Thursday, 23 February 2012
Help me overcome the scars of her past
In January, inspired by Dogs Today we proudly rescued a seven year old Miniature Schnauzer who had come from a puppy farm. She was with the rescue for six months before we adopted her and is still very shy. When I stroke her she sometimes licks her feet - is this a sign that she is stressed or that she is enjoying it? She does not run off when we do stroke her so I am hoping it is a soothing action but cannot find any information online to confirm and do not want to do it if she does not like it.
Secondly, we would like to give her some basic training for her safety such as sit, wait and lie down. However using the traditional sit training method standing over the dog holding something in your hand so they look up and automatically sit - as she is frightened of people and has been mistreated in the past she understandably does not like people standing over her - does anyone have other ways in which I can train these basic commands in a non domineering and gentle way?
Zoe Scotton, via email
Karen Wild, behaviourist advises:
Often a dog that is mildly uncertain will engage in a displacement activity such as licking themselves. It is not necessarily a sign of great stress but I think you have a good rapport with her and can see that it is a coping mechanism for her. She is probably not used to being handled but often, touch can calm both us and a dog. Why not consult with a T Touch practitioner who can help you with calming touches for her? In this way you both benefit.
It might be that she needs to learn that hands are always kind – that they always have something tasty in them no matter how they move or where they go. I would spend a few days or longer just holding smelly food she loves in your hand. Get her to follow your hand as she sniffs. If you can get her to move her head, progress to luring her round in a circle. This may help. Alternatively, get a very quiet, gentle clicker (or muffle one in your pocket) and as she sits naturally, click, then treat her. Keep doing this every time she sits without you trying to prompt her (known as free-shaping). She will learn that by placing her bottom on the floor, something good follows from you (after the click has alerted her to this!). Eventually, add a ‘Sit’ vocal instruction to pair the movement with your cue. This is a very rewarding process and will give her the confidence to try things out for herself.