My question is two-fold. Mom has had her for about five weeks and for the first three weeks or so Angel always relieved herself on the wee wee pads. Now another two weeks have passed and she is going anywhere she pleases, sometimes on the pads and other times not. The other issue is that while she seems to be very happy in her new home, she is still very timid. If we talk to her or try to bend down to pet her or pick her up, she quickly runs away from us, but still wagging her tail. Yet she follows Mom around the house all day while still keeping about a 5-foot distance from her. The only way we can catch her to pet her or take her for an outing is to wait until she is in her bed. That is when we can approach her and pick her up. She must feel comfortable in the bed.
At this time, she loves to be petted and will stay next to Mom for hours on the couch, even resting her head on Mom’s lap. It doesn’t make sense — to love to be petted on one hand, yet run away if we try to approach her when she is not in her bed. My questions are: What more can we do to help her become less frightened (we all speak in quiet voices and always with a kind tone of voice)? And is there a good way to train her to go on the paper all the time? Taking her outside in the yard is not an option for Mom because she has torn rotator cuffs and advanced arthritis, plus Angel is frightened of being on leash. She just stands there and will not walk. My brother lives with my mother but he works full-time so Mom is on her own throughout the day.
Are there any books that might address these issues for older, rescued dogs? Any suggestions will be greatfully appreciated. Thank you.
Thank you for your email. Angel does sound wonderful. She’s had a rough life that denied her the opportunity to learn basic skills like housetraining, communicating with humans (learned through socialization/training) or communicating with dogs on any kind of social level. Learning these skills and more comes from living with a family that provides the care, training, time and understanding all dogs need.
Angel may have used the pads initially because whoever rescued her introduced her to them; however, housetraining involves more than laying down pads and hoping a dog uses them. Because she grew up in a cage she simply never learned not to soil in her own area, and now her area is very big. So with housetraining, and all other training, teach her as though she were a puppy because, besides having an adult bladder, it’s exactly the same training process. I suggest you start from the beginning to housetrain Angel (read the Housetraining Handout). You’ll learn how to teach her where to go potty, and where not to.
Angel may be fine with being crated for short periods of time — you shouldn’t feel that it would be a bad thing necessarily. If she’s comfortable in a crate for a few hours while your mom’s at the grocery store, that will help a lot. Just use piddle pads where I mention to use grass. A perfectly sized crate is one that allows your dog to comfortably stand up, turn around, and stretch out while laying down, but no bigger than that. Be sure her potty pads are in a far corner of a room with hard flooring. Also, when changing the pads, be sure to touch a soiled one to the new one to remind her that this is where she’s peed before. A thorough, professional carpet cleaning from a company that offers dog-pee-specific cleaning solution is important once Angel begins to make progress. Everything about living in a house with a person is new to her, so she should be treated like a puppy, and don’t expect that she’ll know certain behaviors just because she’s an adult.
Angel’s avoidance behavior stems from years of being approached by humans with the result being unpleasant consequences. You can show Angel that now when people approach her it means good things are coming her way, and this will take time to teach. It’s great news that she’s comfortable in her bed and hanging out with your mom for long periods on the couch and is basically happy. This is a base from which to build. You didn’t mention where the bed is, so I don’t know if it’s logistics or the comfort of the bed that provide a pleasant place for her.
Try buying one extra dog bed and rubbing it with the current bed. Put the new one somewhere else in the house. If Angel is using the second bed as much as the first, then go get a few more, to provide her with numerous safe zones. If she goes only to the bed she has now, it means she feels safer in that room, on that couch, or wherever it is.
Angel not allowing you to catch her does make sense. Here’s why: She’s dealing with conflicting information and her behavior reflects that. She’s automatically leaving what she perceives to be a potentially unpleasant or dangerous situation, a fear she’s internalized from her past contact with humans. Her instincts say, “Uh-oh!” because of past experiences, yet she’s following your mom around the house because she’s ecstatic about having a loving caretaker. Unfortunately, years of negative associations with humans are keeping her from fully enjoying the good life right now. Offering her the benefits of counter-conditioning and desensitization, training and behavior modification will make her much more comfortable with people and her new environment. But more on that later!
Body language (movement and position) is the No. 1 communication tool when communicating with dogs. In Angel’s case, even though you’re all speaking to her in loving, low tones, she’s reacting to any type of interaction (unless she’s in her bed) with distrust. Leaning over her looks very threatening, as do hands reaching for her and any movement (particularly in a straight line) toward her. Humans move in many ways that an unsocialized dog perceives as threatening. Puppies raised underfoot and socialized from an early age become very used to silly humans reaching down to them, but to an adult dog coming from Angel’s background, humans are very scary in their physical communication.
When you approach Angel in her bed to pick her up look away from her and approach her by walking toward her in an arc. Begin by approaching her this way and by just giving her a small treat and walking away. Do this frequently throughout the day as part of the program to counter-condition her reaction to your approaches. Start allowing Angel to be the one to approach you. Sit on the floor, facing away from her. Hold a small piece of chicken to give to her when she comes over. Don’t make the mistake of trying to grab, pet or interact with her just yet. Let the chicken do the talking. Also use her regular food after it’s been treated as outlined in the Housetraining handout. The more you do this the better.
For your mom, ask her to stand still with a small piece of chicken, or other treat in her hand, and wait until Angel approaches even a tiny bit (Angel needs to be going toward your mom when rewarded), then ask your mom to simply drop the treat on the ground. No eye contact, and stay turned sideways or facing away from Angel. Standing and facing the dog is intimidating to the dog. You are building a groundwork of trust; no negative reprecussions (according to Angel) should happen to Angel because she chose to approach you. Just reward her for mustering the courage to take a small step toward you.
Don’t try to push it. Be sure Angel is very comfortable before requiring her to move a bit closer before getting the treat. She has a long history of distrusting humans and can’t be expected to change overnight. Learning to build her confidence is the key to Angel’s success.
You can start introducing the harness and leash in a different way to Angel. Please read “Our Chihuahua Squawks About Walks“ to learn how to best to help Angel with this. (Please keep the leash attached to a harness rather than a buckle collar. Angel is too small to be walked with a regular collar.) If your brother would eventually like to take Angel out for walks for exercise and potty breaks, sprinkle a bit of grass on each new potty pad you set down to get her used to peeing on grass.
There is a wonderful trainer and dog body language expert named Turid Rugaas. I attended her seminars early on in my training career and I am very glad I did. Her book “On Talking Terms with Dogs,” 2nd Edition, and her video “Calming Signals — What Your Dog Tells You,” contain information you’ll find extremely helpful. I also suggest a classic little book called “Don’t Shoot The Dog” by Karen Pryor to learn about dog training in general. Also, there are books available to help specifically with fearful/shy dogs, such as “Scaredy Dog! Understanding and Rehabilitating Your Reactive Dog,” Revised Addition, by Ali Brown.
You, your mom, brother and Angel would all greatly benefit from working with a trainer who does in-home training using gentle, positive methods, and who understands and can explain/demonstrate the methods I’ve talked about and that you’ll learn from the books and video. A great place to find a trainer is at the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Just type in your zip code after clicking on “Trainer Search” and a list of trainers near you will come up. Call at least three to five people before deciding who you feel would be the best person to work with; someone with a lot of experience working with fearful dogs would be particularly helpful.
The trainer can teach you customized training techniques to meet any physical restrictions your mom may have, such as getting on the floor to train, grooming or picking up Angel, or putting Angel’s harness and leash on when she’s ready to begin walking after proper training indoors (making a positive association with her harness and leash). It would be fun to teach Angel to walk up a carpeted ramp to a safe platform where your mom could do all these necessary things.
Of course, no harsh methods should ever be used with Angel. She needs to learn as many commands and tricks as you can teach her after she’s comfortable being close to you, and with your hands moving around her head. Nothing forms a stronger bond between a human and a dog than training with fun, gentle and motivational techniques. When you start the training process and begin to see progress, remember that you can teach Angel anything you can come up with. She’s a Poodle, after all — born to train! Of course your brother should be as involved in the process as possible, remembering to use non-threatening body language as described above.
Please stay in touch with me about Angel’s progress. She’s extremely fortunate to have found a home with your mom, and all the best to the three of you.