Rescue Tails / Onyx, Teenager in Transition

By Cathy Baier

Big in body but still young in mind! This describes that transitional period in a dog’s life called canine   adolescence. Most dogs who end up in shelters are between 8 and 18 months of age at the height of this challenging developmental period. Behavior that was once cute is now “not so much.”  Their more powerful strength and drive, increasing independence, and lack of impulse control make them harder to manage and live with. They tend to push boundaries as they attempt to learn how to navigate the world they inhabit and seem to have forgotten any training they once had. All this is normal and temporary and with the help of patience, support, and a little luck, dogs and their people survive this period intact. But once in a while, a dog can get into trouble along the way and change life’s path.  Onyx was one of those dogs.

 Onyx was a year old and still in that transitional stage of life between puppy and adulthood when he came to us. He was surrendered because he opted to use his teeth to communicate; in other words, he bit someone. While biting is normal canine behavior, not every dog chooses that higher level of defense when uncomfortable. Because there was a small, vulnerable child in the home, the family felt the risk was too great and made the painful but very understandable decision to surrender Onyx to the shelter. 

German Shepherd dogs often don’t do well in kennel environments and deteriorate rapidly. Onyx was no exception and quickly began to exhibit some concerning behaviors towards staff members. Once his quarantine period was up, we began working with him, providing some training and enrichment, along with medication to reduce the stress he was feeling. He had a very sweet and sensitive side, and we knew he had potential to succeed. But because of his history and risky behaviors we were seeing firsthand, we knew we couldn’t put him in most homes, even though he generated a lot of interest. 

We always explore breed rescue options but finding a responsible rescue that has the experience, behavioral resources, space, and willingness to take a dog with a bite history is not easy. We were talking to people from Mississippi to Maine, hoping to find the right situation for him. Of course, COVID restrictions didn’t help either. We were having no luck and running out of time, because he was going downhill fast in spite of all we were doing for him.

Then what felt like a miracle happened in a rather unusual way.  A very good man happened to be looking for a wedding gift for his soon-to-be very good wife, Terry.  He knew she had been wanting another German Shepherd as a friend for her female German Shepherd , learned about Onyx, and put in an application.  Terry was very familiar with the breed, having had several through the years, but what tipped the scales for us was her extensive training experience. After talking with her, we knew she was going to be able to give Onyx the best chance for a good future. They brought their dog to meet Onyx, who fell for her immediately and presented her with his favorite toy. He was a hit with all three of them and they were a hit with him!  

When Terry sent the first update to us, we all breathed a sigh of relief. “Onyx is settling in so well! He loves his big sister, enjoying  his fenced yard, and getting to know his new people.” Terry told us that Onyx is starting “school,” and he’s an eager student. She’s confident he will be a quick study and has no doubt that her wedding gift was the perfect one. Congratulations to the newlyweds but also to Onyx for getting an awesome home!