I have a problem with my little 2 year old rescue dog. He came from a crack house where he was tied up and kicked down the stairs. He was already 9 months old when I got him so I don’t think the trauma will ever leave him. At first, when I reached toward him to pet him, especially at the beginning he would back off under the kitchen table, so I let him be in order to get used to me. He is still terrified of men. He did get used to my dad and my one male friend, whom he is crazy about. He also likes to play ball.
He is now into a mature dog stage, and still remembers. I know with anyone traumatized it takes time and patience but I am asking you for any suggestions, on how to get him back into a semi-formal life as trauma never really leaves anyone.
Often the biggest thing standing between many rescue dogs and and significant recovery is their owners.
Time and patience is part of the process but the prognosis is far better regarding time-line and extent with the right sort of skills and effort. Sometimes the effort required is more then the owner has time and/or skills. However, more often than not there’s no lack of desire in the owners, it’s just realizing the resources are available and the potential is there in the dog. In your case we know it’s possible because your dog has already sent a clear message saying so by already accepting a man or two into his life and even taking joy from it. Why not men in general?
People with dogs that have special needs require training assistance from better than average dog trainers. Your dog is the perfect candidate for operant conditioning and I would look for a skilled dog trainer experienced in a branch of dog training commonly referred to as clicker training. If you have the right clicker trainer they’ll show you how to reinforce progressive behaviour and when appropriate, properly discourage unproductive behaviour. I say right clicker trainer because some do believe that negative behaviours will go away on their own and I don’t think that outlook is the best choice for your dog. Find the right trainer and you will be amazed at the difference this approach will make in the speed and degree of your dog’s recovery.
A common mistake is that as natural as it may be to want to “make up for the dog’s past” by lavishing the dog and being available to sooth its fears, timing is everything and bad timing can actually make the dog worse. You can’t meaningfully make up for the unbalanced negative experience of the past with an all-positive – other end of the spectrum approach. Life just doesn’t work that way. You often end up reinforcing the dog’s anxiousness or worse adding to it. Clever dogs clue in and start using “anxious symptoms” as a “get out of jail card.” They play the card because they know their owner will fold.
It may be time for us to consider stop using the word “rescue” at all and replace it with the word rehab. “I got my rehab dog from a rehab center.”, points to the future rather than the past. Let the rescue part of your dog’s life be over and let the rehab begin.
Last call for the workshop I’m doing in the Whitby, Ontario area on October 23rd.