A Huge Adjustment to a New Life

From streets of Romania to vet cage with Parvo.

Beautiful crossbreed Becca – with Labrador and Husky in the mix – started life as a puppy on the streets in Romania. At just a few weeks old she lost her mother and then she and her siblings caught Parvo. At just a few weeks old she spent too long alone in a cage at the vets.

Three puppies survived.

Their next big adjustment was to life in a Romanian shelter where she lived from seven weeks to seven months with her remaining siblings and other dogs..

A big adjustment for Romanian dog

Becca with her brother and sister

At seven months of age the three survivors were shipped over to a wonderful lady here in the UK who has a house full of dogs she’s helping.

This was another big adjustment at a sensitive stage of their lives. Becca lived there with her remaining siblings for two and a half years. It was her home.

Ten days ago, three-year-old Becca started what I’m sure will be her final big adjustment.

This has been the biggest adjustment of all. Never since when she was tiny and very ill with Parvo has she been without the company of several other dogs to back her up, including her brother and sister.

The lady had carefully prepared her for the big change, with several visits to the new house.

 

Then came the day she went home, leaving Becca behind.

Becca initially raced around the garden boundary looking to get out and found a way of opening the door into the porch.

She won’t eat.

She won’t toilet in the garden.

She’s waiting.

I would say she’s still waiting for the lady to return and take her back home to the other dogs. The several visits to wean her into her new life may have backfired a little because each had ended with her going back home.

Becca mostly lies quite still and quiet. It’s like she is being very careful. She only moves to follow someone – she doesn’t like to be alone. After all, she never has been alone. There’s always been all the other dogs.

She is more wary of the man.

When he stood up and moved about she was jumpy, tail between her legs but I could see she’d be friends if she dared. If the lady’s not at home she will follow him around. When he’s sitting still she relaxes with him.

Becca

I have given him some tips about his own body language that should help.

To date Becca has been walked around the garden on a retractable lead (they don’t trust the fence) and on a short lead when out.

To help her relax Becca needs to feel some freedom when she’s outside. The retractable being on a spring means she will always feel restricted.

I have shown them how to use a 30-foot long line without getting it all tangled. We walked around the garden and for a while Becca sniffed quite happily and ate some grass – doing relaxed doggy things.

Out on walks, being on a long line will mean she can have thirty or forty feet of freedom..

The couple will approach food differently now. As with an anorexic, pressure and persuasion can only make the matter worse.

I hope that after my visit they will now stop worrying so much. They will leave her be – to do things in her own good time.

She will come round, I’m sure.

I quote a colleague who works at a shelter: ‘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 appearing, then after that they start to adjust and this can take months or even years’.

From her past history I don’t believe there are any ‘unwanted behaviours’ to appear with Becca. I also think it will probably take just weeks rather than months for her to make the adjustment. She is a lot less fearful than Romanian street dog Adi I went to a while ago.

Soon Becca will be eating her food. Soon she will be sufficiently relaxed to do her business in the garden. She will have lovely long walks on the Heath.

The lady who took her in as a pup and where she has lived since, does a great job. She has trained a well-mannered dog that walks nicely on lead, doesn’t bark excessively, is never aggressive, will sit when asked and much more

Becca will be a great companion for her new humans. I have mainly backed up what the lady has already advised and given them added confidence that they just need patience, to ease off a bit – and to relax.

From Street Dogs to Pets

Rocky and Flossie were born on the streets in a small coastal town in BulgaDogs from streets of Kavanaria around two years ago from mothers also born on the streets. For the past year or so they have lived in a house with a couple who have done remarkably well with them, transforming them from street dogs to settled house dogs.

The one respect in which they are, if anything, getting worse is when out on walks and particularly when encountering other dogs.

Outside the house – more their natural habitat one might think – they are finding things harder.

Initially there were no problems with other dogs. When picked up they had no scars or evidence of fighting and they had lived happily and free around the other street dogs. Now when they encounter a dog, Rocky in particular is scared and Flossie is getting worse. Rocky shrinks and lowers himself and as they get nearer he resorts to lunging and barking, not wanting the other dog to get any closer.

This is where humans need to start thinking ‘dog’. It really doesn’t matter whether a destination is reached, it’s about the journey. What does matter is that they mimic as closely as possible what a free dog would do to feel safe. If the dog wants to increase distance then that’s what must happen. It could mean turning around. For now it could mean avoiding narrow passages and taking different routes. It could in some cases mean starting walks with a car journey to somewhere appropriate and safe.

In his past life, unleashed, Rocky could have chosen to turn and go the other way.  Both dogs would have had free choice as to whether to interact with other dogs or not. Now Flossie and Rocky are, necessarily, trapped on the end of leashes even when away from the roads. If let off lead, Rocky will take himself off for an hour or two and Flossie may well go home.

The lady in particular is finding walking the dogs increasingly nerve-wracking. She is afraid Rocky in particular might harm another dog.

There are three elements we discussed to help these two lovely dogs. The first is, when they are out, for them to feel as free and comfortable as possible. From having no restriction at all they are now on the end of retractable leads which, by the very way they work, always have tension. They thankfully wear harnesses but even these could be more comfortable.

The next thing is that the dogs need to be walked separately for a while because each needs full attention and their ways of reacting aren’t the same so they could well be firing one another up.

Thirdly, their reactivity needs to be worked on – carefully. Avoiding dogs altogether will get them nowhere, but even worse is to push them too close, beyond their comfort threshold so that they feel forced to defend themselves. The human at the end of the lead, watching their own dog carefully and increasing distance the instant there is any sign of discomfort or fear will, over time, build up trust. If Rocky knows he’s being ‘listened to’ then he should gradually dare go a bit closer.

Now desensitisation can begin. The appearance of another dog can start to be associated with good things like scattered food – but from a ‘safe’ distance.

When the dogs are in open places they are currently restricted on the end of just ten feet or so of retractable lead. They could be on 15 metre long, loose training lines, able to run, sniff and explore. If an off-lead dog does happen to run up, whilst escape strategies have been discussed, the dog should feel he has some choice. On the end of long lines their recall can really be worked on.

Both dogs are understandably nervous of new things, certain sudden sounds and people who look ‘different’. The best tool to change this is for every single time either Rocky or Flossie encounters something even slightly scary or anxious-making, something good should happen. This can be food or fun – the more rewarding to the dog the better.

Helping the dogs to feel safe is the priority. It’s the most important thing – more important to them than food even. If they don’t feel safe, they won’t be interested in food. Right from puppyhood these two would have been free to follow their instincts in order to keep themselves safe. In their new life, because trapped in effect, they need total trust in their humans to keep them safe instead.

So much of the stuff I normally advise is already in place for these dogs at home including a perfect diet and kind, positive training techniques from caring and knowledgeable people. It will be great when (and it will take as long as it take), the walks become relaxed and enjoyable too.

Fear Aggression to Other Dogs

Perfect dog at home but Llasa Alspo Elsie goes wild when she sees another dogLhasa Apso Elsie may lose it when she sees another dog.

She is such a friendly, confident and to my mind faultless little dog at home, living with the perfect family for her. She’s wonderful with the little boy and friendly with everyone, so this other side to her comes as a big surprise.

All was fine until about a year ago. It’s often hard to work out why something has changed, so we look at just what the dog does now and deal with that.

Tracing back it was probably a chain of events as things so often are, each one pushing her a little further down the road to where she is now. She was attacked by another dog whilst still in the vet immediately after having been spayed and before she had fully come round (how awful), then they moved house to find there was an aggressive barker next door, then she went for another dog outside the house, then she came back from a new groomer an unhappy dog. Each thing will have gradually sensitised her to other dogs and she now displays fear aggression big time.LlasaElsie2

However, we do know what we have now: a little dog who believes that many other dogs, particularly those bigger than herself, are bad news. She is fearless! If she doesn’t like the look of one she goes for it! No dog is too big for her to take on.

She has doggy friends. There’s not a pattern. Some new dogs that she meets she doesn’t react to at all, which suggests her state of mind at the time and the input from her humans both play a part.

Owner reaction is so important. Tightening the lead and forcing her forward even if at the same time talking to her in an ‘encouraging’ way, won’t help at all – particularly if this begins before she herself has even seen the dog. It’s like an announcement ‘uh-oh…a dog. Time to get worried’.

Until this change in her about a year ago, Elsie was never walked on lead (not something I would actually advocate for safety reasons), but it shows how reliable she was.

Now she has a collar with retractable lead attached which by definition never hangs loose.  She will feel trapped.  When she is held tight or lunges there will be discomfort to her neck. More and more she will be associating other dogs with bad stuff.

This is an issue of trust as much as anything else. When someone is holding the lead, the dog has to trust them. Trust will be worked on in other areas of her life also. They have exercises to teach her to give them full attention when they ask for it and to make food as valuable a reinforcer as possible.

They also have a trump card – golf balls!

She accompanies her gentleman to the golf course where she always stays close, and she also plays with the balls which she particularly loves. (I personally don’t recommend golf balls for safety reasons but she’s been okay).

If, in addition to using food, they now reserve golf balls solely for when they approach another dog, she should eventually be thinking ‘ah-ha, a dog, good, where’s my golf ball’!

It’s all about timing and working out what strategies are best for that particular dog.  Never does ‘one plan fit all’.

This will take time but with patience and consistency they will get there. Elsie is not only very clever dog, she is normally very biddable. A dream.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Elsie, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Good With People, Not With Other Dogs

Tasha is the perfect dog at homeGerman Shepherd Tasha was happy to see me when I arrived as she is with all people. When her new owners inherited her about four months ago she would jump up, but no longer.

Tasha is similar to other two dogs I’ve most recently visited in that she is fine at home, good with people, but not so good with other dogs out on walks. When this is the case I can usually bet that before even encountering other dogs things aren’t going as well as they should.  The dog will not be walking on a loose lead, sniffing and doing doggy-walk things. She will be pulling and she will be on the alert. A tight short lead gives no freedom and a retractable/extendable/flexi lead that is never loose will only compound the problem.

The owners had their previous two German Shepherds from puppies but Tasha is five years old. They were taken by surprise when she suddenly lunged and snarled at another dog. It seems likely that in the past Tasha was seldom walked on lead. She lived happily with another Shepherd. A dog on lead she is trapped and can’t freeze or flee, and there is a good chance that if she were free she would be quite OK with other dogs. Naturally they can’t test that yet. From that first lunge the lady owner in particular is scared and won’t walk Tasha alone any more. The gentleman holds the lead short and tight as soon as they spot another dog, irrespective of whether Tasha might be OK. They are in effect telling her that all dogs mean trouble, and Tasha will be reacting accordingly. It is a vicious circle.

Tasha now wears a Halti head collar which she tries to remove. Walks are increasingly stressful for both Tasha and her owners.

Once again we humans need to see things from the dog’s point of view and react appropriately.  Firstly, in all areas of life, in behaving like leaders the will give Tasha the opportunity to make the right decisions because she wants to please, rather than having them imposed upon her. For instance, instead of charging out of the door first at the start of the walk, she will work it out for herself that the door simply won’t open for her until she hangs back so they can go out together. The same rule applies to pulling down the road. She will work it out for herself over the next few days that she will only progress anywhere when the lead is loose (which is easier than it sounds so long as handlers stop all ‘correcting’and ‘training’ ).

Without walking out calmly and nicely and without then walking happily on a loose lead, Tasha is going to be in a stressy state of mind when she is confronted with possible trouble – other dogs. Finally they will work towards being able to trust Tasha to come back when called, so that she can be off lead. I am pretty sure other dogs will then seem far less of a threat to her.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.