“I’m a Terrified Dog. GET ME OUT OF HERE!”

In the reality TV game show ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’ a young woman is locked in a tank of snakes. She is terrified of snakes. A man who’s not a good swimmer is shut in a dark tunnel leading to a deep tank with scary water critters. Others are buried in a dark tomb with rats and insects dropping all around them.

These people do this through choice.

Terrified of the outside worldThey know exactly when the terror will start and when it will end. They have a get-out card. If the terrified contestants shout “I’M A CELEBRITY – GET ME OUT OF HERE!” they will be rescued immediately. There is a team of medics on hand, just in case.

They know that however much they hate the ordeal, they are safe.

Imagine how it must be for Marco.

After some weeks in kennels he has a wonderful new home. But, as soon as he leaves the sanctuary of the house and garden he is terrified.

The gate opens and a world of horror is beyond.

Vehicles – small, large, fast, slow, noisy, smelly – are passing. There are bikes and runners. He lunges and barks, attack probably being the best form of defense.

In the open he is on high alert all the time. He barks at wind in the trees, at birds flying overhead and at distant lights.

Being in the boot of their car sends him into a meltdown. A covered crate makes no difference.

Unlike the ‘I’m a Celebrity’ contestants, Marco has no way of knowing that he is, in reality, safe.

It’s an educated guess that for the first three and a half years of his life the Staffie mix will have had little exposure, if any, to the world outside a house and garden. Any journey in a car would probably have taken him through this outside hell and ended somewhere like the vet. No wonder he’s terrified.

All good dog owners give their dogs long walks, right?

Like the conscientious dog owners they are, wanting to do the very best for their gorgeous but troubled dog, they had been taking him out for walks from the start.

Choice.

Unfortunately, unlike the ‘I’m a Celebrity’ contestants, Marco doesn’t have choice. He can’t know that in reality he is safe. He can’t know that the ordeal will only last a set length of time and then it will end. The dog has no ‘I’M A TERRIFIED DOG – GET ME OUT OF HERE!” option.

See this: What fear does to the body – dog or human.

Marco is gorgeous. Indoors he is friendly without being pushy, he’s gentle and affectionate. It’s probable that after just six weeks with them he’s not yet shown all his true self. His body language is what I would call ‘careful’. He shows signs of anxiety at unusual times like when he’s called through a door he lowers his head.

With a dog so obviously fearful of the outside world (the rescue apparently didn’t see this side of him) it’s common to suggest to new owners that the dog isn’t taken out at all for three weeks.

No walks!

People find this hard.

Let a dog get used to his new environment – house, garden and new people first. Just imagine the enormity of being trapped in a totally new world over which you have no control.

It’s all to do with trust in his humans, with Marco feeling safe. No animal, or human, willingly goes somewhere he believes is life-threatening. Keeping fit and exercise is an irrelevance compared to feeling safe.

If our guesses as to his previous home are correct, he’s not had much exercise in terms of long walks in all his life so far, so neither he nor his body will miss it.

They will now work slowly, always keeping in mind Marco’s comfort threshold. He’s fine in the house. He’s fine in the garden. When the gate opens he panics.

He is terrified.

He transforms into a lunging, pulling and barking beast.

They will now walk him around house and garden only, teaching him to walk on a loose lead. The teenage son was soon walking him about at his side with no lead at all.

They need to get him okay with the traffic on the busy road outside. He has to negotiate the footpath before going anywhere else.

With Marco on a long, loose lead they will open the gate and find his threshold distance – where he is aware of the passing traffic but can cope; it could be right down the garden. As the vehicles pass and Marco is watching them, they will rain chicken on him. If he won’t eat, he is still over threshold. He will have the freedom and choice to retreat further.

With lots of short sessions, with vehicles at a safe distances heralding food, over time his threshold will get closer to the road.

The car is another thing to work on but not until he’s okay walking towards it and around it. Little by little.

It is likely that with slow and patient work Marco will suddenly surge ahead and some of the other things that terrify him in the large and unfamiliar world won’t seem so scary.

He will have absolute trust in his humans if they allow him to choose what he is ready for.

He now can shout “Get Me Out of Here!”

He can choose!

If with his body language he shows uneasiness they will make things alright. If with barking he shouts “GET ME OUT OF HERE!”, they will do just that. Beat a retreat.

 

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 Marco and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  Listening to ‘other people’, 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, particularly where fear is concerned. 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)

Roaming Free, Now on Lead

Elderly rescue dog

Charlie

Two little dogs were strays on the streets in Romania

Bonnie and Elma

Two of these little dogs had been fending for themselves on the streets of Romania.

The two girls, black and white Bonnie with little terrier Elma (both on the right) were probably abandoned pets.

The lady is an experienced dog owner – particularly with rescue dogs. She took on much older Charlie, left, seven months ago and the other two only three months later.

The three are extraordinarily well-adjusted in the circumstances. The lady has worked hard.

Sometimes it’s hard to see one’s own situation clearly and she needs some help to take things to the next stage.

Bonnie is very reactive to other dogs. With her history of roaming free on the streets and considering how quickly she fitted in with the other two dogs, I strongly suspect her reactivity has been getting worse because she is on lead.

She’s not free any more.

Nor can she be let off lead. Shortly after she arrived she disappeared for two hours.

The solution to this is largely about groundwork. The work doesn’t simply start when out on walks and they meet a dog. Fundamental is getting her full attention at home at the sound of her name along with getting instant recall when she is called around house and garden. These things need to become an automatic response.

She needs to learn how to walk nicely. Only then will the lady be ready to work on other dogs, finding the threshold distance where she still feels safe – and building up her confidence. She can help Bonnie to feel more free by making sure the lead is always slack. This is a time-consuming business and has to be taken slowly.

Over time Bonnie should begin to associate other dogs with nice stuff, instead of fear and feeling trapped on lead with a tense human holding it tight with resulting discomfort to her neck.

Fortunately neither of the other two dogs has these problems, so the lady will work on Bonnie by herself until gradually doubling her up with one of the others and then all three together.

Recall will be worked at for as long as it takes before Bonnie is ever let off lead again.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Charlie, Bonnie and Elma, 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 dog 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).

Rottweiller Agitated by New Baby

KodaMy last visit was to an older dog being introduced to a new puppy. Today it was another older dog and a tiny brand new baby.

Rottie Koda is a very fit 8-years old and the baby is under 6lbs in weight. You can see from the panting the stressed state Koda is in. He only relaxed very briefly in all the time I was there – four hours.

Because he is such a well-trained, obedient dog they hadn’t considered him having difficulty accepting the baby. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but things would now be a lot easier with preparation over several weeks or months.

Koda has to keep the new baby in sight all the time. Fortunately he is able to stay temporarily with the lady’s parents, and they are taking baby around there for just an hour every day.

Koda wants to put his big head under the pram hood. He wants to jump on the pram and on the occasion he succeeded it was to give the baby a big slobbery lick. His intentions may well be good, but the sheer weight of his head would be several times that of baby and the natural anxiety of his humans isn’t lost on Koda. With a small dog they wouldn’t need to worry too much.

Not only does he want to get at baby, he constantly barks at family members as though to tell them to give him the baby.  Barking to get things he wants has always worked in the past – in fact it is one downside to a well-trained dog being taught to bark for things. Koda goes frantic when baby is picked up. When baby is taken out of the room or back home, Koda is almost in meltdown.

I believe that this is a sort of resource-guarding issue, the resource being the baby.

I imagine that in the past, Koda being their ‘baby’, anything exciting (noisy or smelly or cuddly) that has been brought home has been for him. I wonder whether he feels baby belongs to him and it seems like he is increasingly frustrated because despite all the barking nobody will give baby to him.

Quite a few changes need to be made in Koda’s own behaviour and his family’s behaviour towards him.  As he’s used to calling the tune, he expects his persistent barking to get what he wants – the baby. He is obsessed, poor dog.

With a bit of experimentation we worked out a plan, stopping negatives like scolding and using clicker and reward instead. We had Koda on long lead.

With baby quiet in his pram, Koda began to realise that if he pulled the lead tight to touch the pram with his nose he could go no further. There was no scolding. As soon as the lead relaxed click and treat. He was learning! He was also learning for himself that lying down was much more rewarding than pulling towards baby or barking.

Soon Koda was responding even when the baby was crying in the pram. He began to find it harder when the young lady stood up and went towards the pram, so we worked on that. Then she touched the pram. Then she touched baby. Still we clicked and treated. When she lifted the baby, Koda was well over his threshold and no longer reponsive to clicks and treats, so the lady put baby back. We need to break it down into even smaller increments.

I suggest that they start their routine with a doll wrapped in baby-smelling blankets before going on to the real thing.

With patience I’m sure Koda will begin to lose interest in the baby and they will be able to settle down to normal family life with their lovely baby and beautiful dog.

On High Alert for Other Dogs

On high alert for other dogs when outOdoe is a bit of a mix – a delightful mix! There is certainly Terrier and probably Whippet in there. He had an uncertain first two or three years. Eight years ago he was brought over from Ireland and this was followed by time in kennels and at least one other home before his present owners adopted him six years ago.

He now has a wonderful home with a lovely caring young couple who have put in a lot of time to train him and make him happy.

Unusually motionless

Odoe however doesn’t come over as a very relaxed little dog; he may chase a bird outside followed by some tail chasing, and although I’m sure he’s not like this all the time I found him often unusually motionless. He sits and he stares. When out, he’s on high alert. Possibly when they can relieve him of his daily fears out on walks he will loosen up a bit. I hope so.

He is reactive and scared of other dogs – especially when he is on lead, but it is very likely that they worry unnecessarily and that this is part of the problem. He has never actually harmed a dog. He is also scared of large vehicles and will lunge at them.

This is really very brave. He is a little dog attempting to chase away things that scare him.

On high alert for other dogs

On high alert for other dogs, as they get nearer to him there is a ‘threshold’ beyond which he goes to pieces – hackles, lunging and barking. When they can they avoid this by escaping as soon as they spot a dog. This is a lot better than forcing him onwards, but it doesn’t teach Odie anything that will help him.

Up to a certain distance he is okay, and then he will flip. His owners can see it coming from is body language. This is Odie’s ‘threshold moment’. With a dog that indicates his threshold as clearly as Odie, the job is a lot easier, because it is here the work needs to be done to increase the dog’s confidence, enabling the threshold to expand over time until he can pass by other dogs without reacting – trusting in his owner.

As with many dogs, exactly how far away from the other dog this threshold is will vary from day to day, depending upon how stressed and tense he is and, importantly, how his walker is feeling also.

Odie starts out on walks in a state of high alert, scanning around looking for dogs. A calm dog walking on a loose lead is not looking out for trouble. Just as some people are a bit paranoid, always expecting the worst, a dog can be the same – especially when nervous messages are being sent down the lead.