Archive for the ‘scared dog’ Tag
So yes, Nibbles in now my dog. I didn’t want a 4th dog, I didn’t want Nibbles, but when the head of the rescue group responsible for him (legally that is) told me they were going to send someone to my house to pick him up and transport him a 7 hour car ride and plane or ferry ride away, I panicked. I had been in communication with the person who was going to adopt him. She’d never met him, and despite my efforts did not seem to understand that I was not just a fussy foster mom worried about her fur baby.
Nibbles and the other dogs from his breeder who were ‘rescued’ went through hell. It was not meant to be hell, and as far as ‘rescues’ go, it wasn’t as bad as some, but for dogs who had never been away from their home, or the dozens of other dogs in it, being put into crates, transported and left alone in barn stalls, it was pretty darn scary. Some of the dogs managed well, others not so much. Of the dogs that I knew or or heard about, at least 3 had run away from their new homes, including Nibbles. One was found a few days later, Nibbles 3 weeks later, and one-never. It’s fair to assume she is dead. Small dogs afraid to approach people don’t stand much of a chance in the woods of Vermont.
I had worried about Nibbles for the weeks he was missing and when he was found offered to take him on and see if I could help him with his fears. For months I worked with him and never heard from the rescue group claiming ownership of him. It wasn’t until someone decided they wanted a fearful dog, just like the one their friend had adopted (another from the same breeder bust) that I was told to either deliver him myself, which I would have done to help him through the transport and transition into a new home, or hand him over to strangers. But when I couldn’t do it ‘right away’ I was told that he would be picked up, and that was that. When the adopter told me ‘not to worry, he’ll be fine’, I felt sick. There was a chance that Nibbles would be fine, but I had seen what ‘not fine’ looked and sounded like for him, and there was an even better chance that there would be a lot of ‘not fine’ first. Someone owed this dog for all the extremely ‘not fine’ he’d already endured. It might as well be me.
Life here would be easier without him. Just this morning he chased a jogger and I was on the phone trying to hire neighbor kids to go by the house so we could work on not chasing joggers. For the past two months we’ve been attending agility classes. There is a supportive trainer who lets me come to classes with my special needs dogs and work with them as I need to. The class also forced me into doing more work to help Nibs feel better riding in the car. Last week on our way to class #8, along with the help of an anti-anxiety medication we finally had a tremble-free ride. Hopefully with a few more of those under his collar Nibbles will be able to relax in the car, which will make rides more enjoyable for both of us.
Here’s a clip of Nibs at agility. Keeping track of little dogs is a bigger challenge than I imagined!
Yesterday I attended a seminar with Suzanne Clothier to learn more about her Relationship Assessment Tool. It was, as expected, informative and thought provoking, but that’s not what I’m going to write about. I’ll save that for another post.
The seminar was held at the Monadnock Humane Society in Keene NH. It’s a pleasant facility with lots of outdoor space for dogs and an open, cheery entry way, which happened to also be full of cages of cats. Even for a ‘dog person’ it’s hard to see so many beautiful animals, some struggling to engage with visitors, stretching their paws out of cages, mewling and making what felt like pleading eye contact, others seemingly resigned to their lives in captivity. There were play rooms full of cats as well. Too many cats and kittens. I was told that many would be adopted but others might live there for years. But this is also not what I was planning to write about either.
Outside of the dog kennels were containers of treats (good treats in some cases, not just dry biscuits) and on the containers were the instructions- PLEASE FEED ME TREATS EVEN IF I AM BARKING. Huh? Feed them treats even if they’re barking? Won’t that just reinforce the barking behavior? I mean that’s the way it works right? Dogs repeat behaviors they get rewarded for, so giving them treats even if they’re barking means everyone who approached the cage would be teaching the dog to bark, right? Wrong!
What the good folks at the shelter understand is that dogs in shelters, and other stressful situations, are most likely behaving out of anxiety and stress. Some may be concerned about people approaching. The treats are not being used to address the behavior the dogs are displaying but rather the emotions the dogs are experiencing. Feeling a bit nervous about people? What better way for a dog to feel less concerned about people than to pair their approach with something the dog enjoys. Wanting out in a bad way and feeling frustrated and trapped? A treat may not be the perfect solution but it sure beats nothing. Some of the dogs were obviously fearful of having people approach their cages, but none so much that they couldn’t gobble up treats tossed to them. Many then sat and looked expectantly for more.
One of the big challenges fearful dogs face is their handler’s inability or unwillingness to acknowledge that every behavior has an emotion attached to it. We are always addressing the emotion when we handle or train dogs. Sometimes we use their enjoyment and excitement for a reward to get them to perform behaviors, withholding rewards until we get or improve behavior. Sometimes we see that the behavior is driven by fear and use rewards to change how the dog feels realizing that when the fear subsides the behavior attached to it is going to change as well. And importantly, for the handling and training of any dog, understanding we are also causing emotional responses to certain behaviors. How we behave with dogs, whether we shout, yank, hit, ignore, shock, praise or reward, affects how they feel about particular behaviors, not to mention how they feel about us.