adjusting to new worldSweet little Fox Red Labrador, Willow, used to live outside in kennels with other gundogs. Now she is in a very new world.

Brave Willow’s new world.

When one considers this is the first time the two-year-old has lived in a house, everything is a big adjustment. Just think of all the things in her new world she has never encountered!  TV, music, vacuum cleaner, sofas, telephone, people eating, doorbell, cuddles probably, walking on lead….the list is endless.

When I arrived I could sense that she was being careful like she’s testing any new situation. This didn’t last for long – she was curious and friendly at the same time as being reserved. She soon lay over the man’s lap, enjoying gentle fussing.


The couple, like many people,  believed when they took her on five weeks ago that exposing and introducing her to as much of her new world as possible, as soon as possible, was the thing to do.

They may have overdone it. What they called ‘desensitising’ was in fact ‘flooding’ – the very opposite. 

Desensitising requires keeping the dog within her comfort zones/distances and allowing her to get used to things in her new world in her own good time. 

Their main goal now is to build her Willow’s confidence and trust in them.

We know how we would feel if we’d had a bad fright. Imagine being caught up in the London Bridge attack. We would then be much more jumpy for quite a while afterwards. Our hearts would be racing and we might find it hard to breathe. Our mouths may be dry. So it is with dogs, and to help Willow to cope, this is what they now need to avoid.

They will do all they can to keep her stress/arousal low and encourage other people to do the same thing. Male family members are a lot too vigorous in their ‘roughing up’ play with her. This isn’t good for her.

While now avoiding over-arousing or scary stimulation, they will be adding beneficial and enriching activities.

Desensitising and counter-conditioning

They will desensitise her to everyday things she is scared of like vacuum cleaner, the man’s guitar, and buses. Desensitising isn’t sufficient though. Counter-conditioning will teach her to be comfortable in the presence of things that previously scared her, by building up positive associations.

Willow, like many dogs, is much less comfortable around men. She has obviously been very well ‘controlled’ and most likely by men in the world of shooting. It is more than likely that her training in the past was harsh, like much gundog training still is. She is almost scared of not pleasing. She is very obedient. This must cause her big conflict when forced into situations she can’t cope with. 

Meeting other dogs

One of these situations she can’t cope with is encountering other dogs when she is on lead. She is absolutely fine if they ignore her. If they don’t, and as she has no way of escape, all she now can do is try to defend herself.

Instead of simply holding onto her while she barks and lunges (which hurts her neck), they will now protect and help her.

They will use better, more comfortable walking equipment and build up her trust. She needs to know that they will no longer force her into any situation where she doesn’t feel safe – and in her new world there are lots.

Other dogs should become good news, not bad news. In the past, off lead, she probably had freedom to make her own distance when encountering unknown dogs (and all those other dogs in the gundog community will probably have been under tight control as well).

No bad consequences, only good ones

Now Willow can learn to relax. I would almost call it ‘anti-training’ where the pressure is taken off. She will get a chance to work out for herself what works and what doesn’t and that there are no bad consequences, only good ones. Even on lead they will allow her to choose where she walks and when she sniffs. 

They will give her a few more everyday routines, anchor points, that should help her to feel secure in her new world. 

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out here. Finding instructions on the internet or TV can do more harm than good sometimes. Every dog is different and every situation is different. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Behaviour and Support page)