This weekend I visited a wonderful woman doing rescue for small breeds, mostly bichons from puppy mills. I had somewhat randomly discovered that she lived close to me, and went to visit in hopes I could help out a bit. I also had a selfish motivation: as many of you know, Karen London and I are writing a booklet on adopting an adolescent or adult dog, and we are always looking for input from people in shelters and rescues.
There were 4 or 5 dogs from puppy mills that were terrifically shy; so much so that they ran away from people, even after being there for a very long time. Obviously, this is a very common problem in dogs who grew up in almost total isolation, and was one of the challenges she was facing I hoped I could help with. We had one session, and it looked like it might be very helpful to use the methods described in The Cautious Canine. We put all the dogs away except 2 of the cautious ones, and I sat on the floor and tossed treats toward the dogs, who started a good 15 ft away from me. At the end of 20 minutes, the dogs were within 3 or 4 feet, and most encouragingly, they followed behind me when I got up and moved toward the door. Of course, this is going to take a long time, but we were both encouraged at how well they responded.
In my experience, how the dogs ultimately respond depends on their genetics. All of them have had no socialization (at best, at worst been abused by people) and how they cope with a new environment is mediated by their genetics. If they are naturally shy they are probably never going to be comfortable around strangers, but could learn to be comfortable around their ‘family.’ If they are naturally a bit bolder, who knows how far they can go?
The key to getting this to work is to not go too far at any one time. I never leaned toward the dogs, never tried to pet them, and never threw the food too close to me. If they had to stretch to get the food, back legs planted and body ready to bolt, the food was too close and I’d be careful to throw it further away the next time.
I suspect it also helped to have 2 dogs there at once, acting as a bit of competition, and perhaps also as a bit of a role model. As one dog would come closer, it encouraged the other to do the same. Too many dogs would probably end up causing trouble, and of course you’d want to avoid 2 dogs who were aggressive over food, but I like the “model/rival” aspects of this. We’ll go back when we get back from NY and Chicago (Clicker Exp, oh boy!) and keep it up.
I’d love to hear your stories about helping dogs from neglectful or abusive situations: Besides patience (we mention that so often in the draft of our booklet we are afraid people will lose patience with us….), what did you find most helpful?
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Willie got to be off leash a bit on the weekend; based on the vet’s instructions to let him move a bit more before his appt at UW on Monday. Oooooh, what a joy to see him finally free, eyes shining, body spinning and mouth happy. But all that ended after our PT appt on Monday: the PT was able (yeah for her) to see him favor his left leg and she advised that he go back on leash for a long time. We still don’t know what’s wrong, so I am getting a second opinion from UW’s orthopedic shoulder specialist (oh yes, I am very very lucky to have all these resources close by!) That appt is for March 21, so we’ll have to wait til then to see if the condition is surgical or not in her opinion. Even if it’s not, best estimate is it’ll be 3-4 months before Willie is recovered, and lots and lots of leash restrictions until then. If surgical, could be longer.
Tough news for Willie, he looked absolutely miserable when he came back to the house and had to stay on leash. Tough news for me; I don’t need to tell you how hard it is to not be able to explain to your dog why you are taking away all his fun. And I had entered him in a wonderful herding dog trial (the Bluegrass) in KY in May. Been wanting to enter that with my own dog for 20 years. No chance for that, looks like trialing is pretty much out for the season. And Jim and I have agreed to start fostering again; we actually had a dog lined up to come to the farm any day. (No, not from the place I mentioned above, but who knows someday? Every farm needs a Bichon? But for right now, that’s out too.)
Yes, you bet, we’ll play lots of games with Willie and I’ll figure out new tricks to teach him, but his greatest loves in life are 1) to run, 2) to play with toys (which he does so vigorously that we have no choice but to take them away, and 3) to work sheep. Ah, I know that soooo many of you have been through this; we did this for 5 weeks when Willie was 10 months. We’ll get through it. But ouch. So, it’s on leash and PT, acupuncture, chiro, supplements and meds (western and eastern) for 2 weeks, then hopefully we can at least figure out what we are dealing with.
Here’s good news though: Saturday was great fun. 10 students from the UW Small Ruminant Club came out and learned how to use ultrasound to do pregnancy checks on ewes. The shearer also came out, so they also got to help with that, along with hoof trimming and vaccinating. The ewes are all well along (first one due 3/25) so it wasn’t a mystery that they were bred, but still there was lots for the students to see. (Me too, it’s a fascinating technology.)
Here’s Lady Godiva being ultrasounded, and illustrating something related to the fearful puppy mill dogs discussed above. In person she actually looked quite ‘relaxed,’ which is typical for sheep in this position. As did she, they often stay still on their own, relax their forelegs and heads and look almost sleepy. But outward appearance isn’t always a good indication of internal state, and research at UC Davis found that sheep in this position are flooded with cortisol, suggesting that they are in ‘tonic immobility’ rather than relaxed. That can also be true of our dogs; they seem ‘calm’ but are actually frozen with fear. Very typical of puppy mill dogs I’m sad to say.