Settling In. Won’t Walk

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.

Miniature Schnauzer settling in to her new home

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.

 

 

Trigger Stacking

Sassy was fetched on Sunday and on Wednesday I was there with her, the couple and their two children.

Forward planning.

They had done some perfect forward planning in advance of getting their rescue dog home from the shelter.

They are not a family that took a dog into their lives upon impulse. Absolutely the opposite. Over a few weeks they had visited the two-year-old mixed breed several times. She particularly bonded with the little girl, aged 8.

They were told that Sassy is a German Shepherd Husky mix but I can’t for the life of me see any Husky. Staffie maybe. She’s smaller than a GSD – much the size and shape of Zara, my mini Labrador.

There is one particular cloud on the horizon and that is her possible ‘aggression’ to other dogs. This is based on one incident. In order to show the family how Sassy was with other dogs, the shelter staff brought three dogs into the area, one at a time.

The first dog she ignored. They tell me she took no notice of it at all. It’s unusual for a dog to truly ignore another dog suddenly entering her immediate environment. I suspect she may deliberately have looked away from it as dogs do when they feel uneasy about something.

The second dog was large and noisy. It was aggressive and scary but Sassy managed well.

The third dog was brought in, a peaceful Staffie. Sassy hurled herself at it and pinned it down – no actual injury.

This to me spells ‘trigger stacking’, where the events add up.

Already she will have been aroused by being with her visitors and probably a couple of shelter staff. Coming out of her kennel in itself will have been exciting.

To quote Sally Hopkins, each time a dog is over excited or is caused stress, the adrenal and thyroid glands, testosterone and hypothalamus begin to increase their production. The output from these glands reach a peak 10-15 minutes after the incident, and takes between 3-5 days to return to the level they were at before the incident.

trigger stacking

This is why certain dogs can become aggressive for no apparent reason when meeting another dog; they are still experiencing the rush of adrenaline etc. from a build up of small things or an incident that happened 10-15 minutes beforehand (thank you Dog Games for the diagram).

 

Trigger stacking

Trigger stacking will also have been happening from the moment Sassy was let out of her kennel to be taken to her new life.

Just imagine how arousing entering a new home must be to a dog, particularly a dog that has had little variety for months.

First the lead is attached and she’s led away from the place she knows well. Then into the car with the new smells and sounds.

Then into the house. A total bombardment of new smells from all quarters. Her new humans hovering about even if consciously trying to leave her alone. Then where should she toilet? She explores but every now and then meets a barrier – a correction of some sort. She is learning.

She’s very reactive to birds in the garden. I wonder how long it has been since she sat and watched birds? She worries when she hears a dog bark – unsurprising when she had been surrounded by so much barking. There are further new people coming into the house.

I will have barely touched upon all the things she will have been experiencing and processing over the past three days, things that will slowly have been adding to her stress levels. Trigger stacking. She responded initially by having a crazy, manic few hours before settling down a bit.

Such was their forward planning that despite being at work all day they had already made arrangements so Sassy wouldn’t be left for more than a couple of hours at a time. They had also spoken to me and booked me well in advance.

I have given them a few suggestions to get them started off on the right foot and will go again in a couple of weeks when she has settled in and may just perhaps be less acquiescent and accepting.

She is quickly getting the idea of not jumping on the sides and they will now be making what they do want her to do -resisting or getting back down – rewarding.

There are a couple of restrictions that she may balk against eventually.

They have a a small white rug in front of the sofa and they don’t want her on this. It keeps her away from sitting beside them while they watch TV but this may be a big missed opportunity for bonding.

The other rule that may be a challenge is they want her to toilet only in a very small patch of stones behind the shed. They always accompany her at the moment and have so far been successful. They will need not to let her out without them for a while if they want this to become a habit and also reward her actually on the ground as she finishes to emphasise the location. I suggested they put the toileting on cue with special words – ‘be clean’ perhaps.

Apart from some pacing and panting, Sassy seems to be settling down brilliantly. I gave her a bone to chew which she worked on enthusiastically – chewing being a great ‘unwinder’.  She was lying stretched out on the floor in no time, oblivious of people walking around her, like she was exhausted.

I am very happy that the family are keeping the dog in the garden and just outside the gate for now while she adjusts – well away from any other dogs – to give her stress levels time to go right down. A new home is a huge adjustment.

They are not over-fussing her. The children are doing their bit.

In a couple of weeks, in a calm and stable state she can start to be gradually re-introduced to the world outside their immediate environment with as little opportunity for ‘trigger stacking’ as possible.

I wonder what will come to the fore in a couple of weeks time when the ‘real dog’ comes out of her shell?

 

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 Sassy and I’ve not gone into exact details for that reason. 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. Every dog is different. 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)

Depression? Huge Adjustments

Westie suffers from depression

Mitzie eventually lay down

Mitzie’s behaviour points to depression.

Only after I came home did I get the eureka moment. Westie Mitzie’s odd behaviours, obviously as a result of huge changes to her life, were consistant with depression.

They have had the little four-year-old dog for only six days. They are still getting to know her and she has a lot of adjusting to do.

There isn’t much known about her past, but when they picked her up she had seemed bright, confident and happy. She was also very dirty and in bad need of grooming. Her yellow-stained feet suggested that she was constantly caged or kenneled and having to stand in her own urine. After being groomed, she then had a thorough vet check, her first injection and was micro-chipped.

They took her for a walk.

So far, so good. Hindsight as ever being wonderful, perhaps this was all just too much too soon.

Her behaviour then changed, literally overnight. The first night she had slept through the night but the second night she cried when left.

The next day she refused to go out for a walk.

By the fifth night she howled and cried for ages.

depression

Mitzie paces the perimeter of the room she’s in. Round and round and round, always in an anti-clockwise direction. My guess is that she had been caged in a small area for hours on end if not all the time and was driven mad with boredom. Much like a confined zoo or circus animal she would circle.

It’s like she is literally trying to ‘unwind’. The more she does it, the more she will do it. I suggest they interrupt by gently calling her, rewarding for coming (fortunately she loves her food) and then doing something else with her briefly. This is hard because a symptom of depression is that she’s lethargic and lacking in interest, but at least she still will take food.

Mitzie’s body language from the moment I entered was really unusual. She stood still a lot, she moved slowly, tail and head down. She back away. The door of the room was open and she could have run away had she so wished. The only things she did with any purpose was to circle the room. I described her manner as distant, careful and worried. When they put their hand out over her head to touch her she shrank back. If her chest was tickled she stood still but showed no sign of either liking it or wanting to avoid it.

She has had a few accidents indoors, unsurprising if not having had the opportunity to get out of her living area for quite a long time. I also read that one sign of depression in dogs may be lacking the drive to try to go out.

The one thing that does get a reaction apart from meals, is being left – most particularly when the gentleman leaves the room.

I have a theory about depression happening when life suddenly becomes good, based on my own childhood. I was very unhappy at a boarding school and a few days after I went to a much nicer place, thinking I was in heaven, I suddenly developed a psychiatric problem that today would have been diagnosed as depression. It was like, as soon as I could relax and worry no longer and my defenses were down, the black devil was free to ride in.

Little Mitzie has really landed on her feet. She lives with a very kind and caring couple in a peaceful environment. The change in her life being so sudden and enormous, this is all to do with her adjusting. Meanwhile, she should be allowed to make her own choices and have a predictable routine. Pressure in terms of trying to get her to react and giving too much attention should be relaxed. Picking her up to get her to go out or to her bed should be avoided where possible as this takes away her choice – she will be able to walk because she is still motivated by food. Going out on walks just isn’t important at the moment.

Here is a quote from a friend of mine who works for Hounds First Sighthound Rescue (the breed is irrelevant of course):

“On the first day it’s like they are running on adrenaline and then seem to crash. We give them their own space such as a crate, covered in a blanket, and let them do things in their own time.  Obviously if dogs are in urgent medical need we get them to the vet but everything else is left for a good week to two weeks until they start to unwind. We always say that they are either very good or at the other end of the scale shut down for 2-3 weeks, then you get all the unwanted behaviours appear, then after that they start to adjust and this can take months or even years”.

One thing is certain. If receiving love has anything to do with the speed of her rehabilitation, then Mitzie should throw off her depression before too long.

About three weeks later: “She seems much happier. Wags her tail to greet us, plays with her Kong toy, chews on her hide bone chew, likes sitting in the garden.  We go for a short walk around the church and she trots happily with her tail up. Does not circumnavigate the extension or garden anymore (no more pacing in circles)…….Her coat looks a lot better and she has put on a little weight.  Overall she is a happier looking dog……We are also aware that there is still a long way to go as we are still working on leaving her alone for short periods but this is improving. We think she realises that life is better with us!!”

When Can I Go Home?

Tibetan1 Tibetan2This was quite heartbreaking in a way.

Tibetan Terrier Toby’s previous owner got him as a puppy seven years ago when she divorced. Since then they have been inseperable with Toby sleeping on her pillow beside her every night.

Now the lady has met a new man. He gave her an ultimatum – it’s me or the dog. She parted with the wrong one in my opinion!

They picked Toby up yesterday and I was there today. This little dog has been scratching the door, crying, pacing and constantly asking to go outside; he is simply waiting to be reunited with his past owner.

TibetanTobyThey brought a jumper of hers home with her scent on it. It was in his bed. In this situation I suggested they got rid of it because there was absolutely no point in reminding Toby of her now. The faster he realises that this is his lovely new home the better – because he has really landed on his feet. I am having to persuade the people not to fuss him and to give him time and space.

He is withdrawn and preoccupied. You can see from the pictures just how he is feeling.Tibetan3

They have taken the next week off work and I have given them several tasks to work on involving chicken – although he is refusing to eat he will take pieces of chicken! They need to prepare him for being left alone for two or three hours. They have a strategy for night times because the first night was very difficult. They will give him much better quality food than he has been getting previously and they will introduce him to the concept of working for reward rather than getting everything for nothing. He has never been off lead, so they will work on his recall so he eventually will be able to run free.

Toby’s life will be even better than before although he doesn’t know that at the moment.

He will come around.

Today Toby is simply waiting. His obvious unhappiness could make your heart bleed and had the lady in tears today.

A quick update. It’s now day three and already Toby is settling in. He is a lot happier.