Friday, January 21, 2011

No different than a troubled child

Erin, one of Doglando's Campus Coaches volunteers with the Weimeraner Rescue, and today she sent me this email:

Hey Teena,

Just wanted to pick your brain a bit, probably more for my own knowledge and peace of mind than anything else.

I went to pick up Beau, the foster, from his new "family" today. He bit their 21 yr. old daughter today. He had met her a few times and when she came over to their house today he bit her on the leg and punctured her. They said he wasn't aroused/excited, didn't bark, charge her or show any warning sign of aggression, just bit her as she walked past him. Anyway, that's kind of a whole other story. In talking to them and picking him up they informed me that they had started him on Clomipramine (75mg 1x/day) and a pheromone collar (it looked similar to a flea collar) about 10 days ago to treat his separation anxiety. I don't know much about using anti-depressants and such in dogs, but wanted to see what your thoughts were on continuing them through the full prescribed treatment or taking him off?? I don't want to screw him up!...more.

During the couple months that we had him he would bark when we left and I guess it could be anxiety, I had never really thought of it as more than a protest, as he usually quieted down within a short period of time and didn't have any other panicky issues/responses after that. - Didn't chew things, or drool like crazy (all things that other fosters have done) Then when we got back he would bark/whine and run around but would calm with a toy in his mouth after jogging a few laps. Anyway, I didn't see it as a huge issue - annoying but not in any way harmful. We worked on waiting for him to be quiet in the crate before paying attention to him and letting him out or when he was already out we would hand him his toy and ignore him until he settled and it seemed to be working. Then he went out into the world! This family seemed to think he had some huge issues - obviously! Maybe he does and I'm just naive??

Anyway, we hadn't had any instances what so ever with him biting us or showing signs of aggression or anything so I'm not sure what to make of that. I don't deny that it happened, and if he punctured her, he obviously meant it! I just don't know why it happened there, possibly more than once (the lady said he snapped at her once) in 2 weeks time and never once here in 2 months and they don't seem to know what provoked it, if anything. He snapped at Cort a handful of times for intruding into his space or trying to steal food off of his plate - but it was pretty obvious why and Cort got the point and it was never an issue after the quick growl/snap with no bite. He once snapped at an annoying dog at the dog park who was charging at him and barking in his face repeatedly even when we moved away - Again, I felt it was a pretty understandable growl/snap - I wanted to do the same thing! So in general I just figure he likes his own space - and what I saw was only with dogs and never did anything to us or our visitors.

I'm sure that he's messed up from being bounced around so much, but first and foremost I'm concerned about this medication thing. I get nervous about using drugs like that for people, so I really don't know what to make of having a dog on mood altering stuff. If I can do it "right" and it can help him, great, but if the same thing can be accomplished without it, my gut instinct is that'd be better.

Poor dog!!



This email prompted me to writing on a topic I keep meaning to and keep forgetting about.

Bringing home a rescue or foster: Making it last!

Most rescue dogs/foster dogs have gone from home to home to home. Their environment has been so unstable, and never allowing enough time for them to gain trust of the people they live with or the environment itself.

It is normal for dogs to result to defensive, aggressive, protective, guarding, isolated, fearful behaviors in such circumstances... these are all NORMAL survival behaviors. They may not be desirable, but they are normal. Humans are no exceptions... all animals respond in such ways.

Environment plays a huge role in the success of any living being. Add to the pot an animal or person, that is not quite confident, insecure, unstable, lacking in trust, anxious, fearful, unsocial, introverted... this animal or person will find it more of a challenge to adapt to its constantly changing environment.

Like I told Erin, in part of my response to her email.... we are not referring to two different dogs. The dog she is familiar with and the dog the family experienced are the same dog... two different environments. I know this is hard for some to believe, but hear me out.

While the dog lived with Erin and her husband, the dog was under a very controlled, yet understanding environment. The dog was respected for its dislikes and likes, and the dog was closely monitored and supervised. I bet, if we were able to video this dog in its new home, we would have seen a very nervous, wrecked, insecure, scared dog, and a family that only wants for him to move on... so they can love him to pieces. I wish it was that simple, its not.

I do not believe, that dogs bite without any indication or signs at all. Some of these signs are physiological, how are we to read them... without taking a dog's temperature, reading its heart beat, sweaty paws etc... sometimes these signs are not as obvious to read, but they are there.

Let me stop a second to clarify, that I do completely understand the concerns of the family... and it is so important that this be taken into consideration for Beau's future prospects.

A dog that truly shows no signs, and results to aggression, resulting in biting any person... should be euthanized. Point blank! I can tell you, in my 14 years of training dogs, I have only ever met 2 dogs that I recommended euthanasia for (a totally different subject).

In the situation above, it is very apparent, how the right environment can allow a scared dog thrive... unfortunately, some veterinarians and dog professionals may not know how to modify or transition the dog to a new environment and will recommend drugs as a form of "treatment." Sometimes drugs are necessary, however never without implementation of a behavioral treatment plan.

For all those looking to rescue or foster a dog, I strongly recommend you adhere to Doglando's STEP DOWN PROGRAM.

Prior to bringing the dog home:

1. Buy a crate (even if the dog does not like the crate). Put it in an area that is quite, and peaceful, but where by most of the activity goes on. Put it so that the dog can not see all the movement, but can learn through its nose.
2. Buy 7 kongs, and stuff them with Doglando's Recipe as mentioned in the Hot Topic: Canine Enrichment post.
3. Buy a bed, one that can not easily be chewed or destroyed... and keep in kennel.
4. Make sure to have a leash clip that you can attach to your belt buckle... one for each person in the family.

Bringing home the dog:

1. Keep the dog on a leash and walk the dog around the perimeter of the property. Allow the dog to go potty.

2. Have everyone in the family wait outside the house, while one person brings the dog into the house, and allows the dog to explore every room at its own pace. The handler should follow the dog.

3. Once the dog has sniffed the house, take it back outside to go potty. All this can be very stressful for the dog. While dog is outside, have everyone else come into the house, and spread across the house.

4. Repeat this exercise. Bring the dog back into the house on leash, while others are in different parts of the house. People should not be making eye contact with the dog, or reaching out to pet the dog... it is also not necessary to speak to the dog at all... let it learn its world in a way it knows best.. give it the time to do so.

5. Once the dog has walked around the house, introduce it to its new home (the crate). You can use a treat or one of your prepared stuffed kongs, or even just kibble to lure it into the crate. Leave the kong in there and shut crate. Cover the crate, close the blinds and lights, and let the dog rest. You could also play some soft classical music for the dog.

6. Every hour (when you are at home), take the dog out, on leash and walk it outside. Then bring the dog back in and allow the dog to move around house to investigate at its own pace. If the dog would rather stay in one spot and watch from a distance, that is fine for three days. After which, you must force the issue by encouraging it to move around the house.

7. When the dog is out of its crate, it must ALWAYS be tethered to someone in the family.

8. The dog is NOT to get any of its meal from a bowl. I have seen a dog reject its food for three weeks... of course this is pretty extreme, but you must continue with hand feeding the dog.

9. Before each meal, the dog should be exercised at least one hour. This could be a casual walk around the block or on a bike... depends on how ready the dog is.

10. After exercising the dog, give him 30 minutes to recover, and then hand feed. Hand feeding should occur through out the day... not all at once. Keep the food in a zip lock bag and keep it accessible to everyone to use.

11. It is critical that you follow the program by only allowing your dog out of the crate on leash and for 15 minutes or so every hour. The dog must be otherwise put in the crate. Your dog will feel safe and there is a process of latent learning that goes on while the dog is in the crate. This will help it recover faster.

12. By the fourth or fifth day, you should begin to see your dog much more at ease, and even quite excited when you approach the crate. At this time, you will need to teach your dog, that although it is super great of it to trust you, and that "yes you are the greatest person on earth," you are in control. You will need to start with basic training... teaching the dog to sit before it can come of out the crate etc.
This is a vital part of the STEP DOWN PROGRAM because it gives the dog an opportunity to learn what is expected of it, and it will develop confidence as a result.

13. You can begin extending the amount of time the dog gets to be out and about by day 7.

14. On day 7, let the dog out of the crate, following your routine, but you can allow it to explore the house on its own. Leave the leash attached to the dog. Your dog is not ready for you to come out and grab its collar, if someone rings the door bell! He may bite.

15. As the dog explores the house, continue to hand feed it through out the day by calling his name and waiting for him/her to come into you.

16. Remember, the dog is not yet ready to live 100% out of confinement. The dog needs healthy down time, to recover from the stresses of its new home and new environment. The dog needs the opportunity of latent learning, and this only can happen in the crate.

17. After day 7, have the entire family join you on your walks. For now, take the same path each time, let the dog get comfortable with the other people around him/her.

18. By the end of the second week, move the dogs crate to a place where the dog can make some eye contact with the activity going on around it. Do not place the great in the middle of the living room... where it is most loud and wild.

19. During the second week continue with all the steps above, only that you have increased the amount of stress in the dog by allowing it to be part of the household commotion.

20. By week three, the crate can moved to an area you where by your dog can be a bigger part of your household. Still keeping the crate covered for added comfort.

Every dog is different, and although the above is a general outline of what you can do to ensure the comfort of your new rescue or foster... some dogs need a little bit more.

When I worked with juvenile sex offenders, I met a 17 year old boy who had been through 16 foster homes in his life. I remember reading his charts on one of the first days I was there... and unlike the other true offenders, I did not believe he was.

Through my days that turned into months that turned into years working there, I learned so much about this young boy. I remember sitting outside in the hallway (as we did every night during shower time), and all the kids are lined up against the walls, sitting with their backs touching the walls and two arm lengths away from the other, while they took turns for their showers. This young boy always sat by me, and was on of my favorite kids (not possible to not play favorites). In the three years I worked there, he never once needed a PRN (intravenous sedative) or never once was in trouble by acting out sexually or in any other inappropriate manner.

He became so trusting of me he admitted to everything he had ever done... this was great for his own sake... as he later learned.

One day I asked him why he had been through 16 homes in 17 years... and he told me this story:

"Ms Teena, if there is one thing I could wish for in life, it would be to have someone to call mum and dad." I said, well you do realize in the real world... most kids your age are counting down the days so that they can go off to college and live on their own, without mum and dad.

He said, "yeah, but they don't realize what it feels like to never have had someone you can trust and love, and someone that is a consistent part of your life. If I had a mum and dad, I would not let them work, I would go to work every day and come home and take care of them." Then I asked him about the homes he had been in, why none of those lasted... and he said "more often, they were just temporary anyway, they were not mean to be my home... but have you ever heard of a foster picnic?" I said "What! What in the world is that?" He said, "common Ms. Teena, you have never heard of that? It is where a whole bunch of kids that are up for adoption go, and then they have all these parents that are interested in adopting the children, they come and meet the kids. Well I have been to three." I could not even believe this, no different than a shelter I thought, imagine taking all these dogs to the park and having people come out there to look at them. It took everything in me not to break down in front of him.
So I asked him, then what? He said "well I was older, most people don't come to see older kids, they are more interested in the younger children. I was out by a tree, playing with a frog...(he knew how much I did not like frogs... but he really was) and a husband and wife came by and asked what I was doing... I said oh playing with the frog. Then they walked off and watched me from afar. Later, they inquired about me and ended up going home with them."

Well, that did not last long. According to him and his charts, he was given up by them because he had other behavioral issues and poised to be more work than they anticipated.

I could not believe that such activities go on and are perfectly accepted and legal. It is no wonder this kid was such a mess (pardon me). His environment has never proven to be stable enough to give him the opportunity and time to thrive. How is a dog any different... misunderstood, pressured under time constraints, and always much more work than expected.

Back to Beau:

I don't believe Beau is one of those. I would strongly advise the next family that adopts BEAU be made to follow the STEP DOWN PROGRAM for three weeks after which I would recommend the family enrolls in a dog training class that understands and works well for rescue dogs.

Like in Beau's case, so many of these dogs are scared and distrust... feelings we do not attribute to other animals as having... only humans. Well, as long as you believe that, you will continue to be ignorant and lack the ability to make a difference in the lives of animals.

Thanks Erin, for your patience with Beau, and for providing him with a temporary home where he feels safe and understood.

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