When we lived in Trinidad & Tobago, I used to volunteer at the kids school and every morning a lady called Daphne would drop her daughter Sammi off at the classroom door, fussing over her and trying to kiss her goodbye, while Sammi just would look away, roll her eyes and pull herself away from her mother. She looked thoroughly grossed out and couldn’t get far enough away!
Her mother was bemoaning the fact that her daughter couldn’t stand her, and what was she to do?
I delicately suggested she give the poor kid some space…how on earth was she ever going to like someone who smothered her from morning til night?
I was reminded of Sammi and Daphne this week, when I met a charming woman called Sally who brought her dog to us for a behavioral consult last Thursday night.
Sally’s dog, Vera, (you know I make these names up, don’t you? The people are real but the names are stupid, made up names that I have a right good giggle over…who would honestly call their dog Vera?) as well as having some fear issues around other dogs had not ever physically bonded to Sally, who told me quite candidly that she brought Vera into her life and rescued her, to ‘fill a hole in my heart’.
Little Vera adores Sally’s boyfriend Jim,and giggles and wiggles all the way over to him when he gets home from work, she comes when he calls her, looks up at him adoringly and wants to be near him.
Sally, who feeds Vera, walks her, trains her, takes her to the vet and is an exceptional mum to her in every way…when she walks in looking for some love from her little pup, well…… it ain’t happenin’!
Sally is heartbroken about this and can’t understand why the dog doesn’t do back flips for her, when her previous dogs just adored her?
I explained to Sally that firstly all dogs are different, and secondly, as a fearful dog, Vera needs two things above all else in any new situation…time and distance.
I sat down on the tree trunk down in the meadow and told her, verbatim as if I had been a fly on the wall, exactly how she had acted the night she brought dear little fearful Vera to their house after they adopted her. I told her that she had cuddled her in the car, and brought her home and been given access to every area of the house straight away, Sally had set her on the couch and talked to her all night telling her how she was safe and how she was going to be loved forever, she had stroked her and loved on her like a little Princess. Sally admitted that this was the case.
Now, to a human child who has just been adopted that might just work and they might find that appealing, but to a fearful dog, passed from pillar to post, in a new environment, its a nightmare on wheels!
What little Vera really wanted to do was to sniff out her new environment; the scent of something tells them everything they need to know to get a handle on things in a new situation…who lives there, what they eat, how they act, if they are strong or weak characters, where they walk…..its a whole community newspaper at floor level for your dog if you only allow them to read it. Doing so helps them to get their bearings.
Next, taking the dog for a long, long walk around their new neighborhood and their new home on leash while letting the dog explore with their nose, helps the dog to settle much, much faster. Granted, Sally and her boyfriend did take Vera for a walk when they brought her home, but my guess was that they were talking and cooing to her and trying to ‘connect’ with her at every turn.
Here at the Ranch, we never ever talk to dogs while they are settling in. I can hear a million ‘positive dog trainers’ go green at the thought of no-one praising with a ‘great job’ and ‘good girl’ every five minutes, but here, we just don’t think that dogs connect linguistically at first.
We connect and build a relationship through letting them use their nose, then exercise and then body language. When the relationship is formed, and the dog feels comfortable, (which might take half an hour, two hours, it might take two days, it all depends on the dog) then, and only then, do we bring in the language….calm commands and calm praise. Once the dog is settled with that, they will come to us and tell us they would like some touch now thankyou very much, and at that point, do I go all gooey and stroke away?
No, I don’t. At that point, I won’t touch the dog, I ignore her. Then ten seconds later, I will call the dog to me and start to touch and stroke gently on their shoulders or on the chest. Just for a moment.
Why like this? Because when I form a relationship with a dog, it is going to be a lasting one…….
All of my relationships with all of the dogs that come here are started this way because I want the dog to go through a gamut of emotions including an emotional release, and end up at the right place. This has worked for me over five thousand times so I’m not going to change it.
By using no touch, no talk and no eye contact at first, I am telling the dog that I am asking nothing of it, there is no need to be overwhelmed and they are free to explore the place as we walk together. Thats the start of the relationship.
Remember, the dog wants time and distance….time to make a decision as to whether they like me, and distance because no one likes anyone that gets all up in their business when they’ve just met.
Humans hate it and dogs hate it even more; to them its beyond rude.
Next, by allowing the dog to sniff as we walk, we are exercising together and working in tandem. This, to a dog is affection; its a shared experience and it s a language we can share as we walk and rest, walk and rest, which is how, in a pack, dogs bond. The dog then sees me as more than just some idiot on two legs, she sees me as someone who has respected her needs and thats a wonderful foundation for any relationship.
The calm commands and calm praise that form the next step are to introduce the dog to my voice and my expectations. Too much noise befuddles the dog, too much excitement and ‘whoop de doo’ and the message is lost on a fearful dog, who really is trying hard to cope in the new situation.
Don’t forget, they don’t speak English, they aren’t hard wired for language at all, so our words are just sounds to them unless they understand commands we give them. Flooding them with language is a strain on a fearful dogs senses, when in actuality, they would rather rely on their nose and eyes in a new situation. Its more comforting. Its what they know..
When the dog comes to me for affection, I turn it away at first because I have to set boundaries, respect and limitations, just as I have accorded the dog the same thing.
My particular boundaries are that I don’t like dogs clambering all over me willy nilly, I like to instigate physicality when I want it, as most humans do. By turning the dog away in that first instance, I am doing two things: I am setting my boundaries from the get go with the dog, which is very important as the dog then knows what to expect from our relationship from the off. Secondly, I am increasing my own value in the eyes of the dog. Dogs are like us, what they can’t have they tend to want more.
Every single time I do this technique, the dog can’t wait for me to call it over to me and get some loving and they revel in the special gift that I’m giving them, knowing I do not bestow it freely all the time. Once our relationship is formed I do, you’ll see pictures of me slushing all over some big handsome goofball every day with my lips wrapped round his chops…..but never at the start.
While Sally was here at the Ranch, I had her follow my protocol for the two hours that she was here with me. She hated it, felt there was no way she could do it for more than five minutes and looked appalled when I first told her to do this.
When she called Vera to her, and Vera ignored her commands, I had Sally and Jim, her boyfriend, hide behind a tree with me so that Vera had to physically come looking for her.
We watched, out of sight, as little Vera got the first shock of her relationship with Sally…she wasn’t there!
Vera panicked and bolted around looking for Sally and when she found her was all over her like white on rice, jumping up at her, joyous in the moment as she had just had a short sharp lesson in fear of loss and realised that Sally wasnt to be taken for granted.
Sally admitted to me and Jim by the end of our session that this was the most tactile Vera had ever been with her in the ten weeks she had had her.
Remember I said at the start that Vera loves Jim more than Sally and is all over him like a rash when he comes home……why?
Jim is the strong, silent type, far less openly affectionate and chatty to the dog than Sally, and has a clearer, less expansive vocabulary with the dog. He might not be a dog whisperer, but he is a lot more cool and not so in Vera’s face as Sally is. Thus, Vera chooses Jim as her significant other, because he suits her needs better and answered more of her needs for time and distance at the very start.
Sally is going to be dialling her relationship with Vera right back to zero and, after Vera had spent a little time here at the Ranch to work on some other, fear associated issues, she will be bringing her home and using the protocol that I use here to start her relationship with her dog over.
I predict that within a short time, Sally is going to have the dog of her dreams and Vera is going to be one happy, well adjusted, very tactile pup who can’t get enough of her new Mum!
Remember people…time and distance!