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So, I qualify for an emotional support animal (esa) on my college campus and I've decided to adopt since getting a puppy would be a time commitment I can't fully make(I have time for daily walks and regular training sessions, but not housetraining or socialization). My esa wouldn't need any extra training like a full service dog, but one is to act as a companion, facilitate social interaction, and be a calm presence during panic attacks. Also, since I'm going to college out of state, they have to be able to walk calmly through an airport and manage short plane trips.

Well about 3 weeks ago, I adopted a chihuahua mix named Rue who is about 1 year. I worked with a rescue group that is extremely reputable in my area and attempts to give honest evaluations of each dog so they can be placed in a suitable home. The foster I was in contact with said that Rue was very calm, loving to just curl up and cuddle. She said that she was friendly and did well on the leash. She was also great with her other 5 dogs. After, explaining my situation, and that she has to be able to handle my environment and activities (college campus which means lots of people and noise, also I live in an apartment with 3 other people). In general, since its a school, I can't have a dog that is aggressive, overly loud(incessant barking), or overly destructive. She said Rue was none of these so I went ahead with the adoption and the first week went wonderful. She bonded extremely quickly, did great on walks mostly sniffing at passing people, and trained extremely fast. By the end of the week, we had sit, stay and come practically mastered in the apartment. She also liked to follow my roommates around in case they gave out treats.

The wonderfulness deteriorated after week 1 though. She started growling whenever someone passed my room or just in general at one of my roommates(didn't like her for some reason). I decided that this was a behavior, while bad, could be worked on. I employ positive training, and avoid punishment. Also, I live by the policy "nothing in life is free." I employed this from day one and its supposed to prevent a poorly behaved dog. She didn't get any food without sitting first, always sat before I said hello to her, etc. Well, something wasn't working right for her, because her dislike of people passing my room escalated, soon it was barking and growling. Soon her hackles would raise as well, then she started lunging at my roommates (even though she was generally friendly with them outside the room). Needless to say, my roommates are frightened and I have to keep my door shut out of safety. I don't bring her out into the living area anymore since she is also aggressive towards my one roommate and I don't trust her. These aggressive behaviors now extend to anyone entering the apartment, stranger or not(except me for some reason) and regular house noises like the toilet flushing or the fridge opening. On walks, she doesn't like to be pet, which I assumed was fear and never pushed the experience, but now she aggressive barks and growls at random people(ive found no pattern, one type of person she is fine with one day and the next day she isn't).

Now, I can see that these behaviors are very incompatible with my situation, but they're sporadic at best. Because she's not consistently aggressive, I can't tell if she is acting this way since she's settling in or because that's her personality. I talked with the foster, who admitted after I told her the behaviors that she did bark more than other dogs and was rather hyper vigilant. All news to me since she was pretty quiet when she talked this dog up(although I cant be certain that she was aggressive or not in her home as my environment may have drawn certain behaviors out). One thing I have noticed is that she is a lot less reactive when we don't take as many or as long of walks, or don't do any training for the day. It makes it seem like she really is the dog that the foster described to me. But, if I don't keep up consistent training, I can already see a deterioration in her commands. It's quite obvious that over stimulation causes her to be more reactive and I've made an attempt to reduce stimulation, but since it is a college dorm, I can only remove so much. Also when I go home for the summer, my family's house is more exciting with lots of visitors and louder people. So, it seems training is a way to modify this behavior, but training also exacerbates the behavior. This has left me questioning what I should do. I can return her to the rescue where she is guaranteed a foster until she's adopted again. Or I can try to modify the aggression, or hope that its just her settling in and she will mellow out as she relaxes into my environment. At the end of the day, I don't want a dog that isolates me, or has to be constantly muzzled to prevent her from being a danger. She has these days where she hardly reacts, which deceptively makes me think she has a good side that I can draw out, and on other days, she is so reactive, I'm afraid what would happen if she got out of my room. Would it be best to give her back to find a new home or attempt to work with her behavior?
 

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Sounds like you're in a tough situation. From your description, it definitely sounds like some degree of anxiety or fear aggression motivating her, and while there's a lot of things you can do to work with her, it's not going to be a quick or easy process. Especially in an environment as stimulating as a dorm, as you've pointed out. She doesn't sound beyond all hope, but the question of whether you are willing or able to put in the time, effort, and expense to help her overcome her fears is a very valid one.

Personally, I'd look for a qualified behaviorist in the area to evaluate her - someone who employs only force-free methods and preferably is certified by a reputable organization like CCPDT. That way you'll have a professional who can actually watch and interact with your dog give you an honest, thorough description of where these behaviors are rooted and what a path to recovery would look like. It'll be a solid frame of reference to use when you make the difficult decision about whether you think you can work with her given your situation, or if both of you would be better of if she were rehomed.

I am sorry that the foster family gave you what sounds like some misleading information about her, and wish you the best of luck with this.
 

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Quite frankly, I don't think the dog you adopted fits your requirements for an ESA, and she probably never will no matter how much you train. It's possible that she will settle, but it's really a crap shoot. You need the dog to do a specific job for you, and it is very difficult to find a dog with the correct temperament at a shelter because they may not show their true personality.

Have you considered adopting/purchasing a washed out service dog trainee? I have no idea how expensive these dogs are, but perhaps someone else here will have an idea. These dogs typically know all the basic commands, are house trained, crate trained, and leash trained. They may have ended their training for a service dog that helps people with mobility issues, seeing eye dogs, etc. for some reason or another, but they would still make excellent pet dogs or ESAs.

You could also purchase an adult dog from a reputable breeder. Sometimes their dogs get returned by no fault of the dog's own, or they were training a dog to become a show prospect but it didn't work out because the dog was not structurally correct according to breed standard (but not unhealthy) or some other thing that would not affect the dog's performance as an ESA. I feel like these are a littler harder to find, though, especially with your specific temperament requirements, but at least you could be close-to-certain that the dog can do its job.

If none of those options work, then keep trying at shelters. There might be an adult dog there that can work for you, but don't be afraid to say, "Hey, this dog isn't working for the specific job I need it do." It sounds like you were very clear what you needed from a dog when you spoke to the shelter, and the dog just isn't fitting.
 

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I also don't think this dog sounds like a good fit for you. You need a dog that can help you manage your emotions, not a dog whose emotions you have to manage. I know from experience that having a reactive dog can stress you out (my AKK hates strangers). There's nothing wrong with returning this dog, as you know she's guaranteed a foster.

I second the idea of going to a reputable breeder, and I'd suggest a show breeder specifically because their dogs are used to the busy, noisy environment of dog shows and have usually been well-socialized and already trained to walk on a leash. A breeder will also know the dog's true personality, as they've lived with the dog for probably a year or more.

I got my papillon when she was a year old from a show breeder; my girl got a little too tall to show and she holds her tail too flat on her back, but there's nothing structurally wrong with her and she has been an excellent and healthy pet (she's 10 now). That same breeder has sent other former show/breeding dogs on to successful agility homes and to pet homes. Retired adults or young adults that were held back for showing are often cheaper than puppies, too.
 

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Thanks for all the replies, it's really helped me get a better perspective on the issue. I had taken her to a professional behaviorist, but it was done outside the home. She basically gave this dog 5 stars since she was already closely bonded with me and passed her tests. But when I told her about the aggression, the best advice she had was to acknowledge threat the dog is perceiving and train her thank you as a way to stop it. I don't feel the advice was all too much helpful, the dog need desensitization and counter conditioning in my opinion but I'm no professional.

I got in contact with the rescue and they apologized for the poor communication of my first foster and set me up with another foster who's a trainer of therapy dogs. They gave me the opportunity to see the dog they're fostering. I asked way more questions this time and she seems to have all the good qualities of rue and none of the bad. They also said they'd check out my apartment first to see if ellie (their foster dog) would be ok there and if she would be, help train her to be ok with more noise and people on walks. Of course, there's no guarantee this dog will be what I need but I'm giving it a shot. This foster seems to really want to make sure this a suitable environment and won't force a dog that won't fit well, so my hopes are up.

On the off chance that this doesn't work out, I did some research on washed out service dog trainees and a majority of the adoptions are $1000 or more which is out of my budget. I couldn't find any info on professional breeders with dogs that weren't good as show dogs. Does anyone have any suggestions on locating these kinds of breeders and does the adoption of these dogs cost a large amount? My budget maxes out at about $250-300.
 

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Yeah, I'd be seriously suspect of a behavior consultation given outside the environment where the problem is occurring, and that advice is... less than helpful. Sorry you had that experience. (Some great behaviorists like to see the dogs in their office first before observing them in their home environment, but that doesn't sound like what happened here).

Sounds like the second foster is going to be better able to identify a dog who'll be a good match for you! I'm wishing you luck on that front. I do think there are many dogs who are calm and stable enough to be ESAs in rescue, but finding them can be a challenge! And of course some dogs that would thrive in quiet homes might be too stressed by your current living situation, which may have been a lot of what was happening with Rue, so that narrows the field.

I'm afraid I can't tell you much about purchasing adults from breeders, since that cost will vary wildly from breed to breed, breeder to breeder, and maybe even situation to situation. Most breeders will only have adult rehomes on a rare occasion, so you may have to network with several breeders - if you make a good impression and they know what you're looking for and why, they might direct you to a friend or colleague a suitable dog becomes available. But you might not know the cost until you get to that point, so it's a process. I've looked into it myself, admittedly with a rare breed, but didn't have much luck since young adult/adult rehomes came along so rarely. You may have more luck than I did with a more common breed.
 
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