Today I wanted to share my first training experience with Manitoba Underdogs Rescue where I got to work with a beautiful Lab mix named Fia. Miss Fia came into rescue in May 2013 through a spay/neuter initiative which Manitoba Underdogs organized with DREAM called Beat the Heat. Manitoba Underdogs visited three First Nations Communities in Manitoba to vaccinate and deworm dogs and bring back stray dogs for vetting and adoption. As the Spay/Neuter Program Manager for DREAM, I am a huge supporter of working to fix the dog/animal overpopulation issue. So far Beat the Heat has vaccinated and dewormed over 100 dogs and fixed 15. For more information about Beat the Heat, and ways to get involved, click here.
Fia came into care with general anxiety towards people; not uncommon for stray dogs coming from remote communities. Fia’s foster mom called me up, we discussed the problems they were having and off I went to help! One of Fia’s issues was with her foster dad. He works out of town for part of the week, not on a set schedule, and when he was in town she was very uneasy around him. Whenever he walked past her she would growl and cower away, she wouldn’t let him get anywhere near her.
When a dog has any fear issues whether it be around people, food, other dogs, or whatever, NEVER force your dog towards it. Look for the signs that your dog is uncomfortable – ears back, panting, yawning, and the whites of eyes showing are just a few of what to watch for. You never want your dog to get to his or her breaking point, which can be avoided if you know what to watch for.
Fia loves her foster mom and treats, so we used those to start making her feel more comfortable around foster dad. We started with Fia a safe distance away from FD, (where she was comfortable), and had him make very small movements, without moving towards her or making eye contact. Movements as small as just standing up, or taking a small step to the side. Every time he moved, FM gave a treat and a big “YES!” Once Fia was comfortable with these movements, FD started moving closer and doing the same sideways movement (still no eye contact), FM treating AS SOON AS he moved and using the voice marker. Remember that this process cannot be rushed and can take weeks or longer depending on the severity of the anxiety or fear. It has been about a month now and Fia is snuggling with FD any chance she gets! She is also greeting new people at the door and LOVES playing with children, she has two human foster siblings.
Have you experienced working with an anxious dog? Do you have any questions about your dog’s anxiety? Let me know in the comments here!