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).

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!!”

Maisy Shuts Down and Shakes

Nervous

Maisy nervous

Maisy is a Labrador.

She is very well loved and here she is on the left, her happy old self, in her bed with the cat.

Now something strange is happening. For the past month Maisy has had periods of complete shut down. She looks miserable and sometimes shakes. This seems to come over her for no reason at all. You see a different dog on the right. Her ears are flat and she is still, and not really engaging in what is happening around her. It’s almost like she is somewhere else in her head. I just touched her gently with one finger and she startled.

We have been doing detective work starting with a thorough check by the vet. Maisy has had a lot of upheavel over the past few months with crashings and bangings as restoration work has been done on the house which she seemed okay with at the time. The final straw may have been, after an especially noisy period, a door slammed loudly beside her.

Maisy relaxed

Maisy Relaxed

Maisy seems more or less fine when she is out of their own home and garden, so it’s not continuous. Is it prompted by the house, the ladies’ presence, or both?

They are keeping a diary of all the circumstances when they notice her going downhill – who is about, where they are, what they are doing and so on. She is fine and relaxed when they get home having been out for a few hours, but starts again after a short while. They hope to set up a camera to see what happens if they both walk out for half an hour when she starts to shut down or shake.

The situation is compounded because everyone around her is so concerned. She is constantly focussed on and loved, which may make her feel uncomfortable. When I sat down on the sofa she came up between me and one of the girls and lay close up to me and relaxed. I believe she felt reassured by my calm confidence and that I was matter of fact and not anxious about her. I made no fuss of her and only gave her the occasional touch, but she would be able to feel that I loved her and that I loved her presence beside me.

Maisy doesn’t need to be fussed to feel loved.  This is probably the key to her rehabilitation. It may take a while or the cloud may suddenly lift. We will see.

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