I had a few consults over the last couple of days that appear noteworthy to me...particularly because of the expression in the eyes of each of the dogs.
The first was a really sad case - a two year old Retriever mix, dumped on a farm and then rescued by a young man and his girlfriend at about 14 weeks of age. They apparently were very good about socializing him (at least the current definition of the word), taking him to schools, farmers markets and lots of dog parks. He seemed fine. Now he's two and a half years old, and in the last month he has started barking and lunging at children, "different" looking people and occasional dogs. The young man got another puppy, and the retriever was fine with her, playing gently and seeming quite affectionate. Then two nights ago, both dogs were lying with the owner and his girlfriend on the bed, watching tv. They'd been relaxing for an hour or so, when the dog reached over the guy, grabbed the puppy and bit down. The owner pried the dog's mouth open, getting bitten in the process, and the dog went at it again. They thought the puppy was dead, but she wasn't. She was, however, severely injured.
The second dog is a two year old female German Shepherd. She was acquired from GSD rescue at the age of seven months. She is all energy, leaping up, scaring people. She and her owner live on acreage in the country, at the end of very long road. The woman has her own business, and rarely leaves the property. When people walk by, which happens a couple of times a month, the dog goes crazy. When people visit, which happens about as often, the dog also goes crazy - leaping, running around in circles, muzzle punching. The owner had a trainer come out who told her the dog was aggressive, predatory and dangerous. He recommended using first a pinch collar and then an e-collar, both of which made the dog much worse (she did bite when corrected). Then he recommended euthanasia.
The third dog is a one year old Golden Retriever, adopted from a humane society on the east coast at the age of seven months. He had been brought in with two young pit bulls, all three of them emaciated and obviously neglected. He is horribly mouthy and bitey, and he escalates. He is possessive over the human's bed (he is not allowed up there). He balks on walks, refusing to move, or starts muzzle punching and biting. He will work for food - but he needs to see it first. Extremely manipulative. This is the first dog for the young couple, but they've been working hard. They took him to classes, and he got his CGC, and they also had a private trainer. The methods were mostly positive, and in fact, they found when they tried to punish him physically he got markedly worse.
In thinking over these cases while driving, I was struck by the emotions and intentions in the dogs' eyes. Their expressions were extremely different, and changed the way I interacted with them. The retriever mix was very suspicious. He stared at me with worried eyes and wrinkled brows. He also didn't move towards me at all. He would take a treat, but then move back staring. He never let me out of his sight and I felt at risk from this dog, who did not appear stable. The German Shepherd - the one the trainer said should have been euthanized - needs lots of work, but her eyes were always soft, her expression was open and trusting. At no time did I feel threatened, though she's a pretty rough girl. The third dog....the Golden...I have rarely seen eyes and expression like that. I felt like he was a velociraptor and I was prey. Cold, hard, staring eyes. Will work for food, nothing else. And he bites, hard - my arm is a mess. We discussed sending him to rescue, but on the way home, I put different clothing on the dog - I mentally dressed him as a Rottweiler - and I realized that I'd been taken in at least somewhat by the Golden Retriever aura. Of all three dogs, this is the one who is truly dangerous. He doesn't care about people - he probably would be considered psychopathic if he were a human. When someone does something he doesn't like, he will retaliate. (BTW, I do feel this was the result of being horribly neglected for the first seven months of his life - I'm not trying to blame him, and I don't dislike Rotties - in fact, I've had two, both of them sweethearts. However, they are a dog one tends to be cautious with)
I think it's easy to simplify animals - to believe that they have few mental skills or ability to calculate how to get what they want. But they, like us, are products of their environment and their genetic heritage, and we should never forget that. The dogs' past has a very real influence on their present...and you can read it in their eyes.