You are allowed to scream, you are allowed to cry, but don’t ever give up. It’s an important lesson.
Learning to trust is one of the most difficult things to do after someone that you trusted has let you down. Someone let Whit down. In the shelter he was shaking and scared. We know that he came from a hoarder. His shelter paperwork said abuse. When he got to us he was filthy. Needed-multiple-baths-filthy. But he smiled. He wagged his tail. He gave us a chance. I like to think that the other happy, calm, confidant dogs were telling him that this is a good place, a safe place. (I love how that works!) Everything was going great, for two weeks, and then my kids came home from their annual summer holiday at their Grandmother’s. We have had 20 different dogs here, and they all loved the kids. Whit was afraid of them. He barked at them, warned them to back away. They were a little bit confused. They didn’t understand. Whit may have been abused by a child. I talked with them about his unknown but abusive past. I reached out for advise on how to help him learn to trust them.
Here is what we learned:
- Being barked at incessantly is really damn annoying. The kids were doing everything they could to be kind and loving towards Whit, but he wasn’t having it, not at first.
- Whit is reactive. While we were thinking: We run this amazing Hotel for Dogs and Whit must be so happy to be here, and we love him, and so he’s happy now and everything’s great! Look at that tail wagging! Whit might be thinking: Who the hell are these people? I got used to the big ones and now there are two short ones. I don’t like this. The short ones can be so mean. Why are they looking at me? Stop looking at me. Oh no, here they come. They’re going to touch me. I don’t want them to. Why are they touching my head? I’m going to hold really still. Hands hurt. I don’t like stranger’s hands. I wish they would go away. They are so loud and they move so fast. I don’t like this. I’m getting out of here. Oh, there’s another one. Where in the hell can I go? Why the F$%k are they looking at me? Stop trying to give me food. I don’t want your damn treat. I don’t like you. GO AWAY!
- Our house turns out to be stressful for Whit, well, only when the kids are in the same part of the house as he is. Otherwise, he is a happy dog.
- The kids were going to have to learn to pick up on Whit’s stress and be careful around him. The absolute last thing we want is someone getting bit. That would be awful for the kids and the dog. When a dog is triggered by something stressful the ears go back, it might growl, bare teeth, snap or bark, retreat and hide. Most of the time Whit growled and barked at the kids. Then if they didn’t move he went a little closer and barked more (in case they hadn’t heard him). He barked and then backed off. Barking, retreating, barking, retreating. I can tell you that its super hard to get any work done while this is happening nearby. The kid couldn’t get their summer math done and I couldn’t write.
- The first thing we tried was treats. If the kids gave him treats and fed him his meals, he would come to think of them as good caregivers. Whit was reluctant to take a treat from the kids, not even a special treat, which could be totally counter-productive for training. He wouldn’t go near his food bowl if they were there. Damn. I was really counting on that working. We try to give him random treats when he isn’t barking and he seems approachable. That works … sometimes.
- Okay, Whit needs calm. I instructed the kids to be quiet and move slowly around him. Try not to come up behind him. He would gradually tolerate them petting him if he was soundly in my lap and safe. Baby steps.
- Let Whit take the high ground. I don’t typically let dogs sit at my desk or at the dining table. Whit like to sit in these places. A lot. I’ve decided that he feels more confident if he is up higher and so I’m allowing it, only for him, in total amazement that the other dogs are staying off these chairs. Wow. (The other dogs also look at him like he’s crazy when he barks at their wonderful kids. They think he rides the short bus. They love him. All good.)
- One great piece of advice was to have the kids take him for a walk, with me of course. Whit was super unhappy to go into a harness and leash, but once we were outside and around the block once, he was starting to like it. By the third day’s walk, he was cautiously optimistic that these kids don’t totally suck.
- Another piece of advice was to ignore Whit. Basically, don’t feed the barking with more scary looking at him, or moving toward him or, god-forbid, touching. Sometimes, I advised the children to just walk away from him. That isn’t always practical though.
- Patience. We have wanted to scream and cry from frustration. Loving anything who throws fear and aggression back at you takes its toll. We will not give up. We will vent. We will leave the room. (We will nod in agreement when our husband says ‘Too.Many.Dogs.’) We will then try again to be patient and allow Whit to learn to trust the kids. We will take cute pictures, because Whit loves to smile, and we will share our progress, because lots of people are rooting for Whit. He is totally worth it.
You are allowed to scream, you are allowed to cry, but don’t ever give up.
Day by day, Whit is growing more tolerant of the children’s presence in his house. (He feels that he was here first.) He will sometimes take treats and allow petting. This morning, he jumped up between my daughter and I and we got the selfie just above. Progress!