Street Dog to Couch Potato. Still Fearful.

Published by Theo Stewart on

Gracie is a street dog from Hungary. The lady adopted the little black terrier ten months ago and has made terrific progress in transforming the truly terrified little dog into a dog that can cope better.

Coping is the word. She is still fearful of many things in the real world and runs to hide behind the lady at the smallest thing.

Time to start climbing up the second ladder.

She was a street dog form HunagryIt’s like the lady has climbed one long and steep ladder to the point they are now at and doesn’t know how to progress further. I am helping them onto the next ladder towards increasing Gracie’s confidence further and getting her to better accept certain things that make going out on the street a nightmare – like children, sudden sounds, balls and life outside the house in general.

It’s strange that a street dog should find the most scary things she meets out on the street. She is perfectly fine off lead in a field. She has shown her playful and carefree side when playing with her terrier friend and it would now be nice to see more of this.

Gracie is a gorgeous, gentle little dog who settled quickly and lay spread out on her back on the sofa beside the lady. When at home with nobody else about, she is a real couch potato.

The lady needs to wean her away a little from her over-dependence so she’s more able to stand on her own four feet! Being so dependent makes her vulnerable and it gives the lady no freedom. One exercise the lady will do, while Gracie is attached to her heels or under her feet, is to drop food and walk away. When the little dog catches up, repeat and so on – making a game of it.

We will deal with some of her fears, one at a time in an organised fashion, using desensitisation and counter-conditioning.

Put very simply, desensitisation means plenty of exposure to the thing ex street dog Gracie is fearful of but at a comfortable distance and counter-conditioning means then, at that comfortable distance or intensity, adding something she likes (food).

Getting the little street dog used to our ‘real’ world.

Here are a few examples:

Outside her front door in the real world of people, children, traffic and sudden noises. They will take this in easy stages and be very patient. Slowly slowly catchee monkey! They will start by walking around the house until Gracie is happy and relaxed.

Next they will step outside the front door where, surprise surprise, Gracie will find the environment already laced with food! They can stand about. At anything scary, chicken will rain down from the sky (not from the lady – she needs to keep herself out of the picture). At the first sign of Gracie’s tail dropping they will go back in.

They will work on the parasol in the garden that blows in the wind, frightening Gracie.

They will work on children. She’s terrified of children. There are kids next door that they can work on. Children make a noise and ‘chicken rain’ falls. Starting indoors where Gracie feels safe, she will slowly work towards being outside in the garden with children noise from next door.

They will work on footballs. It’s hard not to encounter people kicking balls on their walks and Gracie is terrified of them.

The lady will get a football. Gracie will go into the garden to discover a ball already placed by the fence and she will discover food. When she’s okay with this, she will start going out to find the ball in different places. The lady can then just try putting her foot on it and moving it slightly, dropping food. Gradually build up to rolling it then gently kicking it…….and so on.

The plan must be fluid.

The plan should be fluid and may need to be adjust to keep within Gracie comfort threshold. Sometimes it will take longer and sometimes she will be a surprise and get over a fear quickly.

Her new life is a huge adjustment for a street dog, particularly one that has probably spent her puppy-hood on the streets undoubtedly in the company of other dogs.

They have both done very well so far. Now let’s push it forward a bit.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Gracie. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).
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