Romanian rescue shakes with fear when out in the street

Published by Theo Stewart on

(An online consultation)

They only know a little about Milo’s past. The rest has to be guesswork based on his fearful behaviour. Away from the house and onto the street, he shakes.

He must have started life in a home because he has obviously had training at some stage. He’s fine with the vacuum and blender – but terrified when the microwave beeps.

Milo spent the two years before coming to live with the couple in a Romanian rescue. I would guess for several years before that he was on the streets, fending for himself.

On constant alert, he shakes

We know the harsh methods often used to catch dogs. Maybe this is why he feels so unsafe. He shakes, jumpy, looking about on constant alert.

He reacts to sounds as much as to the sight of vehicles, dogs and people – especially children.

Their main worry is not being able to walk him from the house. He needs the exercise, the feel. They are however doing everything they can think of to enrich his life at home.

Lack of exercise is less important than mental wellbeing. Shaking and fearful, a walk will do him no good at all.

They will start at the very beginning

They think that they are starting at the beginning in doing all they can to get him to walk about three houses down the road.

But that’s not the beginning.

Milo is happy to have them put on his harness and lead. He is eager at the door for it to open – they have an inner porch.

But when he steps out of the front door, immediately he’s gripped by fear. He shakes. His demeanour totally changes.

So stepping out of the front door is the true beginning. This is where the work starts.

Choice and an escape route

It’s important that Milo is able to make choices and that he has an escape route.

The lady will sit on a chair in the porch with the inner door open (it may need to be closed until the weather warms up).

Milo will be on a lead that is long enough to take him to the pavement – about the distance of a parked car.

They will start at a quiet time of day.

Every time there is even the slightest sound, if Milo hears a voice, a car or person passes, the lady will gently mark the immediate moment with a word like Yes, and feed Milo with something loves.

If he wants to retreat, that is his choice.

Slowly slowly

Bit by bit they can scatter feed in their drive, near to the door, to ‘lace the environment’ with good stuff.

It could take several weeks for Milo to feel brave enough to venture out onto the pavement, let alone get as far as three houses down the road.

With the ‘desensitising’ and ‘counter-conditioning’ from the porch, if he shakes he is still too close to the road. The ‘beginning’ may be further back in the house with the door open or even watching at the window together.

Bearing in mind ‘trigger stacking‘, they should call it a day sooner rather than later. Doing the exercise little and often would be best.

I hope the weather soon warms up!

Three weeks later: Milo is doing great! We took on board your advice to give him as much freedom to choose as possible and it seems to be helping. We have also been bearing in mind to avoid experiences that would ‘fill his anxiety bucket’ so have restricted his view to the street and it does seem to help him be more relaxed. We have also been working a lot on his recall and it’s going very well!
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ and is always written with permission of the client. 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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