Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lessons from a shelter dog: Patience is key to improving dog behavior

Last Friday marked the third week my friend Allison and I have volunteered walking dogs at our local dog rescue, K-9 Stray Rescue League in Oxford Township.
It's hard to believe this Friday will be a month.
Walking rescue dogs is no easy task. There's a lot of pent up energy to go around.
Two weeks ago, I had what I call a "swimmer and spinner."
This young beagle/lab mix had all fours spread out as far to the side as possible as soon as I clipped the leash on him and brought him out of his pen. It looked like he was trying to swim on concrete — hence the "swimmer" part of my nickname.
What that actually achieves for the dog is a lower center of gravity (his belly and chest only a couple inches off the ground once he started 'swimming') and that means more strength to pull against the leash.
When we finally got out of the yard, he began 'spinning.'
He would leap forward against the leash and, with me standing still behind him, would rear up on his hind legs like a horse when he reached the end and spin around.
Then he started doing circles around me, spinning once or twice along the way and pulling like a freight train.
I wasn't sure I could actually hang on to the leash while he was behaving that way, and I also did not want to give that behavior my stamp of approval.
So I stood there, and stood there and stood there. The dog flat-out wore himself out spinning in circles around me.
We only moved forward when he stopped.
Miraculously, we were walking like a regular ol' human-dog pair in no time.
"I can't believe this worked out," I said to Allison, walking a different dog beside me. "I really wasn't sure he'd settle down."
And let that be a lesson to all of you, and especially those of you adopting a dog from a shelter — patience can have the biggest impact on behavior at times.
Sometimes, you just have to let a dog completely exhaust a behavior (and in my case, wear himself out in the process) before the dog realizes the behavior is not working as a means to the end he desires and gives up on it.

Vince, Shepherd mix
Big beautiful shepherd mix for adoption
Meet Vince, an approximately 3-year-old Shepherd mix.
I met Vince last Friday. He was the first dog I took out.
Vince is a very big boy. His adoption profile says he is about 90 pounds, but he may have packed on a few more since that posting. Vince is big.
Of course, that's what caught my attention — the big dog lover I am.
Like the dog above, Vince needed to work out some energy when we first got going on our walk. He did not swim nor spin, however. Instead, he bounced like a boxer.
Based on his bounciness, my money is on boxer definitely being a part of his mix, even though it doesn't look like it. As I state in the video, I wouldn't put past there being a bit of some sort of mastiff in Vince's make up too.
Vince's adoption profile says he is slightly insecure. This could be true, though I'm not sure it's a very serious problem.
Vince, see adoption profile
He did climb up on a big semi truck when a driver from a nearby business slowed down to offer the dogs some treats. He did not, however, take the treat. He did take the treat, and sat nicely for it, just a second later from my own hand.
Comparing him to the fear my dog has shows that his insecurities are minimal at best. My dog would have never even gotten close to the semi truck, nonetheless put two paws up on the steps to the cab. My dog also will not take treats from a stranger, and really, I was a stranger to Vince. Yet he took a treat from me.
So, a little insecure? Sure (because he wouldn't take the treat from the driver) but not to any sort of extreme. I had some concerns that his social skills around other dogs weren't fabulous either, but paired with the right dog, he could make a great playmate.
Vince's moment to shine was when we started jogging down the road. He fell right into step next to me and zoned in on the forward movement, not pulling, not getting distracted, just trotting merrily beside me.
Vince is an incredibly handsome boy with great potential.
If you've got the right home for him, learn more by going to Vince's adoption profile.

Watch a video of Vince!

1 comment:

  1. Insightful analysis...it sounds like he would be the perfect jogging partner.