As I left, they asked me whether I felt they were a good home for their young Welsh Sheepdog, Taffy.
I can’t think of a better place for the recently adopted dog – apart from living with a sheep farmer maybe. She is very lucky to be re-homed by the conscientious and caring young couple who are doing their best to understand her needs.
Taffy has landed on her feet in a very good home.
From the couple’s own point of view, however, there is a downside. The reality of what they had done soon kicked in. Instead of having a dog they can take everywhere with them, they have lost their freedom. Taffy’s restrictions have overtaken their lives.
The young man wasn’t complaining as he said how they feel; they hadn’t fully realised just what they were taking on.
They are now unable to go out together because they can’t leave her alone; they are unable to watch TV without hassle because she barks at anything on it that moves. Family Christmas this year is going to be a problem because of Taffy.
Giving a rescue dog a good home can sometimes be a far bigger sacrifice than one can anticipate. The more people know about the particular dog, the better. Some things, like separation issues and barking at TV, may not be detectable by most rescues unless a dog is fostered or previous owners have come clean.
With hard work and research, they already have insight into how to help a dog like Taffy. They have made headway. They know that to make theirs a good home for Taffy requires hard work and sacrifice.
Initially, her separation issues improved until they could leave her for a couple of hours, only to go downhill again. Understandably they lost heart. I’m sure with the systematic, slow plan we worked out together and given enough time, Taffy will properly overcome her separation problem.
The lovely people have made sure that, for now, one of them is always working from home.
Taffy is jumpy. She reacts to anything sudden. If someone touches her at the wrong time or in the wrong way, she may growl or snap. She had bitten the man in her previous home.
The first thing to help Taffy being quite so reactive, excitable or alarmed is to reduce her stress levels in every way possible. it’s her varying levels of arousal and stress that make her unpredictable. So, ‘Operation Calm’. They are a calm couple, the best home for Taffy.
They can’t watch TV
At the moment they don’t watch TV – or if it’s something important they constantly feed her bits of ham to her to try to keep her quiet. This food is a distraction. Distraction doesn’t solve anything long term. Shutting out the problem won’t alter how she feels. It doesn’t get to the root of the problem.
Food should be used either for counter-conditioning (pairing with something she’s scared or worried about, not avoiding it), or for following a marker sound which reinforces the precise behaviour they want of her.
So, with something stationery or slow on TV and using counter-conditioning, they will use food only while she’s looking at it or obviously aware of it. She will then get to feel better about the TV – associating it with food. Slowly they can use more active programmes, introduce sound etc.
At the same time, they could use their clicker or marker to capture and reinforce a moment in time. If she looks at TV and then chooses to look away. Click. If she sits or settles in front of TV. Click. If she looks without barking….etc.
Scared of the clicker
It was puzzling how Taffy was very responsive to the clicker when I used it. However, the young lady told me she had been scared when she had tried, so I thought it might be the sound of her own clicker. I gave her mine. As soon as she clicked it, Taffy ran for refuge on the man’s lap.
It’s obviously not the sound of clicker itself but something the dog associates with it, something the lady may well not even have noticed may have spooked her previously. It could even be something remembered from her past life.
The clicker principal works very well with Taffy, so we will find another ‘marker’ – I suggest Yes or Yup. Possibly a squeaker from inside a toy (you can buy them online) a click of the tongue or a gentle ‘peep’ from a whistle.
When they adopted her a couple of months ago, they were told she was ‘dominant’. Sure, she jumps up and seems to demand attention (but then may snap when given it – Why Does My Dog Bite Me When He Approaches Me to Be Petted) and she may persistently pester for something to be thrown.
Some of this behaviour may be a bit controlling – what someone labelled ‘dominant’. A need to control situations or people she’s unsure about (me) indicates insecurity rather than dominance.
She’s a dog of contradictions. She seemed to be excited and friendly whilst also being on edge. With me she was a mix of excited jumping up, friendly, wary, spooked and barking.
Over time, if they continue giving her such a good home, Taffy will enhance their lives as they do hers, making their hard work and efforts worthwhile.