The two Romanian Street dogs I have just visited are doing magnificently as are their new custodians, a couple with a large open home, marble floors and furniture!
Everything is different and it’s not surprising that they are on high alert at times. At others they are amazingly chilled. It’s hard to believe they were flown over from Romania only three weeks ago.
Having lived on the streets till eighteen months ago and then all that time since in kennels, it’s little surprise that there are toilet accidents in the house. They have been scared of walking beside traffic which makes sense – freely roaming they would have kept away from a noisy road.
Roma is a Romanian Sheepdog of around five years old and Mocca a Collie mix, a year older. They look surprisingly similar really. The two dogs were best buddies during their time in kennels before coming here, which must have a lot to do with how well they are settling in. That, along with great work which must have been done by kennel staff and now by the couple they live with who have been fielding their issues with great sensitivity and insight.
Out in the garden in particular they are very reactivite to the smallest noise, including sounds inaudible to their humans.
We will be approaching the barking situation from three angles. Firstly to reassure the dogs that they can trust their humans to be responsible for protecting them by how they deal with alarm barking.
Secondly, the best way to see this through is for the couple to call the dogs away from what they are barking at and to themselves, so a lot of recall work is needed until responding to being called is immediate. Thirdly desensitisation, removing the feelings of fear associated with noises.
Paired with the recall work the dogs should eventually accept most of the sounds and learn to go to their humans if they are worried. It needs consistency and persistence which these people certainly have.
Walking is the other area of major concern. Now that they have to walk on lead around the streets, we need to get into the dogs’ heads. How will they be feeling? Are they feeling safe? Comfortable?
Having been free-roaming street dogs, they will have been used to meeting and greeting people and dogs if they so chose and avoiding them if they preferred. They are now physically attached to a human – and by short and rather heavy chain leads. The first thing is the for the dogs to feel as free and relaxed as is possible; then to give them back some sense of choice as to whether they approach people and dogs or not.
They need comfortable equipment – I prefer Perfect Fit harnesses – with lightweight, longish training leads that can be hooked both back and chest. Then both dog and humans will feel safe and be safe.
I suggest they take the dogs back to ‘primary school’ with the walking. Why not start ‘walking school’ near home? Several five or ten minute sessions following the protocols just around the immediate locality, one dog at a time and swapping dogs so the one left behind doesn’t get too anxious. This will advance things a lot quicker than a tense mile-long walk with both dogs together, being forced near other dogs and people, and battling against things they hate like cats!
There is always a legitimate worry about whether the dog gets sufficient exercise, but it has been observed that dogs living free to do their own thing actually cover very little distance. We have to prioritise. Exercise with anxious dogs will do a lot less good than gradually acclimatising them with plenty of manageable and low-stress sessions that are both mental stimulation and fun.
If you are particularly interested in street dogs, why not watch the Living With a Street Dog webinar by Lisa Tenzin-Dolma.