Eureka! Dog Blog

Dog Training and Behavior weblog

Case Study: Puppy Mill Dog Part 4

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Knowing Mary, and knowing Hannah, we went to the shelter and looked around for the right match for them. When adopting a dog, there are obviously some physical criteria (some people can’t afford or manage a dog the size of a St Bernard, some people feel they must have a dog to raise from a puppy, and some people don’t want a dog that is high maintenance in terms of activity level or grooming needs).  But once those have been taken into account, the most important criterion is personality – does this dog have a personality that is compatible with everyone in the family?  I am always distressed when people focus on wanting a pure bred dog, or are concerned about whether the dog looks right for their home.  These things are so minor compared with the need for a good personality match – just as they are when choosing a human friend or partner.

In this case, we were looking for a dog who was less than 20 pounds, young but past puppyhood, upbeat and cheerful, and known to get along with other dogs. We found 3 likely candidates, and then met Mary at the shelter.  Mary had decided that she wanted a female dog, which brought us to one preferred candidate, Jenny.  As advertised, when she was brought out, Jenny immediately started to make friends with Mary.  In normal circumstances, we would introduce the potential new housemate to the incumbent dog before proceeding with the adoption, but these were not normal circumstances.  We already knew from her behavior at the shelter and with her foster family that Jenny was comfortable around other dogs, and we already knew that Hannah would not be comfortable at an introduction in a shelter, surrounded by people.  However, Hannah had met and stayed with many other dogs, and had shown no signs of aggression or intimidation – she was much happier with any dogs than any people!

Mary adopted Jenny that day, and took her home.  Jenny and Hannah became firm friends almost immediately, and Jenny became the active, outgoing dog that Mary had wanted.  The real question was, would this be enough to bring Hannah out of her shell, and get her to relate actively with people?

After a few weeks, the answer was that Jenny was becoming quite bossy, and Hannah was gaining confidence, but the relationship between Mary and Hannah still had not blossomed.  Hannah was still fearful of being trapped, and would not always come into the house when called – and she still did not show any affection towards Mary.  We separated the two dogs for a couple of weeks, giving Mary a chance to bond with Jenny, while we took Hannah for some intensive physical therapy.

Hannah would run away to avoid being trapped by a person, and would become rigid when picked up or cuddled.  However, on leash, she would tolerate being held, and would start to come when called.  She accepted that she could not control the situation, and tried to make the best of it.  After the first couple of sessions where I picked her up and held her on my lap, once I had put her down on the floor, she stood and trembled.  It was apparent that she was dealing with some powerful emotional conflicts.  Surrounded by our dogs, she relaxed a little, and on occasion she approached me when she wanted to be let out of a room.  (That sounds very minor, but for her it was a big step!)

After the two weeks, Mary and Jenny had made progress, and walking Jenny by herself had improved her responsiveness to Mary, but Mary was really starting to miss Hannah.  We brought her back with some trepidation – would Mary see enough progress in her?  Would Hannah continue to be more outgoing, as she had started to be with us?  When Mary picked her up and sat her on the chair beside her, Hannah started out as rigid as usual.  After several minutes of calm petting, while Mary talked with us, Hannah visibly relaxed.  When Mary went into the kitchen to make coffee, Hannah followed her to see what she was doing.  Those were both key indicators that Hannah had made some steps forward in relating to people.

It is still a journey – Hannah will not change overnight, and she may never be very demonstrative.  But she has had the great good fortune to find a home where she is loved and will be taken care of.  And Mary can look back over the last 9 months and see how she has changed in small ways: she used to run to her crate at every opportunity, now she is comfortable sitting in the living room; she used to avoid eating when anyone was around, now she happily eats in the kitchen; she used to sit rigidly upright on her cushion, now she has started to relax.  And of course, now she can play boisterously with her new friend Jenny.  All of those are because of Mary’s commitment to giving her a better life.

Written by eurekapaws

March 16, 2009 at 10:38 pm

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