I heard a sound unlike any I had ever heard before. There are some foggy details from Thursday March 10th, but I think I actually said out loud, “was that a growl?”
Boomer, a 90 pound German Shepard, dropped the toy out of his mouth and covered the 8 foot gap between where he stood and where my 13 year old daughter stood in an instant. To say it happened fast is an understatement. His paws never touched the floor as his sheer size knocked her to the ground. My daughter’s ear-piercing scream will be forever etched in my memory.
Lindsey is fine. I don’t want to keep you in suspense. She spent 5 hours at the Emergency Room and walked away with 3 stitches, some scratches and bruises on both arms. She’ll have a small scar from yet another animal to add to the stories she’ll share throughout her lifetime (the story about the horse is another interesting one). I’m grateful this wasn’t worse.
I adopted Boomer in February 2015. He had started as a client’s dog, and we soon realized he was too much dog for their family. I decided to keep him and continued to train him every day. I learned more from Boomer than I have learned from any other dog. I’ve learned things that have made me a better trainer, and I will be able to help more people because of my experiences with Boomer. And I knew that my house wasn’t the right match for him. I was afraid that he could hurt someone.
I. Was. Afraid. This. Day. Would. Come.
I had him assessed by the Maryland State Police last fall. They would have liked to see a stronger toy drive, but all in all he had an impressive day. He naturally offered sniffing some suitcases as they went by him on a conveyer belt at the Baltimore Washington International Airport. He was reluctant, but got on the conveyer belt himself. He went up and down on an escalator with not a care in the world. He passed his scent work assessment with flying colors. Mike (a retired training Supervisor for the MD State Troopers) threw a toy out into high grass. I spun Boomer around in a circle before releasing him to go find it. The goal was for him to keep looking for at least 3 minutes before giving up. Boomer found the toy in less than a minute. He climbed up on top of a car. He squeezed himself under a van. He went through a concrete tunnel. He had no reaction to gunfire.
Mike asked around to see if anyone knew someone who could use a good scent detection dog. Nothing panned out. I asked a few trainers I knew if they knew anyone who was looking for a working dog. I will always wonder… should I have done more then to find him a new home?
Thursday March 10th.
I am reclined on the sofa watching Grey’s Anatomy (don’t judge me!). Boomer was acting normally, alternating between playing with a toy and lying down on his bed. I hear the door at the top of the stairs creak open. I looked at the clock because my kids were supposed to be in bed by 9:30pm. It was 9:33pm. It’s funny how during a traumatic event sometimes you can’t remember anything and sometimes you can remember every minuscule detail. I imagine I will always remember 9:33pm.
I was getting ready to have a conversation with my child about how they were supposed to already be in bed. I took a deep breath – willing myself to be calm, cool, and collected. I looked up to see Lindsey standing at the bottom of the stairs with a towel wrapped on top of her head after just getting out of the shower.
The parental lectures about bedtime on a school night went out the window and a dog training session started, in an instant. She had a towel wrapped up on her head, and she didn’t look anything like what Boomer was used to seeing. My head swiveled quickly in his direction as soon as I saw Lindsey. My only thought was:
This is something Boomer would react to.
He was lying calmly on his bed. He was looking at Lindsey, but calmly. His ears were relaxed. His whiskers were relaxed. His mouth was slightly opened. I would’ve expected him to be more alert- ears perked, whiskers forward, and mouth closed. I would’ve expected him to growl or maybe even bark. He was quiet.
I said, “Lindsey, say something so Boomer knows it’s you. You look a little odd with a towel on top of your head like that.” She said, “Hi, it’s me!” She spoke normally. She didn’t act strangely. I watched Boomer the whole time to see if his body language would change at all – I still couldn’t believe he was so calm.
If you are new to following me or don’t know much about our training philosophy, let me share something I have taught a thousand times:
If you are thinking to yourself, “Wow, I can’t believe my dog isn’t _____,” then you should be reinforcing your dog.
I followed my own advice. What went through my head was, literally, “Wow, I can’t believe Boomer didn’t react to her.” So, I reinforced him. I released him off his bed. He picked up a toy and bee-lined straight to me. He never even took a sideways glance at Lindsey. I was petting his head and said to him, “I am so proud of you, buddy.” He was calm. Relaxed. Comfortable. Playful. Sweet.
Then… Lindsey took one step in our direction.
Time stood still.
And it all happened so fast.
I don’t even know how that’s possible. But it’s the best description for how I experienced what happened next.
Boomer growled and launched towards Lindsey. He knocked her to the ground.
I moved faster than I’ve ever moved before. I screamed “NO” as loud as I could. I wouldn’t recommend that as a plan of action, but that’s what happened. I yelled so loud my throat hurt for the next 24 hours. As I scrambled to my feet, I grabbed onto Boomer’s hips and I distinctly remember thinking: I will grab him, and he will probably bite me.
I grabbed him anyway, literally hoping he would bite me and stop biting my daughter. I didn’t hesitate. The mamma bear in me came out. I would have done anything, endured anything, to have Boomer stop biting Lindsey. I would have given anything to trade places with her.
As soon as I touched him, he whipped his head around and knocked me in the side of my head with his head. (I got a black eye.) I remember bracing myself, thinking, “Here it comes.”
Our eyes locked.
And he stopped. Like a light switch. I grabbed his collar and walked him to the nearest door, a storage room, and had him go inside.
Lindsey had scampered across the room to the other side, putting as much distance between her and Boomer as possible. She had blood streaked across her arm. I dragged a small carpet over and had her sit on it. (I’m embarrassed to say I was trying to minimize the amount of blood that got on the carpet. How could I have thought about that in the heat of the moment?!)
My mom came downstairs. I asked her to hand me a paper towel with water on it. And I told her not to open the door to the storage room, where Boomer was silently waiting. I was assessing Lindsey’s injuries – not much blood. That’s a good thing. Lindsey was calming down.
I’d take her to the hospital to be sure all her cuts and scrapes were cleaned as well as possible because I am keenly aware how easily dog bites can get infected. All of this is running through my head. I helped Lindsey to the car and went back downstairs to move Boomer to his crate. He couldn’t have been better. Except for the part when he attacked my daughter.
With an official bite on record, Boomer was required to have a 10 day quarantine. I was scheduled to go out of town the following day so I arranged to have the quarantine done at animal control. He is still there now… 18 days later.
As I write this, I don’t know what will happen to Boomer. I have spoken to several dog trainers that specialized in rehabilitating aggressive dogs, and I am left knowing there are two options for him: rehoming to a working job environment (law enforcement) or putting him to sleep.
I am sharing this story with you because I want as much good to come of it as possible. If you own a dog that is not a good match for your family, it’s okay to do something about it before someone gets hurt. It’s never been an option for me to take him back into my home since this happened, and it’s not because I don’t think I could still work with him. I know there’s a lot of training I could still do with Boomer to continue to have a positive impact on him. And I’m not willing to put my dog’s interests above my own children. I don’t want any one of my kids to ever feel like they aren’t safe. That is my top priority in life. If I have to put Boomer to sleep to protect my kids, I’ll do that.
A lot of people follow me on Periscope and I typically broadcast daily. I haven’t been live since this happened. I have gone off the grid to be with my family. I wanted to authentically share with you what happened to have me disappear so suddenly. And to share with you that I will come through this stronger than I went into it. I will be a better dog trainer.
And, most importantly, I will be a better mother knowing that nothing will ever stop me from doing everything I can to protect my kids.
So happy your girl wasn’t injured any worse! Thanks for sharing this story, I know it probably was not easy to do that, but it’s an important one. I’m betting you’re preventing this happening to at least a few someone elses. Thank you.
Anne, Thanks so much for your support. I have already been contacted privately by a handful of people letting me know that this story had helped them in situations they were facing. It was not easy to write – or to share – and I wanted to share in hopes it would make a difference for people.
WOW, I can’t imagine how scary that was for you and how many thoughts must continue to run through your mind. You were an incredible influence in Boomer’s life and really made a difference. I commend you for your quick actions, calm thinking, protection of the carpet 🙂 and deep love for all humans and animals. Time will heal all wounds. I hope Boomer gets picked up by Law Enforcement or a new forever home. Big hugs to you, Kim.
Christie, Thanks so much for your kind words. I know that time heals all wounds – it’s nice to be reminded!
Part of my daily routine is to go to Periscope and look for videos from you, Jeff Gellman and Sean O’Shea. It had been awhile since you posted, so I went to your Facebook page in hopes of finding out why you stopped posting. I was so sorry to read about Boomer and I am so glad your daughter is OK. I ADMIRE YOUR HONESTY and I hope, when the time is right, that you will continue to share your knowledge with all of us.
Tim, your words touched me. Thank you for sharing. I will be back on Periscope very shortly.
So glad you are back! I was thinking about you the other day and wondering if you would ever come back to Periscope and lo and behold you appeared the next day. You look rested and raring to go. Now if my landlord would just let me have a dog to train……
Thanks Tim! It’s good to be back. Thanks for commenting.
I got on the site looking for how to contact you for help. When I read this about Boomer, it helped me realize that I am not a failure but need help or a new home for my 16 month old unneutered dog who has growled and bared his teeth at me when trying to get him to drop an item. Two days ago he growled, snapped and lunged at me which scared me tremendously. I have requested your call and will be seeing his vet this week. Thanks for sharing this. Jackie
Jackie- thanks for commenting here. Reaching out for help is a great plan. Definitely be careful and know you are doing the right thing by asking for help!
Please contact me and let me know If Boomer still needs a place to go. You can contact me at the email I submitted I foster for The Malinois Ranch Rescue and the contact person there is Julie Allen. You can find us on Facebook. I own 5 GErman Shepherds and a Belgian Malinois with a bite history x3 before I rescued him. He was scheduled to be euthanized. Julie does AMAZING work with shepherds troubled or not! Hope to hear something back soon! Thanks!
Andrea- Thanks so much for your offer to help out! It’s people like you who remind me that we are all in this together- always looking out for what is best for the dogs. Thanks, I’ll be in touch.