Just recently I have been working with many German Shepherds, a breed I adore because of their intelligence and loyalty; however, because of inter breeding and careless practices on the part of so many breeders these days, I am working with many of them here at the ranch as rehabilitation clients. Those of you who have logged onto our facebook page will be familiar with Sasha and Karma, Bentley and Hope, all of whom are in our programme and have done so well here.
Karma, in particular for me, has been a very interesting case because of her myriad problems and the long term plan we have had to instigate in order to help her. Her Mum, Chris, called me a few months ago after her friend brought her dogs to me to board, and asked if we could do an evaluation on Karma, who had all kinds of issues from separation anxiety to a fear of people generally, poor gait, no ‘mojo’ as we call it, basically an unhappy dog with no spark, no joy, and plenty of fear all wrapped up in a beautiful parcel of fur and liquid brown eyes. Poor Karma was the leftover dog that the breeder still had at 7 months, living in a crate with little if any interaction with anyone, so how could Chris resist but to help her?
Chris at the time was using a pinch collar on Karma to walk her, and I agreed to see Karma as long as Chris agreed to toss away the pinch collar straight away and purchase a freedom harness to rectify Karma’s pulling. We will not work with clients who use tortuous techniques on their dogs, and thankfully most people, when they see things from the dogs point of view, and realise how painful a pinch collar or shock collar or choke chain is for their dog, agree to do so.
When Karma first came to us, she was all of the things that Chris suggested, so we set about devising a long term programme to first help ‘open’ Karma up. The reason we have such a huge fenced meadow and use it for hours every day is that dogs need that full body stretch to open up all of their pathways, neural and physical, stretching body muscles and their brain in order to declog themselves. Like a car that needs to be run every now and again on the highway to decoke the engine, a dog needs this every day…..as do we humans, truth be told, though so few of us do as our bodies bid.
I asked Chris to increase Karma’s food as I felt that being a little underweight was contributing to her stress level, and had her feeling like there was no cushion between her and the world.
Within a very few sessions we started to see a change in Karma, a willingness to participate, a curiosity to know what everyone else was doing, and within four days we had our first play bow..a huge moment for us and her mum, that had us all in tears.
Next, we knew she needed to have a friend, just like humans, dogs relish close relationships…and Karma’s point of comfort at this point, was definately other dogs as it was less complicated for her. So we paired her up with Siri, a four year old doberman female who loved to run and play, and hey presto, a star was born! They hit it off like peanut butter and jelly and straight away we saw a massive light up in Karma’s demeanour. This shy, fearful dog was all of a sudden chasing all around the field like a train, anxious to make up for lost time.
Dogs learn vicariously for the most part, and to increase her ability to bond with humans, we also paired her with our fear and anxiety disorder helper, Levi, the newfoundland lab mix. He has an incredibly strong bond with my husband and is very tactile, after being with him for hours on end, Karma soon started to enjoy the odd touch, curled up at my husbands feet letting his feet rub her belly as he worked, and pretty soon she was enjoying belly rubs, kisses and was begging for more when he pulled away.
Every day that we are with her, we see a new and improved Karma and every day that she returns to the ranch to see us, Karma seems more at ease in her own skin. She has gained maybe ten pounds, has an improved gait from all the running and muscle building, her separation anxiety is much diminished and she is pretty carefree these days……. Her mum and dad have taken over a new role as leaders and parents for her which lessens her stress dramatically and she has learned to relax and be a dog. On walks, she greets humans that she sees, and while she still has to work on some issues at home, she is much improved around people.
Karma still has a ways to go, and Im eagerly awaiting reaching the destination, but for now, the journey with this wonderful dog is awesome and heart warming, challenging and rewarding, and really encapsulates every factor of why we chose to do this kind of work.