Early Exposure. Appropriate Acclimatisation to Life. Flooding

Another dog, a puppy this time, having lacked the right kind of early socialising and exposure in the earlier weeks, before she was twelve weeks of age.

Mia is now nearly four months old, a beautiful Catalan Shepherd puppy.

Little or no exposure to the real world

little or no exposure to the real worldPoor little Mia is extremely fearful of people. She is generally jumpy and is terrified of traffic.

They picked her up three weeks ago from a breeder with a great number of dogs in her house. Mia’s socialisation will have been great with other dogs but I suspect she had no exposure to anything outside the house.

Mia’s mother was scared of Mia’s new humans when they picked Mia up. That should have been a red flag. They are first time dog owners and simply wouldn’t have known what to look for.

A fearful mother will pass fearfulness on.

When they got Mia home they went straight into walking her three times a day. They took her to places believing it would help her. They encouraged people to ‘say hello’. This ended in a village fate with lots of people and a fairground and Mia froze.

This is flooding.

Since she arrived, rather than gaining confidence, Mia was becoming increasingly scared of going out.

Over the days, with all the new things to which she had had no early exposure, her stress levels will have mounted until she could no longer cope. Now they have a bigger problem than they had initially.

Bit by bit, where possibly she could have coped with one thing introduced at a time, the under-prepared puppy became overwhelmed with simply too much of everything. They must not blame themselves – anyone apart from an expert would have done exactly as they did. It’s not a normal situation.

Really it’s the breeder’s job to give a new dog owner the right information. It’s such a shame that many don’t recognise the importance of exposure – particularly to other dogs, to people and to traffic.

Puppies need early exposure

Puppy needs handling by various people from a young age. She needs taking out and about, exposure to different kinds of people, to shops and traffic, ideally well before her injections. She needs to travel in a car.

They have a large open kitchen and sitting room area. Little Mia remained as far as possible from me with the odd venture nearer to pick up food I threw. She barked at me and retreated.

I have personal experience with this with my own German Shepherd Milly. Ten years ago I brought the terrified puppy home from a client when she fourteen weeks of age. She came from a puppy farm and had had no exposure to anything whatsoever. It took her about three weeks before she would come anywhere near me.

I, however, didn’t push it. I took her nowhere and I left her alone. Bit by bit she got braver. Like Mia, she was fine with dogs and at the time I had three.

My Milly will never be a social butterfly but she has the tools to cope. 

Feeling safe

In order to learn to live life happily, Mia needs to feel safe. At the moment, if she sees anyone apart from the family or if she’s out of the house and garden, she’s terrified.

It was lovely to see how happy she could be when the teenage son went over to her. We want a lot more of that!

Like my Milly, she is no trouble at all. She’s not relaxed enough to be playful, nippy or naughty though I’m sure that will come now. Earlier in the evening she had had a little race around the garden having dug a hole. She had dug up a stone which she was having fun throwing about. A very good sign.

They must take things one at a time now. By avoiding exposure to things that scare her unless at a comfortable distance, they should slowly build her confidence and trust. This requires her having an escape route. At a distance, they will associate the things she’s scared of, most particularly people and traffic, with food (counter-conditioning).

If she won’t eat, they are still too close or it’s getting too much for her. They should stop.

Taking things one at a time

The plan involves breaking things down.

A harness will make sure she is comfortable. They will start by introducing her to this carefully, using food. She shrinks from the lead, knowing that she will then have to go out, so the lead needs working on, with no association with walks.

Next they will work on the threshold, the doorway. At the moment they have to carry Mia out of the door and down the road before they put her down because she’s so scared she pulls back for home.

By ‘lacing the environment’ just outside and leaving the door open with Mia on a long lead, they can work on this. She can run back in if she wants. She should soon feel safe enough to walk out of the door.

The next problem is her terror of traffic. With the door open and well back for the road, on a long lead so she can run back in, they will now pair passing traffic with food.

Being in the car is scary – Mia drools and shakes. They will briefly put her in the car, offer food and lift her out again. Lots of times. When they do drive her, it will be for one minute down the road to the woods which she fortunately finds okay.

They must prevent people from crowding the scared puppy.

It’s going to be a slow old business.

Take it easy – err on the cautious side. 

I have been to so many cases of both puppies and older dogs, from rescue in particular, where the people flood their new dog with too many new experiences.

I would say, however confident and calm the dog seems, take it easy. Introduce new things one at a time. It’s a whole lot better to err on the safe side.

So now, unless they really have to, I advise them to resist taking Mia out until she is ready. A little later they might carry her to the car and drive her to wood or park. A short journey to somewhere nice may help her to accept the car.

Once she does go out, they should constantly apply distance and counter-conditioning when she sees a person. If she is scared by something, then it’s is ‘too much’ or she is too close. They should abandon the walk and come home straight away.

Six weeks later: Many thanks for all your support, which has really helped us to understand Mia and how to help her. She’s steadily growing in confidence and we hope this continues.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help

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