Helping a Former Puppy Mill Breeding Shih Tzu Learn to be a Dog Again

By: David Codr

Published Date: May 30, 2016

Lacy and Charlie

Lacy (left) is a three-year-old Shih Tzu that I worked with last year. This former puppy-mill breed dog was so fearful of humans she did nothing but sit in a corner of the room and avoid all contact with people (especially men). After our first session she regained her confidence inside the home but rarely explores the family’s fenced in back yard past the porch and shuts down when they attempt to take her out for a walk.

Although she did not meet me at the door, Lacy did get up and move towards me and when I came into the living room. This was a huge improvement over my last visit with her as she did not get up out of her bed until we started motivating her to do so.

A common mistake that many people make when dealing with a formerly abused dog is to try to pet them to prove to them that they are a good person. But anytime that you pet a dog, you’re reinforcing whatever state of mind they are in at the time. So if the dog does allow you to pet it when it is fearful (after the initial bringing it home period), all you are doing is reinforcing and nurturing the exact thing you’re trying to stop.

I spent a couple minutes going over a new way that strangers can introduce themselves to Lacy.

Although Lacy did not take any of the treats that I dropped, she did notice me dropping them and she did get up to investigate them. In time, Lacy’s familiarity with this sort of introduction will help her feel more comfortable, and once she starts eating the treats she will start to develop a positive association with new arrivals to the family home.

It can be very comforting for an abused dog to get familiar with their surroundings. This familiarly allows them to gain confidence and build up their self-esteem. However, it can also become a crutch if the dog stops exploring, and that was the case with Lacy.

Her guardians were right to want to walk Lacy outside, but for many dogs, crossing thresholds and boundaries can be the biggest hurdle. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time trying to get Lacy over the obstacle, so I decided to simply go around it.

Once we were outside, you could see a change in Lacys disposition. While I wouldn’t call her excited by any means, she was more aware of her environment then she was inside. As her guardian carried her  away from the home, she was moving her head around to take in her surroundings.

Whenever you are rehabilitating a dog, it’s always best to go in small steps, so we only walked a block away from Lacy’s house before I had her guardian place her down on the ground. He initially started to put her down on the pavement, but I had him play her on the grass instead (much richer and more stimulating)

As soon as she was down, Lacy started to move around. Leashing training dog school in session. Her body was a little bit tense and her tail was low, but she was moving forward. Success!

I was really really pleased with Lacy’s responsiveness to this new activity. I expected us to need to do a lot more coaxing to motivate her when in fact we really didn’t need to do any at all.

By gradually increasing the length of the walking route and practicing four different routes, Lacy should be inundated with a lot of great new stimulus that will help motivate her to want to explore the outside world.

While the walk was clearly a big success and will pay large dividends down the road, I wanted to see how far much farther we could push the envelope. I decided it was time for me to bring in some backup.

I placed Charlie with my parents following the unexpected death of his original guardian. He is playful to a fault and was exactly the energy that I wanted to use. Being a male certainly didn’t hurt either.

It was great to see how quickly Lacy responded to Charlie. She immediately lifted her head, her ears rotated forward, her tail curled up about as high as it could be and she started walking around with a bounce in her step. This sort of positive reinforcement and positive training is so important when rehabilitating a formerly abused dog.

As Charlie and Lacy bounded around the yard, I did notice that Lacy would circle back towards her guardians or the house every few minutes. I suggested that the guardians try to place chairs in the grass area rather than sitting on the deck as this will help motivate Lucy to move past the deck boundary. Once she is exploring the yard on her own, they can go back to hanging out in the lawn furniture on the deck.

Because she responded so positively to Charlie’s arrival, I recommended that the guardians inquire as to potential he fostering another dog in their home. Just like humans, dogs push other dogs buttons. Having someone that she can relate to, could amount to some strong rehabilitative medicine. Because they adopted Lacy through the Little White Dog Rescue, I suggested they reach out to them first.

It will be important that they make sure that any foster dog is not aggressive and has more of a playful energy. Are young dog still in it’s late puppy stages would be ideal.

We would not want to place an another insecure, frightened or aggressive dog around Lacy; those are the exact personality and energy types we want to strictly avoid at this stage in her rehabilitation.

To take every advantage of Charlie’s presence, I suggested that we had inside so that the dogs could play there.

In addition to the positive experience of playing with another dog in the home, this also allowed us to leave some of Charlie’s scent on Lacy’s toys, bedding and surroundings. A sent trail will continue to stimulate Lacy long after Charlie has gone home.

By the end of the session, poor Lacy was pooped. This is probably the longest amount of dog on dog social interaction she has had in a long time. While we made great progress, you don’t want to overdo it. Giving dogs a recovery period after stressful or event filled situations is important.

Honestly, we made more progress in the session then I thought we would. I strongly suspect that it’s only going to take a handful of walks before Lacy decides that they are something to look forward to. Once that is the case, her confidence and self-esteem will rise which will better enable her to deal with unknown situations.

If her guardians can foster a couple of dogs or arrange play dates for Lacy, this should accelerate her rehabilitation process quite a bit.

Late in the session, Lacy came over to me when I called for her. This is one of the first times that she had done this and was one of the best signifiers of a positive session that I’ve had in a while.

It was a long road, but Lacy has found a terrific forever home with patient and loving guardians who are determined to do what is bet for her. I’m already looking forward to getting an update from them about her progress after the session.

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