Thursday, November 10, 2011

Building trust is the best way to give an old dog a new lease on life

Back in 2007, when I adopted Boo Boo, he was a meek little guy who just wanted to be left alone.  Over the course of three months I realized that I was finally gaining his trust when he started sitting in the same room as me.

I openly admit that I had no clue what I was doing and there were many times where I doubted that I'd ever figure out what was going on in Boo Boo's head. He was different from any dog that I had ever had.

Boo Boo in the beginning
How could I ever understand what he had been through?

He shrunk from quick movements and danced away when I put up my foot to prevent him from trying to get out the door first. He hid from loud noises, avoided other dogs, and didn't like to be touched.

How did I finally break through?

I gave him his space and continued to take care of him as best I could while he figured out he was safe. I cannot say for certain that he was abused, but his nervousness and uncertainty around lots of situations was a pretty good indication that he was at least neglected. I had my hands full, but I wasn't going to give up without trying.

Here was an extremely submissive, fearful dog that didn't have the tools to do much more than avoid eye contact and there was me with little to no experience on how to deal with it.

Being patient was the first step, but right after that was listening. Not listening with my ears so much, as he only "woofed" two or three instances in all of our time together and whined maybe a half dozen times when he needed to go out, but listening in the sense of being alert and watching how he was working through different situations. Little things like his "worried eyes" and seeing how he avoided certain situations were just the start.

Once he realized I wasn't a threat, he started coming around and hanging out more and more in the same room as me.

Next, I needed to figure how to get him to come out of his shell a little bit, since we couldn't hide in the house all of the time. Leading by example, was the just the ticket. He watched from behind as I met with people and other dogs first to show him that they were not a threat. Most of these dogs were those of his own speed, slow and steady, so once he started wagging his tail at some of his new buddies, it opened up a whole new chapter for us.  For me, this meant that he could be reached, just not in a way that I was accustomed. I had to continue watching and listening and let him tell me what made him happy.

Finally, engaging his brain though toys and games seemed to bring him to yet another level of getting him out of his shell. I have yet to have seen a dog who had a routine with a Kong ball like Boo Boo. He'd pick it up. Shake it. Roll it around. Pick it up again. Bang it on the floor a couple of times. Pick it up again, and then shake to to and fro.  Obviously, he had learned that previously and when he wasn't so worried about how new his surroundings were, he was able to go recall how to have fun again. As far as games go, he could find a treat no matter how well I hid them, including in a blankets that I had folded many times over. On more than a few occasions I watched him, this old, shy little guy, trotting around my home, tail in the air, opening doors, crawling under beds, and overturning pillows to complete his mission. It was obvious that it wasn't his physical challenges that had been holding him back, it was his not feeling safe.

It was an exciting and rewarding time and I wouldn't trade any of it for the world.

What other tips and tricks have you found work when trying to bring you submissive dog out of it's shell?