Dear Matthew: I am not really sure where to begin, other than we are past desperate. Last October, we rescued a puppy, 4 months old, off the sidewalk. I found out the next day she belonged to a group of boys who were in the process of moving.

I had already taken her, Astro, to the vet for shots by the time I found this out. So when the person who is keeping her came to pick her up, we refused to give her back.She was very poorly taken care of at the time. She was flea-infested and malnourished, and they did in fact decide to let us keep her. They felt we would give her a better home. We love her very much, but she has been badly abused.

After having her about a month, we found cigarette burns on her, and she began to show her aggressive side. The vet agreed that she had been mistreated and recommended we get some professional help. We went ahead and had her spayed before obtaining help, hoping it would calm her. It didn't help at all.

We then decided in March of '98 to seek help. We hired a private trainer. She came over and observed and spoke with us. She told us after watching Astro she was not sure if we would have very much luck but that we would give it a try. Whenever the trainer was around, Astro would show improvement and act fairly well.

After about four sessions, the trainer felt we would be OK on our own and to call if we needed anything. In May, my husband came home with another puppy, 51/2 weeks old, that one of his co-workers had taken from some children who had pulled the puppy out of a Dumpster.

At first, I was a little reluctant, but I thought it might help our current situation with Astro. It has not helped, as Astro has begun to become more aggressive.

Two instances I wanted to tell you about were when she bit my hand when I was trying to distract her from the window when another dog was coming by. Then the other night, we were lying in bed - she sleeps with us sometimes - and one minute we were lying there kissing and petting her, and the next she growled and bit at my face in a way that she had never done before.

It scared me and my husband to death. We are very afraid most of the time with her now and are very unsure of where to go next. On top of everything, some of her bad traits have started to rub off on our new puppy. I have bought your book, "The Dog in Your Life" and have been reading on it, but I am not finding the answers we need. Please, please help us. I don't know where else to go or what to do. We are desperate!!!!!!!!!!

- Wade and Stephanie

in Mt. Juliet, Tenn.

Dear Wade and Stephanie: First of all, you did a very courageous and noble thing taking Astro in off the street and giving her a happier, healthier life. Dogs that come from poor backgrounds present a variety of challenges and obstacles, but overcoming these problems can bring a well-deserved sense of achievement and pride.

In the space I have here, there isn't really much specific advice I can give you, as it sounds like your dog has serious behavioral problems that will take many months - even years - of training to overcome. I suggest you continue to consult with a professional trainer who can work with you and Astro over a lengthier period of time than just four sessions. Daily obedience training, either by you or someone you hire, is the only way to teach Astro the proper way to behave.

I'd also like to caution other readers out there that, if you're having problems with your dog's behavior, bringing another dog into the house is never going to make things better and will almost always make things worse. Although it's water under the bridge now, I would have strongly advised against bringing another puppy home when Astro was still not fully trained. Two dogs are twice the work and double the potential for trouble.

It's obvious both of you are very compassionate individuals, but you've got to know your limitations - you can't save every puppy in need by yourselves.

At this point, you have to evaluate what you can and can't do. And if this means giving up one of your dogs - which is entirely possible if you are considering having children in the near future - you need to be prepared to do that. Just make sure you can find someone who will provide as loving and happy a home for the animal as you have.