The Mystery of Caspian: Behavior: the good, the bad, and the ugly

For those of you that don’t know. My wife and I had a dog named Caspian come into our lives at about the middle of 2013. Caspian being part of our lives has been a mixed bag. We love him but we have definitely had to do some very serious thinking in regard to him that I never imagined I would do.
Have you ever said something and each time you say it you can’t help but think how ridiculous it sounds. Like it doesn’t even make sense but you know in your heart it is true even if it is incompatible logically? Well, that is the very essence of the story of having Caspian in our lives. I think that when we talk to the average person about our story with Caspian they look at us like we’re not making any sense. I think dog lovers that are committed to helping dogs, particularly shelter dogs have a better understanding of where we are coming from. But I still sometimes feel like some of them might think we are crazy.
So here is the quick version of the story of Caspian in our lives:
My wife, Debby, was enrolled in Karen Prior Clicker Training Academy working towards becoming a certified dog trainer. She was going through the program with our Bernese Mountain Dog, Buck. Unfortunately Buck is getting older and has some health concerns and simply could not keep up with the program physically. Debby needed a new dog to go through the training with. Our other dogs were not good candidates for various reasons each different for each dog. By the way, at the time we had 3 other dogs. We decided a good option might be to work with a local shelter and see if they might have a dog that could benefit from some added training to make them little more adoptable. Caspian fit the bill. He had a little bit of a history of not getting along with strangers. He also reportedly had the potential to bite. We met him without dogs and it was a successful meet. Everyone got along and he seemed to be perfectly comfortable with us even as strangers. So we decided to foster him as he went through training. We have since adopted Caspian.
Caspian is an energetic dog and for the most part a very well behaved dog. For a dog coming from a shelter where he had been for a long period of time he fit in well in our home with us and our 4 other dogs. He is a loving and very snuggly dog. He will climb right into your lap. and curl up on you. He always wants to be with his humans. Very much a Velcro dog. It seemed odd that a dog with a reported history of problems with strangers would so quickly adapt to two completely new people.
After a bit of time we saw what his one problem behavior is. Sometimes when he is being petted he will suddenly snap at the hand that is petting him and “

try” to bite it. It seems like he is not really trying to bite us because it feels like if he really wanted to bite us he would. He usually does not successfully bite and he does not keep trying to bite. It’s just a quick snap and then it is over. Sometimes his teeth will make contact but not actually bite. Once he bit Debby hard enough to cause some pain. He has never broken the skin or otherwise hurt us. What is most challenging about this behavior is that as far as we can tell there are no warning signs to tell us when he is going to snap at us or indicate that he is unhappy with being petted. So with this very cuddly dog who seems to crave attention and human contact and seems to want to be petted it is hard to determine the best course of action. The other problem with the snapping behavior is that it is relatively infrequent. It does not happen on a regular basis. I doubt if it happens more frequently than maybe once a week at the most and there are times when there are long stretches without it happening and then short periods of time where it happens frequently. In addition to this behavior Caspian appears to have some stereotypic type behaviors such as pacing around the coffee table and spinning that may be associated with anxiety.

We have sought advice from various dog trainers and our veterinarian. Some think the best course of action is to have him euthanize as he present a potential danger. We are currently looking into medication to see if that will help him and we are in the process of getting in to see Cornell behavior specialists to see what they think and find out what advice they have to offer.
We have been told we sound like people in an abusive behavior when we talk about him because we always say that he is so good 99% of the time but it’s just the other one percent that is a problem. Perhaps that is a very apt comparison. We talk about how much we love him and we want to help him. He is so fun to play with and loves to fetch and gets along so well with the other dogs. We say he doesn’t want to hurt us and he isn’t otherwise aggressive towards us. We walk about how good he is and how well manners and affectionate, but there’s just this biting thing. He is the perfect companion dog that I have been wanting since our lab passed. Affectionate, cuddly lap dog, that is energetic and ready to play and can go for long walks and hikes. Perhaps we are just overlooking a critical flaw because we want this relationship to work out so bad. We both recognize how ridiculous it can sound to say how good he is except that he tries to bite us some times.
We do our due diligence with regard to protecting both Caspian and others. He is not exposed to situations where he could harm others.
The question is are we unfit to make an objective assessment of the situation because our emotions are compromised? Or are we the perfect people to make an assessment of the situation because we have the first hand knowledge of the situation and know every aspect of his behavior both the good and the bad?

So, now the question is what do we do if Cornell also recommends us to euthanize him? How would we handle that situation? They are pretty much the experts in our area and if they don’t feel it is a safe situation We may just have to make our peace with that.

We are trying to do what is best by Caspian. We want him to have a happy healthy life without harming anyone.

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