Top 50 Blogger

Become a Fan


  • Con Slobodchikoff, Ph.D.
    Slobodchikoff is President and CEO of Animal Communications, Ltd., specializing in pet behavior problems and in educating people about the behavior of animals.

« April is Child Abuse Prevention Month | Main | Is It Normal For Dogs To Eat Grass? »

April 22, 2009


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Nancy Frensley, CAP2, CPDT

To:Susan Kuchinkas on Behavior Problems in Dogs that Need Re-homing.

Thank you for your insight into this situation. Puppies that are turned into shelters
frequently lack any kind of normal inter-dog pack activity. In a normal situation, the puppy would be with his mother and siblings for at least eight weeks and maybe more. The pup would learn a lot from them-appropriate social interaction, bite inhibition, etc. In a good home, the puppy would also be exposed to a variety of people and have positive experiences with them as well. The separation experience would, ideally, be gradual enough to help the puppy develop coping mechanisms. Puppies should have these experiences during their best social acquisition period, which is prior to 16 weeks.

Found or abandoned puppies rarely have any of these advantages and experience, as in your puppy's case, relocation during early developmental stages. These stages can include periods of intense fear. In his case, an early adoption could have helped him develop confidence, especially if the adopter exposed him to appropriate adult dogs so he could learn to be "doggy".

It's really great that you have taken on this task and are building his confidence. It would be helpful for you to train him to do a down stay on a lightweight mat that you can carry with you. That way he will always have something familiar to lie on and something familiar to do in new situations. This should, of course, be taught with positive reinforcement; praise and treats. Dog sports, such as agility, flyball and tracking are also good confidence builders for shy dogs and fun for you, too.

Thanks so much for your comments.

Susan Kuchinskas

As the co-companion to a rescue dog, let me add a third possibility to the discussion.

We adopted our dog at 14 weeks old from an org that takes dogs from shelters, fosters and rehomes. At 14 weeks, he had already been in 3 or possibly 4 living situations, had been to the vet three times -- and had had painful neutering surgery.

He behaved like a normal pup when we met him at his last foster home, but he became terrified when I carried him out the door. He remained terrified for a couple of weeks, and it took a month for him to begin to bond with us.

He is now a wonderful and lovely dog when he's alone with us in our home, and he has about 10 human "friends" he's always happy to see. But he remains very fearful of new things, and even gets anxious when we put a box or something new in the kitchen.

We recently had a big breakthrough: We hosted a neighborhood meeting at my house, with about 20 people. I kept him at my side on a leash and he stayed quiet and even relaxed enough to lie down a couple of times. This is after two years. I expect continued improvement and hope that someday he will not fear change

If, heaven forbid, he ended up in a shelter (yes, he is chipped and licensed), he would be a shivering wreck and totally unadoptable.

I believe that the current practice of not letting dogs be adopted until 14 weeks is very harmful to them. Without having a secure pack or person to bond with, their brains develop with a hyper-reactivity to fear that's very difficult to mend.

Nancy Frensley, CAP2, CPDT

Thank you for your very thoughtful comments on my post. I think you have really hit on something by relating pack or family structure to this problem.

Studies of village and other primitive dogs by Coppinger and Serpell certainly support your theory that dogs that have had to cope on their own are much more flexible, opportunistic and open to new experiences than dogs raised in more insulated surroundings such as homes. If the proof is in the pudding-you are right on target. We experience this all the time.

Dogs that have lived in a home (a structured environment in which everything and everybody is stable) are much more likely to become fearful and defensive when they are confused by change. Dogs are, also, emotionally connected to us. They do sense and respond to their owner’s tension in these situations.

All behavior is affected by a dog’s individual attributes and some dogs are more socially resilient than others. We do see surrendered dogs that are well socialized and do very well in the shelter environment. It’s just that they seem to be in the minority, at least in this area.

Protecting a food source, however, is believed by experts in the field to be a more vestigial than learned behavior and it stands alone from other types of aggression. It would be difficult for a dog to instantly learn to guard food if the tendency to do so were not already there. When we see this behavior appear in food tests and question the owners further, we often find that there have been little signs of it off and on prior to the dog coming to the shelter. An interesting thought on this comes from Jean Donaldson, PhD and well known dog behavior expert. She says that it is incredible that food guarding still appears in a species that, for centuries, has not had to hunt to obtain food nor protect it from others.

I really appreciate the way in which you have clearly explained this. It helped me clarify my thoughts on the subject. It certainly makes a case for everyone making a lifetime training plan for their dogs that includes extensive socialization with both the familiar and unfamiliar.
Nancy Frensley CPDT, CAP2

rick smith

how about some thoughts on this for a possible explanation ? - for those of you who subscribe to the general pack theory. a dog rejected suddenly from the family "pack" suddenly has no clue how to react and survive on its own and quickly becomes a food hoarder, is more reactive to anyone approaching or touching it, and in general is confused, fearful and therefore easily provoked into fear aggression. a dog who has had to cope on its own, whether on the streets, or in the company of kind shelter personnel, is now much more eager and willing to do whatever it takes to join a new pack, which is manifested in much more submissive, sociable and agreeable patterns of behavior. Obviously there will be a wide variety of background issues that will affect both types of dogs differently, but the pack theory example seems to be a reasonable explanation to my simple mind :-) one way to test this might be to add this survey question to the family member who dumps their dog at a shelter: 1. did you ever have to leave the dog with another family for any period of time, and if so, how did the dog react while separated ? If the answer is yes, and the dog was fine, it would seem to support my theory. regarding the possibility the relinquished dog associated the shelter with a vet office : if it wasn't properly socialized for vet visits, and really did make the association and thought it might now have to LIVE at the vet office, it's not hard to see why it acted that way :-) i once had a pom that lived 17 years. an angel to anyone who came to our house, and there were many of all ages, since my house is also our ballet studio. strangers and students were treated alike. i took her out all over town, and everyone who approached her loved her, but that sweet angel would snap snarl and growl at anyone that came close when she was alone outside the house. i raised her from a pup - NO guarding issues ever, and very obedient. i could put her in a sit and go inside and order coffee, but if i gave her a toy in that situation and anyone tried to approach her she would quickly pick it up and growl deeply. i doubt she would have been easy to re-home either, and fortunately she never had to be....

The comments to this entry are closed.

FREE Report, 10 Secrets of Dog Body Language

Chasing Doctor Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animals