Helping an Abused Schnauzer Learn to Be a Dog Again

By: David Codr

Published Date: December 5, 2014

Brigette2While I enjoy working with dogs that have all kinds of problems. helping an abused dog come out if its shell is probably one of the most rewarding things I get to do. That was certainly the case with Brigette, a miniature Schnauzer mix who was confined to a cage in a puppy mill for most of her life.

Most of my clients want me to help their dog stop an unwanted behavior or habit. While I enjoy working with all kinds of dog problems, helping a dog who has a detrimental psychological issue is richly rewarding. That was certainly the case with Brigette, a miniature Schnauzer mix who was confined to a cage in a puppy mill for most of her life.

Her owners had worked with her extensively to build up some trust and confidence. Outside, she ran and interacted with the other three Schnauzers that live with her. But once she got back inside, she stayed in a corner of the room and did nothing but sleep or avoid any contact or activity.

I was called in to work with the other three dogs, but when I spotted Brigettte and learned of the situation, I interrupted my work with the other dogs to focus on her. Laying or sitting alone in a corner is n kind of life for a dog. It was clearly a HUGE improvement over being bred and neglected in a kennel, but she clearly wasn’t behaving like a dog should.

While letting a dog be may seem logical, a dog in Brigette’s situation needs a leader. Clear rules and structure from a calm, confident human that gently but firmly pushes the dog to expand its limits is a much better tactic.

I tossed a high value meat treat on her blanket right in front of her nose. At first she remained completely motionless, but then her nostrils started to flare as she got a scent of the treat. I stayed completely still and several feet away. Cautiously, she leaned forward and licked the treat off the blanket. I repeated the process a few times but tossed the treat slightly further away from her each time. My goal was to get her to get up to step towards a treat. It took 4 treats, but on the fourth one she got up, got it, then went back to where she was sitting before.

Now that I knew she was inclined to move with proper motivation I walked over to her bed and slowly but firmly inched towards her to get her to get up and move outside of her comfort zone.

Once she was on the floor, I tossed another treat in front of her. Her eyesight wasn’t the best, but the smell of the treat did the trick. She cautiously moved over and claimed her reward.

I built off of this progress by placing a number of treats on the floor in a line, spaced about 6 inches apart. It took a little coaxing to get her to take the first one, but once she did, she started moving on to get the next several treats.

I repeated this process a few times, spacing the treats slightly farther apart and also adding more treats to the line so she walked across the room. Her owner watched her do this with her hand covering her mouth. It was clearly an emotional moment for the dog and her owners.

Because she acted in a more normal manner when out in the back yards with the other dogs, I put her on a leash and went out for a short walk. I asked her owners to stay inside so I could evaluate her alone. Often people who reduce dogs from bad situations feel sorry for them. Sometime this attitude and sympathy impacts the dog in the wrong way, stifling it from growing and getting better.

At first I had to give the leash a number of gentle but firm tugs to get her to move, but soon we were walking along with little encouragement needed. After a few moments I could see some extra umph in her step, she started to walk with her head up and her tail stump relaxed.

Dogs get over things by literally moving forward and a walk was just what the dr ordered. It was a short walk, but by the end of it she was starting to sniff the ground, look around and seemed much more comfortable and even confident.

As soon as we returned, Brigette reverted a bit to her old non engaging behavior so I suggested that her owners help her move forward by making some small changes in her life. By removing her access to the comfort zone area she never moved from, she will be forced to see and be a part of the movement in the living room. The more exposure she gets to “life” and the other dogs in the house, the more she will come out of her shell.

I also suggested that her owners start taking her out for daily walks, preferably when no other people are around. Starting out with a short walk, then repeating it and extending it every day is a great way for her to gradually learn to see, sniff and interact with new things. In time, she these experiences will lead to confidence and self esteem. As those qualities grow, her preference for isolation will diminish.

It isn’t going to happen overnight, but I could see how much her owners appreciated the progress we made. With some time and effort, Brigette will get over her self imposed isolation and learn to enjoy being a dog.

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