I am working with a smallish dog that is apparently afraid of other dogs, especially dogs that are bigger than her. I designed a set of training plans so that she can be exposed to different large friendly dogs that and in the process help gain some confidence. Our second goal is for her to learn how to greet them properly which she does not do at this point.
For this type of behavior modification, I need helper dogs. Helper dogs are dogs that are very versed in appropriate greetings, reading the other dogs well and super friendly. In addition, these helper dogs must be able to take some of the crassness of the dog that needs rehabilitation.
This job is so important and yet potentially so taxing to the receiving dogs that we refer to them as “bullet-proof” dogs. They are your typical: “Bring it on! Here, right here because I can take it.”
Finding dogs that have such poise in the process of rudeness and even aggression from other dogs, yet still remaining unfazed is not an easy task.
I have used both Rio and Deuce as my “bullet-proof” dogs. Now, even though bullet-proof dogs are so nonchalant in stressful situations, it is really important that the interactions remain safe. Not only physically but also on an emotional level. I once had both my dogs literally leave the training session in what appeared to be in “protest” to my client’s dogs. At that point, I ended the session. This is part of the contract with my dogs that their well-being comes first.
Rehabilitating dogs is not always a straight forward affair. For starters, understanding the underlined motivation is not always easy. And as the case might be, there might more than one. Such as: “I would love to meet that dog, she seems nice, BUT I am really afraid, I am not sure I can trust that I won’t be hurt again…” Another typical scenario: “I reeeaaly want to say hi, but golly I frankly don’t remember how to go about it! Is it the face or the butt that I need to sniff first?”
You get the picture.
There are times that dogs can be the best of teachers to other dogs. I remember a case of a 5-month-old terribly under socialized German shepherd puppy/ young adolescent that I had here from the shelter. This poor girl was so terrified of people that she would just curl up in a corner of the room where I had her and unable to interact at all. Very sad indeed. When I first brought her from the shelter, I put her in this extra room where I knew she would be safe and able to decompress a bit from the ordeal of bringing her here. I once peeked thru the window and I saw her playing almost with abandonment with the toys that I left behind for her. Yet, the minute I walked in she was a different dog. After much thinking about how to best help her, I came up with the idea of having both Deuce and Rio meet her at a distance.
The first time she saw them – as she peeked from her enclosure she growled. Both my dogs remain in their spots just watching her. I then began to play with my dogs as we normally do and having “puppy X” as I named her at this point, just watching at her will. After two of these set-ups, she decided to be brave and come out to see what we were doing at a closer distance. I had clipped to her harness a very long line so that I could retrieve her and not lose her should she choose to bolt away from me.
I was at awe as I noticed that both my dogs could tell she was struggling. They just gave her space. Never approaching or encroaching on her safe-space under a tree where she watched us play ball.
I kept observing “puppy X” as her level of comfort around my dogs grew. Once again, she had the choice to peek from the door that lead to the outside play area or to go back inside. Deuce and Rio standing next to me but this time Deuce gave “puppy X” a play bow. She then came out trotting to greet them both!
Both my dogs have been really instrumental in aiding me when working with shy or terrified dogs. Deuce while patient, needs more “space” and takes longer to “warm-up” to any intrusion into “his life” or “his schedule” but, Rio on the other hand, is one of the most patient dogs I have met in my life! Especially so with young puppies.
“Puppy X” found in Rio a sort of mentor – or older sister. Where Rio went, “puppy X” followed. Playing, investigating, resting and more play. She had come out of her shell; at least for the dogs.
This is but one example as to how dogs that are friendly and well-socialized to other dogs can cross barriers that we sometimes cannot. While dogs have a close relationship with people, they are very aware that we are not dogs. And while we can in effect teach dogs many, many important things, we cannot make sense of the world as another dog can.