Formerly Doomed Dog Becomes Amazing Adventurer

Written by Connie O’Connor†of Ohio

Bourbon was rescued from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and brought to the Hamilton County Humane Society in Ohio. Due to his cage aggression, nobody wanted to adopt him and he was scheduled for euthanasia, but Bourbon bonded with a kennel worker who found a place for him with Sheltered Paws, a rescue group that supports Hamilton County Humane Society. After two unsuccessful foster home placements, he came to us as a last chance for fostering.

Bourbon was scared and mistrustful and prone to aggression. As we gained his trust, we discovered that he was intensely loyal and very, very smart. We enrolled him in agility classes and he thrived. Yet still his aggression toward strangers and other dogs continued.

We turned to a variety of trainers to no avail. One trainer yelled at me until I left in tears. Another took our money and went bankrupt before classes began. Several trainers who focused only on positive-reinforcement couldnít help us gain Bourbonís unconditional obedience.

Treat-based (positive reinforcement) training works to teach tricks and behaviors, but does not guarantee unconditional obedience. It is especially ineffective with dogs motivated by fear, dominance or aggression, and with any dog who is distracted or not in the mood to obey.

With a temperament like Bourbonís, we needed absolute authority in situations where it mattered most Ė anything else would have been irresponsible and dangerous. We felt we had no choice but to euthanize him because we didnít know how to manage his aggression and there had been way too many close calls. I felt that a piece of me would die with him, and I would never recover from such an act. I’d never felt so desperate. I contacted every rescue group for “problem dogs” in the country, and nobody had room for him.

In the 11th Hour, We Heard About a Man Who Specializes in Aggressive Dogs

What a wonderful new life for a so-called "mean" dog.

The day he was scheduled for euthanasia, a veterinary assistant told us about a trainer with a proven track record with aggressive dogs. Several other people told me they had heard great things about him. We met him and started working with him right away. This trainer taught us how to form a relationship with Bourbon based on trust and respect. We worked diligently on applying what we learned. It wasn’t always easy, especially in the beginning. But within two years, our relationship with Bourbon was completely transformed.

Bourbon is a working breed, a cattle dog mix, and he thrives when he has a job to do. We now take him everywhere we can, and his job is to pay attention to our every move. He canít get into trouble or make the wrong decision if his attention is focused on his handlers at all times. He understands what is expected of him. Within this structure, Bourbon feels secure and thrives.

A Brand New and Wonderful Life

Bourbonís life is so full of adventure now. He goes kayaking, hiking (with a backpack), and still loves his agility classes. He heels perfectly at all times and is a pleasure to walk. He knows lots of tricks and is always learning new ones. But perhaps his favorite thing to do is ride in the sidecar of our vintage motorcycle. If you live in Clermont County, Ohio, you will probably see him in the sidecar at some point, joining my husband Tim for an errand or maybe eagerly visiting a drive-through.

Understanding your pet's needs and finding gentle solutions to behavioral problems takes research.

We are grateful for the many people who contributed to saving this special dogís life. Each time when his fate and his life hung by a thread, he was saved by someone new. Bourbon literally owes his life to volunteers who went to Louisiana to rescue him, Hamilton County Humane Society who took him in, the kennel worker who saw his potential, Sheltered Paws which gave him shelter and asked me to foster him, also helping pay for his last-chance training, the vet assistant who told us about our trainer, the agility team at All Creatures Animal Hospital who welcomed him despite his unpredictable temperament and helped us to bond with him and discover his talents, and especially to John C. Smith, the most amazing trainer weíve ever known.

There are three reasons we want to share Bourbonís story. First, we want to inspire others to adopt a dog in need. Second, we want to give credit to rescue organizations Ė they can use more volunteers and resources for the difficult and important work they do.

Third, we want to share this critical message: if you have a dog with behavioral problems, DON’T GIVE UP! The time, money and effort you put into your dog will repay you a thousand-fold. Keep looking for the right trainer, and keep providing consistent leadership. Become the person your dog needs you to be, and your dog will reward you every day of his or her (too) short life. More great photos of Bourbon here.

Brought to you by The Great Animal Rescue Chase. Tell us your rescue story.† Each day, one special hero is featured right here on

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Erin H.
Erin H3 years ago

Excellent article, thank you!

Melissa DogLover
Melissa DogLover3 years ago

Wonderful story, indeed!!!

Clare Gorman
Clare Gorman4 years ago

thanks for sharing :)

Peggy Peters
Peggy Peters4 years ago

What a lovely and inspiring story! I wish more animal stories could have the story book ending!

Mary Cromley
.4 years ago

Good story with a happy ending.

Ginger N.
Virginia Nefsey4 years ago

I too am very happy Bourbon had a happy ending but I must take exception to this: "Treat-based (positive reinforcement) training works to teach tricks and behaviors, but does not guarantee unconditional obedience. It is especially ineffective with dogs motivated by fear, dominance or aggression, and with any dog who is distracted or not in the mood to obey." This is patently untrue as time and again positive reinforcement has done exactly what you claim what you claim the other training has not done for Bourbon - change their personality. may not be as "quick" as some other methods, but the results are much more stable and long-term.

Michelle S.
Michelle S.5 years ago

Congrats on this story.. such amazing people!! Bourbon is so lucky to have them... Such a beautiful dog!!

Fiona T.
Past Member 5 years ago

Don't underestimate our furry friend

Katherine Wright
Katherine Wright6 years ago

WHEE!!!!!!!!!!!! Good for Bourbon and good for his new family. May they have many years of wonderful adventures together!

Susan Griffiths
Susan Griffiths6 years ago

A perfect example of what can be achieved with communication and cooperation in a supporting animal loving community.