Deprived of Stimuli During First Year.

Cassie is a puzzle.

Everything about Cassie’s behaviour points to her having spent the first year of her life in a crate or very small space, deprived of stimuli. This is an educated guess only. When she was rescued three years ago (she’s now four) her posture was hunched.

Deprived of enrichment as a puppyOn entering the lady’s house, the young dog had immediately found a place in the room where she felt at home. She has mostly stayed there ever since. This is apart from trips to the garden and her walks – and occasionally venturing into the kitchen when their other very elderly dog is being hand-fed.

Cassie never barks.

For over a year she wouldn’t even go into the garden, though somehow the lady managed to walk her. Then the lady adopted Ronnie and immediately Cassie went outside with him into the garden.

Cassie had been fostered for several months with a couple experienced with dogs before the lady adopted her. This was probably her first experience of kind humans. The couple had several Border Collies. Cassie loves Collies.

Tiptoeing around her adopted dog has taken over the lady’s life.

She can no longer easily mix with people or enjoy her walks.

Cassie is a Cambrian Shepherd, cross between a Pyranian and a Welsh Sheepdog. A designer mix, I believe. She’s four years of age. Breeding beautiful dogs should take a lot more than just leaving them in cages, deprived of all enrichment.

The lady’s patience and love has really paid off to the extent that she can now walk Cassie nicely so long as she gives people a wide berth. However, she is very disheartened because she has now tried everything she can think of and progress has come to a standstill. Previous help she has been offered includes tying her to her waist and making her go everywhere with her. The lady gave up on this after a couple of hours, in tears, because Cassie was so unhappy.

It’s hard to read the beautiful dog’s emotional state. Her demeanour is not so much shut down as very careful. She doesn’t look scared or depressed. Nor particularly happy. She may give a slight twitch of her tail when the lady enters the room or a brief lick of her lips when uncomfortable.

I suspect this lying still on her bed for hours at a time is some sort of learned behaviour, programmed during that first, probably mainly confined, year of her life.

Very likely Cassie’s careful behaviour is being reinforced by the lady’s own careful demeanour around her. 

Deprived of life’s normal stimuli.

This beautiful dog’s being deprived of the normal things puppies and young dogs need during crucial developmental stages of her life will probably have altered the way her brain has developed. She is, however, capable of joy and play. She demonstrates this with certain other dogs when they are out and with the Border Collies in her foster home.

I can see no reason why this joyfulness can’t spread to being with the lady too.

In order to break the current stalemate, she will need to make some very slow and gentle changes. She will encourage Cassie from her comfort zone in such tiny steps she barely notices it.

Cassie, constantly watching from her ‘place’, will be a very good reader of the lady’s mood and emotions. I suggest the lady acts more casual and off-hand, not moving so carefully – ignoring Cassie while she is walking about.

She can slowly begin to alter the current rigid routines, developed for Cassie’s security, so that the dog learns to be a bit more flexible and resilient to change. Slowly is the key word here. Gently the dog can be taught to feel happy when the lady stands up and moves about – without racing back to her refuge as she normally would.

We looked at precise ways in which she can do this using desensitisation and counter-conditioning.

Using a quiet “Good” followed by food, the lady will capture all subtle behaviours that point to Cassie engaging with her and putting a little effort in. Things such as orientating her body towards her, giving her eye contact or moving any part of her body even slightly towards where the lady sits on the sofa nearby. Eventually she will be standing up.

Out in the world of people and action.

Where the real world and meeting people is concerned, they can very gradually move nearer to places with more people about. She will associate people with good things and always allow Cassie choice to increase distance. Although deprived in her early life, I’m sure some real progress can be made with systematic work.

Feeling more free and comfortable with the equipment used should help when out on walks. Currently this is a choke chain and retractable lead. It is virtually impossible to get a harness on her at the moment as she drops flat onto the floor.

(The choke chain is not because she pulls – she doesn’t. A while ago she escaped from her harness and went missing for five days. The story of her recapture is really moving).

This has to be a really gradual process. A continuation of the extremely patient work the lady has already put in. It’s like she now dare do nothing to upset the status-quo, but status-quo doesn’t bring progress.

Very gently Cassie’s boundaries need to be eased outwards.

Four weeks later. The lady is using clicker and it’s like a whole new line of communication has opened with Cassie. The potential is exciting. Her confidence is growing.
Three and a half months later: I thought l would send you a photo of Cassie taking a treat from my friend in the park today. In fact she took loads of treats from her and Cassie only met her for the first time today. This is so exciting.

I hope all is well with you and thank you again.

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. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Cassie because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).