Helping an Abused German Shepherd Learn to Be a Dog Again (Part 2)

By: David Codr

Published Date: March 6, 2016

Bindi and Zina

Zina (right) is a dog I worked with a week ago. She was so fearful once she left her “trainer” that she did nothing but sit in the corner of the room or her dog house and not move or interact with anything unless a lot of coaxing was given. I decided to bring over a former client Bindi (left) who is a nine-month-old Aussidoodle with a great playful energy.

The introduction started out exactly as I wanted. Zina immediately noticed Bindi and her curiosity motivated her out of her dog kennel to investigate. But about 60 seconds after we arrived, Bindi decided to do the unexpected.

Aside from the drama caused by Bindi’s decision to crash into the pool, the greeting went pretty much as I hoped for.  Zina started out curious and as she watched Bindi bound around started to show more interest in him; both as a dog and as a male dog.

As Zina got more comfortable, she started to engage more with little Bindi; following him around and giving him a number of sniffs when they got together.

After about 10 minutes, you could see Zina was feeling much better. Her tail was in a nice medium position, her body language was more relaxed and in addition to following Bindi around, she stretched and yawned multiple times. These may seem like minor actions, but for a dog that was as checked out as Zina was, these little things were awesome to see.

As play continued, Zina gradually became more engaged. Initially it was Bindi initiating play contact, but once she adjusted, Zina started to give as good as she was getting.

I really can’t overstate how helpful Bindi was with this case. Each time Zina started to back off a bit, Bindi reengaged with her; pawing, darting around and even barking at her “come on, lets play!” Once I saw Zina starting to chase Bindi around, my smile got even bigger.

At first, the dogs started and stopped playing with short pauses sprinted in every few minutes. But after a good thirty minutes of this alternating play, the dogs settled down for a longer siesta.  I thought this would happen and expected Zina to retreat to her kennel. When I saw her lay down in the open, I knew we were making real progress.

While the primary goal was to have the dogs playing and being active, seeing Zina pop a squat in the open and relax was another small step that showed she was making some progress. My only regret at this point was Zina’s guardian was lovingly taking care of his wife who was under the weather. I really wanted to have him present for this play time.

I decided to take Zina and Bindi out for a walk together to continue our process and give her guardian time to finish seeing to his wife’s needs.

I started out with the dogs of separate leashes but decided to attach them together to facilitate more direct interaction between the dogs. They were a little keystone cop like at first, but then they started to fall into a rhythm and were even checking in with one another.

It was great to see how much more confident Zina was. On the walk we took on the previous session, Zina was pretty skittish to cars that raced by too fast or loud noises. But on this walk, the sound of passing cars and even a lawn mower generated almost zero response from the German Shepherd.

After a nice 20 minute walk together, Zina, Bindi and myself returned to her home so that we could hang out a bit with her guardian.

As soon as the guardian came out, Zina’s body tensed up, she lowered her head and constructed her body to make her look as small as possible. She remained sitting near me despite the fact Bindi and her guardian took a seat several feet away.

Considering you usually needed to add a leash to get Zina to come, it was nice to see her recall (sort of) without a leash and on the first call.

At first Zina was so cautious when approaching her guardian, Bindi was able to box her out. I asked the guardian to pull out some treats which Zina showed some interest in, but didnt actually eat. In the future the guardian will find holding the treat in the palm of his hand with the palm facing up will be easier for the dog to take.

Because she was so trepidatious about being near her guardian on her own, I sat down nearby to lend some moral support and offered tips on how to pet and interact with her in a positive way.

It will be important for Zina’s male guardian to walk her every day while being super gentle on the leash and letting her go where she pleases as long as she keeps moving forward and stays safe. I also asked him to call her over to give her a treat or affection as many times each day as possible and to try to get her to start laying on the floor next to him when he is working or watching TV. The more time Zina spends around him while positive things happen, the better her perception of him will be.

I also recommended that he ask her dog walker if they have any pups or medium energy dogs who can come over when they walk Zina. Just like the interaction with Bindi, meeting new dogs can be very beneficial as long as the dog isn’t aggressive, dominant or too high strung. We need to be careful to orchestrate good positive meetings and interactions that allow Zina to rebuild her confidence in meeting and interacting with other dogs.

By the end of the session, Zina was calm and relaxed, even sitting next to her male guardian. Her rehabilitation is going to take some time and a lot of patience. Zina’s recovery will have its ups and downs. The key thing is for the guardian to work with her / be associated with positive vibes and interactions every day. Even if its only a 5 minute walk before or after work, helping a dog come out of a shut down situation like this is a cumulative process.

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