I have just been to two five-month-old siblings. Before the family picked them up about four weeks ago, despite being brother and sister each puppy had had a very different life.
They are Canaans, a rare and ancient breed. Lapidos is confident and friendly, Leah is afraid of everything – of people and anything new, noisy or sudden.
Lapidos had been bullied by the other puppies in the kennel, so was brought into the house to live with the family.
Leah had remained outside with the other puppies. All her physical needs were met but I would guess she had little interaction with the normal things of daily life at that very crucial time before about thirteen weeks old when the ‘fear period’ kicks in. She is such a clear demonstration of the importance of early socialisation.
These puppies are are settling in well with a lovely family with four very young little children in a well-organised environment. Leah has made considerable progress thanks to the love and patience of her new family so far as relaxing with them is concerned.
But she is very scared of anyone new.
She is often too frightened to go out into the garden, particularly during the day – but strangely she is more courageous outside after dark. She shies at gusts of wind, sounds, anything moving, anything new or sudden.
The two pups lived exclusively in the utility room which is off their large kitchen and they had not been allowed into the house. They are quite content to be in there without crying to come out and join the family, probably because that’s how it’s been from the start. All their encounters with the little children and other people have either been in that room, out in the garden or on walks.
There are downsides to this. When friends and even the children go into their utility room Leah, in particular, has nowhere to escape to if scared unless the back door is open which she is sometimes too anxious to go through anyway. When I came I was immediately introduced to the dogs in the utility room and Leah ran to the furthest bed, the best she could do to hide. Other people who don’t know better will no doubt try to approach and befriend her.
After I had been there a while they opened the gate so the dogs could join us in the kitchen. Lapidos was in with us straight away, friendly, curious and testing new boundaries. Leah ventured in and kept running back out again. I rolled food to her which she ate and at one stage she dared come near to me as I sat still and looked the other way.
I suggested that the dogs now have monitored sessions in the kitchen, both separately and together, where they can begin to learn a few cues and interact with their humans and with new people in a calmer environment than the garden and in a less trapped environment than the utility room.
The kids should be taught to read how the dogs are feeling and whether, at any particular moment, they want to be touched or approached. From what I saw from their body language with the very little girl who joined us, both dogs, even Leah, welcomed her proximity. Dogs and children should never be left alone together unsupervised.
If Leah can’t gradually socialise with new people in an environment where she feels safe, it will make things very difficult for them all as she grows older. Now that they understand the way to deal with a fearful dog, they will no longer make her go anywhere she doesn’t want to go but give her time and always an escape route.
When out, these unusual and beautiful puppies are like a magnets to people and Leah can’t escape the scary attention. It’s the owners’ job to protect her as they would their children.
If something scary happens to a dog when one of their humans happens to be present, the dog can associate the person with the fear even though they had nothing to do with it. There was an incident where a child tied Lapidos’ lead to a chair in the garden and went away. The pup pulled the chair over which terrified him and the lady was nearby and rescued him. For the following week he tried to avoid her.
We looked at all aspects of the puppies’ lives to make sure they get off to the best start, including diet. In the picture is Leah, venturing out of the utility room and past a new large pack of Baker’s Complete dog food. Diet affects the dogs both physically and mentally, and food like this is made to be tasty and pretty, but contains little proper nutrition and even some harmful stuff and additives. They will return it.
So, we have made a start. The purpose of having me to help are for the humans to be able to teach the pups basic training cues, to walk nicely on lead and for the beautiful Leah to gradually grow in confidence. Finally, and understandably with such young children playing outside, they would like the dogs to toilet in one area only in the garden.