Jayden is a complicated little chap who is trying to adjust to huge changes in his life. He had been in rescue in Australia for two years and was brought over here by a young couple just a week or so ago. After a long flight he is becoming used to living in a house.
A year ago the lady worked in those kennels. She made friends with the anxious terried by sitting with him in her lunch breaks and has undoubtedly made considerable headway already, by simply giving him love.
She is now a vet nurse and this is from her original message to me: “…he has been previously abused or terribly socialised. I have worked with many rescue dogs and he is the most anxious I have ever met. He has some aggression problems. He chair guards so he is no longer allowed on the sofa, he has food aggression which we are working on, but the problem I have is the time he unexpectedly snaps at us. He will come on my lap for a cuddle, and when I stroke him sometimes he goes for me. It is very disheartening as I cannot see what has triggers it….. he is too scared to go for a proper walk and will only go to the end of the road and back at the moment, although this is an improvement”.
What wonderful people this little dog now lives with. The time has come, however, for them to have an objective view. They are giving him far too much attention, to the extent that every time he moves he’s asked ‘are you okay?’ It shouldn’t be assumed that just because he jumps on them that he’s come for a cuddle. He may just like the comfy closeness and cuddles will be a novelty to him. He is often motionless and inscrutable, but every now and then his inner state may manifest itself with lip-licking, shaking off, paw lifting and yawning. He may simply stare at them from a door way, motionless and anxious. He drags a blanket to his food bowl to bury it under. When they come home he crawls towards them on his tummy, and in his excitement this is the only time he allows petting. He takes out his stress on his blanket – ripping or humping it.
Jayden is a little dog of contradictions. He is unnaturally quiet – the only thing he has barked at (so far) is vapour trails from planes in the sky. Perhaps the sound the aircraft reminds him of his long journey? When I entered, surprisingly he just sniffed me and settled down in his bed until later, when the pressure of human attention was focussed on him.
We isolated some of the issues – snapping when touched, snapping around food, growling and snapping when approached and on a sofa or chair, fear of the car and hoover, and cowering when approached with his harness or lead.
Each of these things can be broken down into tiny increments and worked on – just as they are already doing on the walks. For instance, they can start touching parts of his body he’s okay with, using treats, and keeping it at no more than just one touch with the back of the hand whilst watching very carefully for any signals – freezing or looking away for instance – that show he’s unhappy and would mean they have gone too far, so should immediately backtrack. He can eventually be taught, as a food-rewarded ‘touch’ game, to approach hands himself.
They will do everything they possibly can to lower his stress levels and take pressure off him.
Just imagine, being in kennels for two years after a past life we can’t even guess at, having at five years of age to adjust to the sort of normal loving home life he has probably never known. The couple desparately want to compensate for his past, and I think they now see that they may be overdoing it a bit. Hand feeding and leaving his food about, waiting on him, being on his case all the time and so wanting to cuddle him, are all notions that need to be abandoned for the forseeable future.
He is one little Australian pound dog who has belatedly fallen on his feet.