Tilly was a stray dog found on the streets in Greece along with a male dog from whom she was inseparable and who now also has a new home. She is one year old and some sort of whippet cross.
Tilly is a remarkably stable dog in all respects bar one – she is still, after four months of living with the couple, very wary of the gentleman of the house, this is despite the man doing nearly everything for Tilly because the lady is often away for a week at a time for her work. Many dogs that have not suffered abuse are scared of men.
Tilly is worst of all when he is standing up or walking about. One can only guess at what must have happened to her earlier at the hands of a man, perhaps the dog-catcher. Apparently the other dog is even more scared of men, which is a tribute to the efforts Tilly’s people have put in so far.
Sitting on the sofa with the lady, I watched as the man walked around the room, making us a coffee. Tilly made sure she had the kitchen table between her and him, eyes darting, tail between her legs and licking her lips.
When he sat down on the L-shaped sofa, Tilly jumped straight up too but as far away from him as she could, between the lady and myself. Here was his dog, snuggling up to me and kissing my nose, whereas if the man so much as moved on the other end of the sofa she shrank back into the seat (see her picture). He feels so very hurt. He is the sweetest, gentlest of men and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind my saying that he’s not a macho type. He has tried so hard with her.
The fact that the other two little dogs (photos below) enjoy his cuddles doesn’t seem to help Tilly at all.
Here is a very short video of Tilly thinking the man may be about to stand up, but relaxing when he doesn’t.
He really does adore her, but I feel his efforts to make her accept him are the crux of the stalemate they have now reached. He needs to start behaving in a way that doesn’t come naturally to him – with some indifference. I believe that all the effort he makes is, in a way, driving her away. There is too much pressure upon on her (I have had personal experience of this when I took on my German Shepherd, Milly).
Weirdly, off lead out on walks with lots of space she is a different dog, running about and playing, and (mostly) coming back to him when called, but at home, before they can go, she runs around before cowering in a corner for him to put collar and lead on her. Again, it does make one wonder whether it was a dog-catcher that caused her problems with men. Once collar and lead are on, he gives her a fuss – but I did point out to him that at this stage a fuss was in effect punishment to her. It can be hard for a loving human to see this from the dog’s point of view.
I am certain that playing harder to get is the answer and to release her of all obligation to come to him or to be touched by him. Easing of all pressure by acting indifferent is one half of the plan for desensitisation. The other is counter-conditioning.
She will now only be fed dog food at meal times and the special stuff – chicken – will be used for ‘man’ work. Starting at a level she could tolerate, each time the man moved and Tilly looked at him, we said a quiet ‘yes’ and fed her. We gradually upped the ante until he stood up and sat down again, all the time feeding her. When he walked around it became too much for her – she ran off to the other side of the kitchen table.
While he walks about, as obviously he must, he will either silently throw food to her as he passes or drop it behind him as he walks, encouraging her to follow him rather than to run away. If he can manage to resist words and eye contact, she will slowly relax I’m sure.
If he resists approaching her in any way for long enough, the time will come when she actively invites his attention, and I feel he should still hold back! To value it, she needs to have to work for it (rather than, as she probably now feels, it being forced upon her). She needs to learn that coming over to him doesn’t result in something that is (to her at the moment) punishing.
I am sure, if he takes things sufficiently slowly and resists showering her with demonstrative love until she is well and truly ready, all will be well eventually. It’s a question of building up her trust.
One month later: ‘Tilly is doing exceptionally well and is turning into a fantastic lady. She is incredible on recall and sits down for her lead in the morning. She sits for her treats etc on the run and walks beautifully. She still goes under the bed but is first on the bed in the morning to lick JIms’s face and licks his hands a number of times during the night to say hello. We are delighted with the progress. Jim is grinning from ear to ear and is very proud of ‘their’ progress. As I write Tilly is lying with her head on Jim’s lap.’
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Tilly, 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).