frog dog pose of red and white pit bull on teal background

Can you imagine this dog displaying fear-based aggression? I couldn’t. Sojo was the sweetest thing during her session! If I wanted her to sit, she sat and stayed. If I wanted her to look to the right or the left so that I could get a profile shot, she did just that. She went into a down on command and stayed there. She even seemed to go into her Frog Dog pose on command!!! She is one well-trained dog.

Zanne, Sojo’s mom is quite the writer, and she tells Sojo’s story much better than I ever could.  Read on!

I met Sojo 11 months ago at APA!, Austin Pets Alive.  As a volunteer with the Behavior Department at APA!, I often work with our behavior cases. Sojo was one such at the time due to some extreme fear-based aggression she displayed. On May 9th, 2015, I had some extra time on my hands after working with my usual dogs. I asked Mike Kaviani, then the Dog Behavior Program Manager and now the Director of Lifesaving Operations at APA!, and he told me about her. Extreme scaredy? Just my cup of tea. It would end up being the most important, wonderful thing Mike has ever asked me to do.

For the first full minute I stood outside Sojo‘s kennel, she barked nonstop at me. Finally she resigned herself to my presence and I took her out to one of the play yards. She spent most of the time avoiding me until the last few minutes where she plopped in the shade next to me (for the sake of the shade, not me). I took her out again a week later and she began wiggling the moment she saw me.
Sojo is a 3-year-old pittie/mix. A year ago this month, Sojo was owner-surrendered to the city shelter after being an owned dog since she was a young puppy. “Traumatic” is the only way I can think to describe how this shift must have been for her. She became extremely fearful and showed aggressive behaviors, all rooted in that fear. APA!, doing what they do, pulled her from the city shelter and gave her another chance. After a bumpy start, Sojo began to trust people again. She was still shy on first meetings, but she started to open up. A large part of this is due to playgroups APA! runs twice daily. Sojo LOVES other dogs, and getting out to play for hours every day not only relieved her stress, but made her more relaxed with people. A person she might have been shy with on leash would instantly become her BFF if other dogs were around. That much has not changed as she will give complete strangers full body rubs like a big cat at the dog park.
I have always had a soft spot for the scaredy dogs, probably because my family dog growing up was one such. I think I always knew I would get a dog with fear issues, but I never expected to adopt one who would become so outgoing in such a short span of time. She will now eagerly go up to all kinds of strangers to make friends.

red and white pit bull sitting on teal background

I took Sojo home on August 7, 2015, two months after I met her, for a “sleepover”. Really, I just wanted to make sure she wouldn’t try to eat my cat. On August 9th, I went back to do the paperwork, and she officially became mine (and I hers).

Sojo is my first dog. I had a couple family dogs growing up, and I fostered a dog through APA! last year, but this is the first time I have a dog to call my very own. She’s everything I wanted and more.
She’s incredibly smart and highly food motivated, which means she picks up on new skills very quickly. She has a dozen or so in her repertoire to date, including fun things like “kisses” and “hug” and “toy”. (Her absolutely favorite toy is the Multipet Loofa Dog squeaky plush.) We’ve done some preliminary scent work, and I’m hoping to do a real scent class with her somewhere down the road. She usually eats out of a Kong wobbler, which she loves and gets her brain working, versus inhaling kibble out of a bowl. We’ve also been practicing Deep Pressure Therapy to help with my anxiety. While I don’t need a service dog, she did officially became my Emotional Support Dog a couple months ago.

facial profile of red and white pit bull on teal background

 During her time at APA!, her doggy social skills were put to use. She was one of a handful of dogs who helped assess new dogs coming into the shelter and socialize the undersocialized ones. In a similar regard, she still does that work for APA! We host a dog for a two-night sleepover monthly, including dogs who only like female dogs and dogs who don’t have the best social skills with other dogs. She will also be helping me in the near future with my training business in the same work she did at APA!

red and white pit bull on teal background

Sojo has a kitty sister, and after a few months of getting used to each other the two like to wrestle and tease each other. They are slowly getting closer and closer to cuddling. For now, I’ll settle with them cuddling with me at the same time.
Sojo loves to crawl under the bed. It’s not a fear response. She does it in the morning if she’s waiting for me to get up. Once she hears me getting ready to get out of bed, her tail starts thumping and she crawls out—only to jump on the bed and crawl on top of me. She also hangs out under there while she wants for me to get dressed for the day.
She loves coconut oil to a fault. I use it for dry spots on her ears and she struggles to lick as much of it off my hands as possible. One evening I was not paying close enough attention and she managed to get about half a cup out of the container before I noticed. We made a trip to the vet early the next morning. (Coconut oil isn’t harmful in small amounts, but that much fatty oil did not sit well in her tummy.)
She loves to visit APA! and see her human friends there (and make new ones if she can). She nags my dad’s dog to no end in attempts to get her to play indoors (which my dad’s dog absolutely refuses to do). She will make herself a 40-lb lapdog without hesitation.
The one person she loves almost as much as my is her “grandma”, my mom. My mom is not naturally a dog person. She is nervous of dogs and it takes time for her to get comfortable with an individual dog. The exception has been Sojo. They took to each other instantly, on the night I brought Sojo home. Sojo is the only dog my mom has ever let kiss her or let in her lap. In fact, she has picked Sojo up and placed her in her lap on multiple occasions. Sojo trembles when she sees my mom. It’s more than I ever hoped for.
That really sums up Sojo: everything I wanted in a dog, things I never knew I needed, and so very much more. She’s only been in my life for 11 months, and only lived with me for 9, but I can’t imagine my life without her.
sojo giving kisses

The only thing aggressive about Sojo these days is her fierce kissing game.



sojo and lucky

Lucky (the blue pittie on the right) is one of the undersocialized dogs I’ve been able to bring home a couple times because of Sojo’s great social skills. He is still looking for a home!


sojo and pancho

Sojo recently met one of my longtime APA! loves, Pancho (adopted earlier this year).

sojo and jackson

The above image was taken just a couple weeks before I adopted Sojo, while shooting for her video. I knew I wanted her, but I couldn’t commit. Beside her is BFF Jackson, another one of our playgroup rock stars who helped assess and socialize other dogs during his time at APA! You can also spot Sojo “harassing” him in her video. (Jackson passed away suddenly last October, but thankfully not before he found a home and family that loved him. And he and Sojo were able to have a play date outside the shelter before he passed.
My instagram is largely dominated by Sojo, and there’s several highlights attached.
There are also pictures and videos on my training page on FB
This is the adoption video I helped make. At the time I couldn’t commit to adopting her because I still had my foster. I talk about her fabulous doggy social skills in it

Austin Pets Alive! is an amazing place, full of wonderful people like Sojo’s mom.  Perhaps you might find your next best friend there!






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