Tuesday, 24 September 2013

My dog has been attacked and now he's scared of other dogs...

A common story unfortunately. We usually hear about such stories when we show new owners around the kennels. A concerned expression will appear on their faces as we tell them about how we let the friendly dogs exercise together.

''Oh he's ever so scared of other dogs. He was attacked as a puppy by an alsatian/rottweiler/staffy/ (insert large and scary breed here!)''.

What do we do when boarding these nervous dogs?

Well, first of all, we may only work on the dog's confidence with the owner's consent. If the prospect of group play upsets the owner and makes them nervous, or if the dog has become aggressive as a result of the attack, then of course we will exercise alone.

However, a lot of the time owners express to us how much they would love their dog to enjoy playing with other dogs again, and allow us to introduce their dog to others during their stay and aim to build their confidence back up. After all, here we have access to lots of dogs which we know very well and that we know are friendly and safe, this is something you can never be sure of when meeting dogs whilst out walking.

It's a simple process, but can take a variable amount of time, and not every stage can be reached. We let the dog work through the stages at their own pace and only move on when we see their behaviour change to show that they are more comfortable.

The first stage is to build up a trusting relationship with the dog ourselves. This can be instantaneous with some dogs, and take a long time with others. We get their simply by spending time with the dog, talking to them as we feed them and clean the kennels, by giving them a treat or two or a pampering. We make friends.

The second stage is where we introduce the dog to either our own dog, or a kennel/daycare dog who we know very well and are certain is a calm and quiet character. The nervous dog will obviously find this a little stressful at first, they may run away from the other dog or show overly submissive behaviour, but with a little time and repetition, they learn that nothing bad has happened. They may come out of their shell a little, and take more interest in the other dog, perhaps even showing signs of playfullness.

Dogs may show submissive behaviour at first, but they soon learn to not be afraid

The dog may start to show signs of interest in the other dogs

They learn that it is nice to have company.

The third stage is where we gradually push the dog out of their comfort zone, little by little. We do this by adding more challenging characters to their playtimes (and when I say challenging, I mean more playful, or more barky, we never ever put aggressive dogs in group play - everyone is thoroughly temperament assessed before being allowed in group play). This third stage is where we find what the dog's real character is, now they have gained confidence and lost the fear they once had. You would be surprised how many of these nervous dogs end up being put in the boisterous play group after a week!

Some dogs even get too boisterous for the quiet group, and have to be move up into the crazy group! 

We have had many owners say how pleased they are to have a happy and confident dog back when they return from their holidays. Sometimes they and their dog have been carrying the fear of attack around for years, which is a real shame as it is such a joy to watch dogs play together. Also, it can play a part in preventing any future attacks, as the dog will learn how to properly interact with others, they will have a more confident posture and disposition, and this alone can play a big part in not becoming a victim again.

We are by no means dog trainers, but running the doggie daycare means that all the staff are excellent at reading dog body language and supervising the group play to ensure that the right dogs are grouped together, and that everyone has a good time. It is the best part of the job, especially when you can see their confidence and happiness change in front of your eyes.

This is what it's all about - the smiling faces!