His family, unable to read his subtle signals just hadn’t realised how his uneasiness went a lot further than the problem I was there for – his fear of going near particular pieces of furniture and on certain routes through the house.
When they first adopted him a month ago he was very reluctant to enter the house at all.
He may be a very scared dog indoors, but outside Boris is a different dog. He loves to be outside in the garden.
The three-year-old Labrador Boxer mix has now landed on his feet with a couple, their two young daughters and a lovely home.
As soon as I arrived, the young girls cuddled and fussed him, probably for my benefit. Neither they nor mum could see that with his looking away, lip licking and even freezing he wasn’t enjoying it at all. He was wagging his tail, but taken in context this was more in appeasement than joy. Then Dad arrived home and welcomed him with rather vigorous stroking and again he looked away and licked his lips. I would say he was simply enduring the fuss.
Boris sleeps and eats in a utility room at the back of the house, but won’t go through the kitchen and down a short passage to get in there. He will only walk around the outside of the house and in the back door.
We sat in the kitchen – another room where he’s not happy – and because we were all there he did venture in. As he crept through the door, warily, he wouldn’t turn around but would then back out again. Reading him, he seemed to want the company without the fussing. He eventually quietly sat between the gentleman and the lady, away from me, but his eyes were constantly darting.
Each doorway or corner to another area seems to hold terror for Boris.
His behaviour looks to me very much like that of a dog that has been punished by someone unpredictable, not knowing when something might happen and why, which may tie in with what is known of his past. His body language and the backing away is symptomatic of the use of a remote-controlled electric shock collar – a beep comes out of the blue to the dog followed by a zap if he doesn’t comply. Possibly as a puppy he had been shocked to stop him chewing furniture or zapped for going into forbidden areas.
I usually avoid conjecture but want to explain what it looks like. One can only guess and the past is the past, but his behaviour is typical of fallout from the use of excessive or unpredictable punishment of some sort. Whatever it was will only ever have happened has caused indoors which would explain why he’s so much more comfortable outside.
His new family’s kindness and wish to make him happy has resulted in rather a lot of added pressure on him. The enticing in an excited voice to encourage him out of his room and through the passageway is making things worse as is too much fussing in general. We listed the things where he may be feeling pressure, and they need working on.
When nobody is about he has, on a couple of occasions, ventured out of his room and they have found him at the front door when they arrived home. He has never, though, gone back into his room from indoors.
That route from hall to his back room needs ‘exorcising’. I have suggested they lace the area, starting near the door where he’s least wary, with his favourite food chopped up small. They should scatter it there with him out of the way and then leave him to discover it, always with an escape route back into the hall. This way it is the room and the floor that is offering him the food, not his humans using bribery. (See more about Sprinkles TM here).
Eventually, if taken gradually enough, they should be able to lay a trail down that passage so long as they themselves keep out of the way.
If this psychological approach is very slow, then we have another tack using clicker training – a way in which he won’t suspect that he’s being lured into ‘danger’.
Boris’ body language must be respected and I have sent a couple of excellent videos for the children to watch – mum and dad too, helping them to read dogs. As little pressure as possible should be put on him while he builds up trust in humans and in the safety of his environment. This will take time because things that may have happened to him at a young age will be fairly well implanted in him now. There may be a genetic element to this, but I’m am pretty sure that humans have not always been nice to him. It’s a big tribute to his lovely nature that it’s not resulted in aggression.
Feeling unsafe overwhelms everything else. It’s a survival thing. An animal that feels unsafe won’t even eat. Changing this is a priority. Over time he should be getting his trust back in humans.
In some areas they have already made some great progress in the month he’s been with them.