Dog Depression – A Story About Dekker

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Many dogs came and went throughout our career as Dog Trainers for Law Enforcement. There are a few that stand out for different reasons. Dekker is one of them.

Background

This is a story about Dekker, a Belgian Malinois we trained as a K-9 Police Officer. This story is also the reason we quit training dogs for Law Enforcement after 15 years.

During a trip to Europe to purchase dogs, we traveled to France to attend a Ring Sport Competition. It was this trip in 1985 that changed our way of thinking regarding the best candidate for a Police Dog. As we watched each dog work the obstacles and protection trials, we felt that the Belgian Malinois was superior to the German Shepherd in agility, and equal or better in all other areas.

In 1988, we acquired Anka and Dekker, two Belgian Malinois. We absolutely loved their drive and enthusiasm to work. After a few months of tracking, agility and protection training, we sold Anka to a Fish and Wildlife Officer. Feedback reports indicated Anka as being an exceptional tracker for poachers and protected her Handler perfectly. We were pleased with Anka’s placement and her Handler was more than satisfied.

We continued to work with Dekker. He was always happy to do anything we asked of him in his training lessons. He had a well-rounded life with us as part of our family. At one point, we had two litters of Bouvier des Flandres puppies totaling 22. They were a handful once the younger litter reached six weeks old, but Uncle Dekker would spend time with all of them, grabbing his long rag and teasing the puppies to chase him, latching on to the rag for a ride. He was a wonderful, well-adjusted dog.

Dekker’s Career

The day came when we received a phone call from a police department inquiring if we had another dog like Anka, as word had spread about her outstanding performance. We informed the Police Officer that we did indeed have another Belgian Malinois that would fit his requirements. Every dog we placed with a Police K-9 Unit received 2 weeks of instruction and training, which included evaluation of the bonding process because believe it or not, not all dogs like their Handlers. The first reservation we had about this K-9 Unit was that the dog was kept in a kennel at the police station instead of living in a family environment. The Handler assured us that Dekker would spend the majority of his time with him and only be in the kennel when absolutely necessary.

On the third day of Dekker’s 2 week probation as a K-9 Officer, he made a felony drug arrest. The Handler was very pleased with Dekker and we felt we had placed him where he would do the most good.

There are Police Dog Trials that K-9 Handlers can enter for prizes and recognition within the Police K-9 community. Because Dekker was so good at his job, his Handler started entering him in these competitions. Dekker was now working regular shifts as a K-9 Officer, training for competitions, attending competitions and winning. During a conversation we had with the Handler regarding Dekker’s success at yet another Police Dog Trial, we reinforced the fact that he needed “down time” to relax, play and forget training and his job. The Handler assured us that he was doing as we had suggested.

Time went by and as is normal, the phone calls from Dekker’s Handler became fewer, but eventually we received a phone call from him expressing concern that Dekker was being lazy and listless on the job. We asked if he was still competing in dog trials and the Handler gave a negative response because Dekker had lost the last few trials he had entered. Our advice was for rest, play and cut back on training sessions outside of on-duty hours.

Depression

A short time later, Dekker’s Handler called again, complaining that the dog was not performing at work and he wanted to return him for a refund. We convinced him to send Dekker back to us for evaluation and to see if we could remedy the situation.

Upon picking Dekker up at the airport, we opened his dog crate to let him out and he just sat there with his head lowered and big sad eyes. We inspected him and could see that he had lost weight, his posture was submissive, his coat was dull and he didWhat is Emotional Sobriety and Why Is it Important not want to make eye contact. The word anxiety seems the best word to describe the body language of tail wagging because he was happy see us, but weaving around our legs and whining indicated he was apprehensive, worried, and had mixed feelings about what was going to happen next. We brought him home, having confidence that we could help him past this behavior which was far from his normal self.

We set out to do everything that was familiar to him; same kennel, same routines, lots of play, same dogs to play with, our loving attention, and so on. There was nothing different at our home and kennel, except Dekker. Months of coaxing and trying desperately to have just one happy moment was breaking our hearts. He moped, slunk around, no eye contact, heavy sighs, lying in the corner while the other dogs played, no interest in his surroundings, eating only enough food to keep going, and then eventually skipping days of eating. We gave him special attention, enticing food, more of our time and basically put him in our back pocket, taking him everywhere we went. We spent hours analyzing his behavior, both past and present, to try to come up with more ideas or a solution to the whole mess. We brought in other Dog Trainers to observe and evaluate him for some clue to work with. Nothing.

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