Some former shelter animals quickly adapt to their new, secure enviroment, others need more time. While Janet belongs to the first group and is calm and relaxed, Sam still gets stressed easily. When he feels overwhelmed, he just reacts without looking at his humans for guidance. He reacts very strongly to everything that happens in front of our house, or on the street. We live in a cul-de-sac, relatively quiet. But even here the newspapers and mail are delievered every morning, the garbage truck drives through the street, people go by our house, and so on. If we don’t stop him, Sam runs to the nearest window or the front door and keeps barking until everything is quiet again. This kind of territorial behavior made his former new family bring him back to the shelter, and it is really nerve wracking.
It was very important for us to get to the real root of this problem, which is not disobedience, but naked fear. This rules out punishing him, because this would make him feel even worse and add to his anxiety. His breed may add to his behavior, Sam definitely is a herding dog mix (the head of the shelter guessed he is part belgian shepherd, or Malinois). Unfortunately, fear is more difficult to treat than disobedience, and it will probably never go away completely.
At first we tried a collar that exudes pheremones, but to no avail. But we can influence his behavior.
- We have to react as quickly as possible, so Sam doesn’t get worked up.
- Tell him “No!” in a calm way and block him from window or door, to show him that the humans are in charge and his behavior is not appreciated.
- Order him to sit or lay down, and insist on him doing so.
- Praising him when he calms down.
- Staying near him until the situation is over.
- Praising him again.
- Going on with life.
We know from experience this helps and things settle down quickly. But we have to stick with it, and it is not always possible. When I am alone and have to go to the door to get a parcel, I can’t correct Sam’s behavior at the same time. The same applies for the times the dogs are without human supervision (we installed a camera to watch them, and Sam barks and runs to the door/window when we are not there, too).
Since last week, the roofs of two houses across the street are repaired. This means nonstop stress for Sam, and paying continuous attention for me. He has calmed down though, and even plays fetching ball with me. But we are still far from chilling. It doesn’t keep us from loving our “little man”, of course. Who can resist this hangdog look?!