Wits End Dog Training: helping you to help your dog be the best it can be

Wits End Dog Training, helping you to help your dog be the best it can be.

Wits End Dog Training | Communities

Dinky - Dinky starts to come out of her shell and soon looks forward to Robin's visits.

Dinky and Harold

Out of the frying pan into the fire?

When the teams from several rescue groups were involved in resolving a hoarding situation in the northern Nevada desert in the middle of winter they searched far and wide to find shelters with available space who would be prepared to house these guys and try to prepare them for rehoming. This was how Dinky and Harold found their way to the Peninsula Humane Society over 400 miles from Gabbs, Nevada.

"Harold and Dinky are withdrawn and scared to death
of any human contact."

I was called in for support when PHS found that they were so skittish and fearful that the regular staff were unable to approach them. The dogs were not doing well, they seemed to be very stressed just from the change of environment. The ranch they came from was in the middle of nowhere and they were living outside in the peace and quiet, all of a sudden they were in a busy metropolitan shelter. There was already talk of “the humane option”. A euphemism for euthanasia. Fortunately PHS had made a commitment, when they were asked to help, to do everything they could to rehabilitate these dogs.

"You should have seen their faces
when I turned up for the first session carrying a beach chair
and a copy of James Herriot’s stories!"
Harold gives us a few crooked looks while he gains a little confidence.

I visited the shelter and with the support of the staff set up a schedule to start the rehabilitation process. You should have seen their faces when I turned up for the first session carrying a beach chair and a copy of James Herriot’s stories! My reasoning was that I would try to reduce the fears of the dogs by settling down leaning back in a relaxed position and get them used to hearing my voice tones so that I would be able to work with them without them feeling stress. So the first few sessions I read aloud to the dogs, they became used to my presence. I measured the success by videoing the sessions and playing it back afterwards frame by frame. I needed to do this because I would not look at the dogs at all while I was in the pen, zero eye contact, for several days, to desensitize them to having someone so close.

"In order to see what was going on from the dog’s perspective I would watch when the dogs were watching me and look for changes in their body language,
the way they were standing, then sitting, then how long before they lie down, for example."
Dinky likes kibble! After a few sessions with Dinky, Robin moves onto the next step of personal contact. Here Dinky has become confident enough to eat out of Robin

What their eye contact was like and how disturbed they appeared when someone walked past the outside of the pen, and so on. Then the next session I would incorporate slightly different tests, placing the chair at a different angle to the front of the pen or slightly closer to the dog. I measured the dog’s stress levels by placing small spots of a liver paste or peanut paste on the floor, dropping small slivers of roast beef, or roast chicken at a short distance from the dog. For the first few days they would ignore the treats altogether. Then one day I stepped outside the pen for a moment to answer a call and when I turned around I saw that Harold had vacuumed up the treats.

Harold likes peanut butter! As his confidence and comfort with Robin grows Harold begins to gently take the offered treat of peanut butter from Robin

So I could see that he was gaining confidence, a little at a time. I had some difficulties because it seemed as if just as we could see some progress the management would change the pen, either to another pen in a different block or sometimes just a different group of dogs were added or taken away as companions to Harold and Dinky. Each time that happened I was not surprised to see some regression in the desensitization. Then one day we turned a corner and Harold literally fell asleep with me in the pen reading to him. Next session he took some peanut paste form my hand and we continued to make solid progress, slow but sure.

"Harold literally fell asleep with me in the pen
reading to him."

Dinky was a little quicker in getting used to my presence but when I was not there I heard stories of her pacing the pen and not relaxing at all during the day, then she went off her food. I sensed that she was struggling with the restrictions and I am a firm believer that if you want to reduce a dog’s stress you have to let it be a dog, see daylight, play with other dogs and enjoy the sights and smells of the great outdoors. The difficulty was that although I had dealt with several of the rescued dogs from Gabbs the one thing they had in common was that they had, to all intents and purposes, never seen a leash let alone been taken for a walk on one. Several of the dogs, when first leashed, pulled, balked, or did a laydown freeze or sometimes perform a trick that came to be called the “roped crocodile” where they would spin lying down rollovers a number of times very fast all in the same direction. This had the unfortunate result if people were using wire slips or catchpoles, that the cord would wrap tighter and tighter around the neck of the dog causing it to panic.

"The difficulty at the PHS is that there is
very little opportunity for the dogs to be taken out for a walk,
especially a dog that was a flight risk
as these guys were!"

Teddy visits Dinky - To help give Dinky some confidence and guidance while on leash, Teddy comes for a visit to show him how it

Visiting several times a week, these dogs made amazing progress and soon the staff were taking an interest in them. Meanwhile I continued the socialization work and progressed to body massage. Then we worked on leash training. I took to taking Dinky out for a leash walk along a quiet footpath by the bayshore and along a little beach nearby where she took great delight in watching and smelling the seabirds, holding her head high to draw in the fishy smell of the bay. After a few days of this she started to meet my visits with a lot more enthusiasm and we got out of the pen and through the gauntlet of barking pitbulls that lined the way to the rear door of the building.

"Unfortunately she was still a flight risk,
when ever I took her round to the play area
she would always do a perimeter search
and gaze longingly at the top of the 8 foot fence
that surrounds the play yard."

Once again I was distressed to hear talk about their progress being too slow, as a volunteer I had invested a lot of myself emotionally and physically and I felt sick to my stomach that they might not be given the time they needed to become Canine Good Citizens. I was sure they could make the grade. They had been amazingly tolerant of what must have been a pretty stressful time in their lives and there was definitely a light at the end of the tunnel. Fortunately with a bit of help from prayer to the patron saint of dogs and the wonders of modern technology several wonderful people in the Dog Rescue Network came forward to offer them foster homes in rural Nevada where their quirks might not be as distressing as they would be for the average homeowner in the San Francisco metropolitan area. I still hear from them and about them from time to time.

"Many of the foster homes seem to have got attached to these guys, just as I did, I wish them long and happy lives."

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