him top secret. There are forces in my home that are pushing for a foster fail and my will is weakening with every day.

This dog is amazing. He’s easily the best-behaved dog in our house and sets a great example for Frankie with his attitude. He’s a dog I could train to be a therapy dog – something I’ve dreamed of doing. He’s a dog I could take everywhere – he loves to hike and explore, greets everyone with the same friendly love, doesn’t jump up or pull on the leash. He doesn’t chase the cat and this morning on our walk when we encountered deer – he didn’t even try to chase them. Squirrels are his kryptonite, but squirrels are understandable, he is a dog after all.

I can’t justify three dogs in our house, but at the same time I’ve felt the pull of this dog since the day I met him in the Anson, North Carolina shelter in August.



He still has a long road until he is adoptable anyway – his heartworm treatment scheduled for Halloween. So I’ve got some time to think on this. I’m hoping the ‘way is made clear’ as the Quakers say.


Note: Next week’s post might be a few days late. On Sunday, I fly to LA to be a guest on the Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family show. Super excited. Super nervous. Please don’t mention it because it makes me anxious just thinking about it. If you want to follow along, I’ll be posting pictures on my writer Facebook page.

I’ve got a busy weekend coming up. Hope to see you at one of these adventures:

Saturday October 13 – Shrewsbury Family Pet Shop. We’ll have adoptable dogs and information on volunteering and fostering with OPH from 10-12. Edith Wharton will be available to pawtograph your books the entire time, but I’ll only be there from 10-11:15.

Saturday October 13 – Barnes & Noble, White Marsh, MD, 1-2:30pm. I’ll be there with Momma Bear and one of Edith’s puppies – Zora Neale Hurston and possibly a few others! This is a great chance to collect pawtographs from the dogs in the book.

Sunday October 14 – I’ll be at OPH’s Volunteer Seminar to share what I saw and learned in the shelters and unveil a VERY exciting new event that will take place in the spring! OPHers – if you haven’t RSVP’d for this awesome day of connecting and learning, do it now.

Thanks for reading!

If you’d like to know more about my blogs and books, visit or subscribe to my monthly e-newsletter (which is rarely monthly, but I’m working at it…everybody needs a goal).

If you’d like to know more about the book, Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs, check, where you can find more pictures of the dogs from the book (and some of their happily-ever-after stories), information on fostering, the schedule of signings, and what you can do right now to help shelter animals!

If you’d like to know how you can volunteer, foster, adopt or donate with OPH, click here. And if you’d like more pictures and videos of my foster dogs past and present, be sure to join the Another Good Dog facebook group.

I love hearing from readers, so please feel free to comment here on the blog, email or connect with me on Facebooktwitter, or Instagram.



Released August 2018 from Pegasus Books and available for preorder now:

Another Good Dog cover



16 thoughts on “Beware of Dog/s?”

  1. So much going on in your life – good and bad- always interesting! I haven’t been over here much because we’ve been incredibly busy. Our GSD, Jake, tore his ACL and had a TPLO yesterday. We’re off to get him shortly. It’s been traumatic for all of us but the vet says he is already walking, slowly, this morning. Fingers crossed and prayers!
    Yes, when dogs grow up they get more protective of their home and family, at least some dogs do. My homeowner’s insurance agent made a suggestion about signs. She said- in some states if you know you have a dog that might bite and you post a beware of dog sign, some counties will hold you liable if your dog bites- even a trespasser or a burgler. She suggested something different. I have a big sign hanging on the front door – A House is not a Home Without a German Shepherd. Works! And says nothing about biting.
    Have fun on Hallmark – keep us informed!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Maybe you’re already done this, but we’ve always trained our dogs to be protective and alert us when something is going on or a stranger comes by. They seem to start at about a year when they hit adolescence. Our dogs are trained to bark at it/they whatever and then to immediately come to us and get us. We go check it out with the dog and then we let them know this person is okay or this situation is acceptable. The dog does not get to decide who is and is not a stranger or a suspicious person. The dog is trained to come get us if something weird is going on and then we decide. It’s a long tedious training job for the one year old with many many false alarms at first but it is well worth it in the long run. We’re doing it now with our current 18 month old and she pretty much has it. We don’ many false alarms these days.


  3. I had a pitbull. She was the friendliest, most loving dog. She loved her pack-mates (there were four) and she loved all people. She loved hiking with me, she could climb rocks, the first time she saw a cow she was so happy she jumped straight up in the air. Then a huge fire came, just 5 weeks after we moved up to the mountains, and we had to evacuate. During the move, I’d had to hide my dog in order to get homeowner’s insurance. This was hard on Persephone (Persie). We evacuated, first to a high school, then to a park, then to a friend’s house. At the park, Persie reached her limit and tried to jump up in my truck when the door to the topper was closed. She hit her head. When we were finally able to go home, I took Persie by herself. We cleaned out the fridge (no electricity for 2 weeks) and started a fire in the stove, and curled up and took a nap together. I didn’t know that all this had affected her pitbull mind.

    The next week she tried to kill one of my other dogs. She almost succeeded. That dog stayed at the vet for a few days and I brought her home. Persie smelled her through the front door and went apeshit again. I knew she had to be put down. The dog she’d tried to kill had done nothing to provoke her. The move, the fire, everything had done something to my dog.

    I believe that pitbulls are great dogs. I love them. But I have the feeling that there is something inside many of them (not all) — that has been bred into them in the past 30 years and maybe was never part of the breed before, a kind of switch. She was 10 when all this happened. Persie was a rescue, and I worked with her for years to make sure she always put her best foot forward. Until that switch flipped, she was the best dog I had. I hope that enhanced pitbull greatness awareness and different breeding returns the breed to the sweet dog it is meant to be and wants to be.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve heard similar stories. Frankie had two incidents that happened right around the time all this reacting at visitors stuff started.

      He had a big fright when he accidentally ran into and got tangled in an electric fence we had up to keep deer away from our fruit trees. It happened in the dark. I didn’t realize where he was. He screamed so much and when he got loose, he bolted for the house. We took the fence down and let the deer have all our fruit this year, but I still feel awful about it.

      I also made the HUGE mistake of using a vibrating collar on him – he wanted to chase the horses and I was worried he’d get hurt because he wouldn’t come when I called him. I used a very low frequency vibrate (not a shock!) one time when he didn’t come when headed after the horses. It worked, but now, even with no collar (I’ve never used it again because it upset him so), he won’t go near the pasture. I guess it fixed that problem, but I think it also made him a fearful dog.

      Kicking myself over these two incidents and working very hard to make him brave again by going to tricks classes and nose work classes and anything that will build his confidence.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Fear is the problem I think. I think that’s what turned Persie and it’s what I have to watch with Dusty T. Dog. You wish you could just sit down and talk to them. When I think of Persie, I still feel sad and guilty. We both tried so hard and then it ended like that. 😦 ❤


  4. Of course I’ll pray for Ramblin Man….and thanks for the update on Oreo! As for Frankie, I honestly don’t know the answer, but I think you are on to something with your suspicion that he is following the behavior he saw in other dogs. If so, Oreo’s example could really help him a lot!!
    It could also be that his true personality is beginning to emerge. I know a rescue group that won’t adopt puppies to homes with children because they say that you can’t tell a dog’s true personality until about 18 months or so. I don’t know if that’s true or not, it was just the way they operated.
    But even if the problem is Frankie’s breed, it’s the result of humans inbreeding them, or people who want fighting dogs breeding dogs they know are aggressive to other dogs they know are aggressive. It’s a problem with any breed that becomes popular (german shepherds, chihuahuas, cockers, dobermans, etc.) because then you have backyard breeders producing puppies that are the result of inbreeding. And sadly, there are people who are deliberately breeding pits bulls for all the wrong reasons. It makes me so angry, because they are producing dogs that give a very good breed (pit bulls are so smart, loving and energetic by nature) a very bad name. And then all pits suffer….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do think that dogs aren’t really ‘grown up’ until they’re two. So I’m going to double-down on Frankie’s training. He’s so smart and so loving – I just have to redirect him. We worked on it with some very helpful impromptu guests this afternoon and he did well. I expect we’re going to see more French bulldogs and Portuguese Water Dogs (or whatever President Obama’s dogs are) come down the rescue pike soon enough for the same reasons we’re now overwhelmed with pits, labs, and chihuahuas. We still see a fair amount of ‘Sharpeis too- all leftover from backyard breeders and ignorance.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve got three ratbags, one of which is a rescue. It is partly their breed. There is a reason why the beautiful Finnish Spitz ends up in shelters. I personally think they go best in one-dog families where they cannot lead others astray. Others may disagree with me, but teaching 100% compliance is a full-time job. and often not possible for mere mortals. My “good”dog is also a ratbag – a working dog, she observes and learns. I can see that her behaviour has been greatly influenced by the ratbag ringleader. Poor girl. We bumble along, and we love it, but it is not easy.

    Good role models make a huge difference, as does being kept away from other ratbags. I sympathise. Good luck with the socialisation, socialisation, socialisation.
    Regards. Tracy.


  6. I’ve read and re-read this blog post and it makes me think and re-think every time I read it. We care for animals that experience fear, worry, excitement, joy, distraction, disinhibition. And, we foster animals that we then place in forever homes. Are they ready? Did I miss anything in my assessment? I tend to keep my fosters a little longer because I want to make sure my placements work the first time. It breaks their little hearts when they get returned because they aren’t a good fit. I’m a hovering foster mom.

    I foster Boston terriers, quite the quirky breed. My own BT is a repeat biter and fighter and as hard as I work to help him recover, when all the elements are just right (meaning, I’m not on my game) Otis can still bite. In fact, he just nipped (hard!) the pet sitter last month. 100% hyperarousal, nothing more. I wish I could make him better, more relaxed, less worried. Wait. He is better than he was last year and the year before. It’s a journey. It’s a relationship between me and my dog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly – it’s a journey and a relationship. I wish I could make Frankie better too, but we will have to grow up together and do the best we can. Thanks for reading and good luck with Otis. He is lucky to have you. So many people give up instead of accepting who their dog is. Blessings and thank you for fostering!


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