How to Work with A Timid, Rescue Dog
I just finished a Dog Guard Out of Sight Fencing® project in Green Acres for a new client and his Bull Terrier, Lucky. It was a large property and took several days to complete. While I was working on the installation on one side of the property, his neighbor approached me and we started a conversation. During the course of our conversation, I had mentioned that my wife and I were also professional dog trainers and had worked with thousands of dogs with all sorts of obedience and behavior problems. He was very interested and asked me about one of his dogs. He had just rescued a terrier mix, Benny, from the humane society and the dog was extremely timid and fearful of everything. He said that the more he tried “to make friends”, the more the dog retreated and shut down. He didn’t want to take the dog back and asked me for some guidance.
The first thing I did was to thank the neighbor for rescuing Benny, his terrier mix, and to assure him that there is a path to having a great dog and loving member of his family. As with all rescues, he has been abandoned by humans and possibly submitted to frightening and dangerous situations.
We will probably never know what Benny’s prior life was like; but we can safely assume that it was a life that he does not want to repeat. Because of this, we shouldn’t focus on trying to discover what happened. We should focus on what we know now and how to move forward and deal with that.
His dog’s biggest visible issue right now is general fearfulness. So, our first goal should be to have the dog comfortable around the family. Our first task in this endeavor could be to have him wander over to the family members and let them pet him. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is a critical, first step in overcoming a lifetime of fear. It will also start to create a relationship of trust and a bond of safety.
All dogs naturally have a “safe place” that they can go and feel that nothing bad will ever, ever happen when they are in their safe place. I suggested that he watch Benny to see where he normally sits in the yard or in the house. That place, or those places, are the ones that Benny has determined to be “safe”. That is the place where he will begin his work.
We now need to have Benny start to wander out of his safe place. Our rules of engagement focus on that it must be Benny’s idea and he is allowed to return to his safe place whenever he wants. I told the neighbor to get some of his dog’s favorite food and leave it in his safe place. When he returns there and starts to eat, the neighbor should be close by and in clear sight of Benny.
I also told him to stand calm and still. His body language will display a clear sense of safety and leadership from a canine’s perspective.
He should repeat this little exercise several times a day for three or four days. Be there while Benny is feeding for about thirty minutes each time. After a few days, as Benny is feeding on the food the neighbor already had put down, he should carefully toss some additional food a little bit outside his safe place and a little closer to him.
If Benny doesn’t go after it the first time, make no big deal, repeat the next time. Eventually, Benny will figure out that the food he had just thrown is OK too and he will move out and eat that food.
I told the neighbor to continue this process, slowly tossing the food a little closer and closer to him. This should not be a race and if Benny decides not move to the food closest to him at that session, he should not make a big deal of it.
Eventually, he should have Benny eating the food very close to him and away from his safe zone. Now, he should have a dog bowl where he can gingerly place a ¼ meal portion of food in the bowl. Allow Benny to wander to the bowl and eat. He should repeat this process a for a few times while he is still standing tall and calm.
After a few times of Benny coming to the bowl, he should slowly lower his height to a kneeling position. He should be very careful not to lean forward towards Benny. If Benny reacts, he should slowly stand up and try kneeling tomorrow.
Once he and Benny are at the bowl and he is kneeling, he should now gingerly pet Benny by rubbing him on his neck and chest. This is a natural sign of respect and comfort to a dog and should show Benny that everything is alright.
He should repeat this process with other family members participating until Benny is fine with wandering over to the bowl and being petted. As this process is going on, start issuing the command “Come” as Benny is coming to the bowl for his food and pet.
It is important to remember that you need to build trust and a sense of safety to start a relationship. This can be a long process, but when done correctly, will create wonderful, life ling results We will be happy to answer any and all of your dog fence and dog training questions. You can contact us at Dog Fence Training Help Green Acres South Florida or call (954) 472-4724. You can discover much more Dog Guard Out of Sight Fencing® and dog training secrets at Best Out of Sight Dog Fence Trainers Green Acres South Florida. Robin and I have enjoyed being your local pet specialists for over eleven years in Green Acres and all of South Florida. We love doing the dog fences and we also love being behavioral and obedience dog trainers. Please check out our Behavior and Obedience Home Dog Training Plans at Home Dog Training Green Acres South Florida.