My latest “project” dog is a small mixed, breed named Jack – I’m guessing that he’s a chihuahua/border collie cross. I’ve had one session with him so far, consisting of two thirty-minute visits with a one-hour break in between. Jack is neutered and it about 18 months old. He came to us from another shelter with very little information.
When I entered his run, Jack fled to the back corner and gave me a warning growl along with some other distancing signals[i]. He was extremely stressed and alternated between pacing and being frozen in place. I responded by turning 90 degrees to him and sitting down, making myself as small as possible. I didn’t initially engage with him or speak to him, but simply relaxed and gave a few calming signals (yawns, deep sighs)[ii]. After about five minutes, he relaxed enough to lie down in the far corner.
At this point, I tossed some high value treats in his direction. He sniffed, sampled and left them on the floor. I got a little closer, within arm’s reach, while staying in a seated posture facing away from him. He allowed me to touch his chin, throat and chest, and accepted petting. After a few times, he gave small consent signs when I paused, eliciting more contact. However, he still startled and retreated every time I moved. At that point I considered that I had made enough contact and ended the session.
When I returned an hour later, I found that he had eaten the high value treats that I had left scattered in the run. I entered and sat down as I had before, whereupon he approached and started sniffing my clothes and shoes. He began taking treats from my hand and ate them immediately. He was less inclined to accept petting and would retreat when touched, but immediately returned for more treats. At this point, I began interacting with him by speaking in a light, positive fashion and looking directly at him. I showed him a leash and Easy-walk harness, which I placed over his head without attempting to fasten it. He responded by freezing in place, at which time I removed the harness and put it out of sight. By the time I ended the session, he was approaching within a few inches of me and accepting treats from my open hand but would still startle and retreat when I moved.
At this point, Jack is less afraid of me but is not comfortable with my presence. He’s begun to associate me with high-value treats but hasn’t progressed much further in socializing with me or with men in general. I can touch him, but I am nowhere near being able to put a harness on him without overstressing him.
My treatment plan is to continue to treat-bomb him and gradually increase my interaction with him to the point that I can touch him with two hands at the same time (a necessary step to harnessing). Then I’ll reintroduce the harness while giving him treats. At that point, I’ll introduce more postures, such as standing, before taking him for walks and seeing how he interacts with outside stimuli.
[ii] Rugaas, T. (2006). On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals. Wenatchee, WA. Dogwise