Have you ever wished your dog could talk or that the collar that Dug the dog wore in the animated movie, Up, was real? Working with a lot of foster dogs, I often don’t have any clues as to why they act the way they do. Most often, we see pups who are fearful at first – and who wouldn’t be picked up as a stray or worse, turned in from a nice family home to a barking, awful cacophony of cages.
Going into any shelter, no matter how nice it is, is an assault of the senses for us humans. Can you imagine how a dog feels? Visually, they now have lots of eyes staring them down. The stare down is usually a sign of aggression when dogs meet naturally. A new resident in a shelter is sort of like Sean Penn doing the Dead Man Walking walk to the electric chair.
From an auditory sense, a madly barking shelter is like sticking your head in the Liberty Bell and someone ringing it. While humans hear 12 Hz to 20 KHz (less as you get older!), dogs have an auditory perception ranging from 40 Hz to 60 kHz. While their range is about 3X that of a human, they also have 16 different muscles in their ears to help them more precisely locate a sound.
How scared would you be basically going to jail with lots of scary prisoners who were yelling all the time? The thought actually makes me pee a little so I really empathize when we get a new dog in the program coming into our shelter at Mostly Mutts.
How do I make a foster more comfortable in the Litt Palace of Puppy Love? For me, the first step is to get a pup to start to trust. Once introduction to the pack is done (always do dog to dog intros on neutral space with no snout to snout contact) I like to take the newbie in a room by ourselves and I lay on the floor. The new pup is not pressured to do anything. He can smell me, play with me, lay next to me, cautiously wait across the room. I don’t call them or even acknowledge them as this is about them figuring me out.
I may have a few, super delectable treats in my treat pouch that I will reward them with if they initiate contact. I do all of this on the dog’s comfort level. For more nervous dogs, it may take a couple of sessions. It is also very helpful to have a happy and confident dog in your pack who can help a scared one gain some confidence through play, walks together, etc.
I talked to a fellow foster mama this morning (which is what initiated this article) who has a new foster. He’s coming directly from animal control into her home. He’s very sensitive and still scared after a few days in her home. Marilyn feel like he wants to trust her — he’s just not there yet. Everytime she calls him, he cowers. When she pets him, it takes a while for him to relax.
Since we don’t have Dug the Dog collars yet and we don’t know what these guys have gone through, our only remedy is to wait and let them get used to a loving home. You can’t force a scared dog to become unafraid but through patience and understanding and some very yummy treats you can reward your scaredy dog to confidence!