Settling in somewhere so different can be overwhelming.
Poor Peggy. She had only been in her loving new home for a few weeks when her behaviour began to change.
This coincided with her sickening for a serious illness which they didn’t realise at the time. Having had her for such a short while they would not know what her normal behaviour would be when she’d finished settling in.
The four-year-old Miniature Schnauzer has had two litters of puppies and evidently, though kindly treated and with the company of a good number of other dogs, there are a lot of things in everyday life she’s had little experience of including dogs outside her own home.
It seems that walks had been very few and far between.
As soon as she arrived at her new home they took her out – as one does. Initially she was very quiet and compliant. Too quiet. She was, I’m sure, keeping her head down and overwhelmed.
Then, a great surprise to her new humans, she had run out of the front garden, barking ferociously and jumping at a passing small child – terrifying him.
She was now showing fear and reactivity to joggers, other dogs and people – particularly small dogs and children. Unsurprisingly bikes and wheellie bins her.
The man had very wisely sat on a bench away from the action to start desensitising her and was making a bit of progress. However, just sitting and watching is only half of the picture. Peggy needs counter-conditioning as well – pairing these things with something good (special food) from a comfortable distance – so she begins to feel better about them.
She was soon barking at things she heard from the house also, particularly distant dogs.
Then on walks and only a few yards from the house, she began to go on strike, sitting down and refusing to walk.
Then the illness broke out. The vet said she had a stomach bug already picked up by several dogs locally. She was very ill indeed and on a drip for several days. She returned home for a couple of days but had to be re-admitted and put back on the drip.
Poor Peggy. Poor Peggy’s new owners.
Now that she’s back home the problems that were emerging before are getting worse. Would this have happened anyway? Is it made worse by the ordeal she suffered within such a short time of such a major change to her life?
I personally feel this would be happening anyway.
Settling in can go through several phases that are impossible to predict.
It’s always best to go slowly. Too little is better than too much.
It’s tempting to think that if a dog refuses to walk that she is being ‘stubborn’. The gentleman has very kindly picked her up, carried her a little way and put her down again. It went like this all the way to the woods where she would then start to run about freely.
Is it that she doesn’t feel safe on the footpaths with houses and the possibility of encountering people, bikes and dogs?
I believe it’s a bit of this, but also she has quickly become very attached to the lady. I feel if the man takes her out she wants to get back to mum. She is much better when the lady takes her out but still is eager to get home. This is her new ‘safe place’.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I would always advise erring on the boring side. Forget about walks for the first week or two and then introduce them very gradually – particularly in the case of a shelter dog or a dog that’s not been out and about much. Just imagine how everyday things we ourselves don’t even notice are big and novel stimulants to the dog.
The man would really like Peggy to trot off lead beside him while he goes for a gentle run. There is a long way to go.
So, the first step is to get her out and about but in her own good time. It could possibly take weeks. Peggy will decide.
It’s very likely she quite enjoys being carried part of the way to the woods so possibly it’s being reinforced as well. Anyway, this is our initial plan – to be tweaked as necessary – and shows how with this sort of problem we need to be creative. The dog must feel she has freedom of choice even though we ourselves may be manipulating that choice. (I used to say to my children at bedtime when they were tiny, ‘do you want to walk or shall I carry you?’ Crafty!).
The man will put a longish line on the dog – they live in a quiet road with a field opposite. He will open the door and just let her have as much length as she wishes. If she walks he will follow her. Every now and then he will stop so it’s the dog that has to wait. This can often increase a desire in the dog to move on. He may call her back to him and reward her. They can repeat it.
If Peggy herself stops and sits down, she’s saying she doesn’t want to go any further. The man will turn around and go straight back indoors.
On the longer line she won’t feel trapped. There will no longer be any pressure in terms of cajoling or bribing to make her walk on. Left to choose for herself she will go when she’s ready. She shouldn’t really miss walks as she so seldom had them anyway.
Settling in (like breaking up, as the song says) is hard to do. Allowing the dog choice makes it easier for her. Here is a nice article ‘Should my Dog Have Choices‘ by Kristina Lotz.