Whole Dog Journal's Blog January 13, 2015

Training a New Dog is a Huge Challenge - Even for the Experienced

Posted at 09:03AM - Comments: (8)

Nancy Kerns

The thing that always crosses my mind at some point during a fostering experience: “If I am having a difficult time coping with this behavior, how do people with little or no experience handle it?” And I conclude, “Well, I guess a lot of people don’t handle it; that’s why there are so many dogs in the shelter!”

Seriously, there is always a point at which I am exhausted with the project and wishing I hadn’t taken it on. With my first foster puppy, it was when his kennel cough turned into pneumonia and I found myself spending hundreds of dollars at a local emergency vet clinic on a Sunday morning to pull him through. With the next dog, it was when I realized that she actually had fairly significant separation anxiety – enough to keep her barking and freaking out in a crate every time I left the room. Oh, and then, she also appeared to have some resource-guarding issues. Yikes!

The dog I am currently fostering set off a flash-fire of marital discord this morning when I spaced out and left her unsupervised in the backyard for a half hour or so. (In retrospect, I should have been thinking, “It’s quiet . . . too quiet!”) When my husband and I stepped outside my office, we saw with dismay that about 10 feet of concrete pathway that leads to our home was absolutely buried in soil – really expensive soil that had been, just a few minutes before, a raised garden bed full of winter onions. “That’s it! This dog is out of here!” my husband roared (before he calmed down).

Every young dog or puppy has to be civilized and trained, and the process takes a long time! Behaviors and health problems emerge that are incredibly trying, no matter how much experience a person has, or how well-equipped they are. I have a friend whose foster Aussie, after a week of subdued behavior, revealed serious obsessive/compulsive behaviors (kind of made me wonder whether he had been on unreported medication previously). I have another friend whose previously healthy and attractive foster dog developed demodectic mange. It’s really difficult to find homes for dogs with either condition – and equally difficult to give up on them after investing a lot of time in them.

It’s incredibly rewarding to raise a dog well, to see him become well socialized and well behaved. But there are lots of low spots, too, when you despair of the destruction and the bad behavior and are tempted to think you got a dud who is never going to improve.

How do you encourage your friends with the new dog to keep going, to persevere in the face of the hard times?

Comments (8)

hi, Roscoe&Me - you don't mention how long you've had the pittie rescue, so she may still be adjusting to the reality of food security.

you might try feeding her even a little farther away - the next room? behind a baby gate? - and if that makes her secure enough not to growl, after a couple days you could move her a TINY bit closer to the others... just continue, slowly, until they can be eating in same room (if that's important to you)

with my food-protecting rescues, I also work on food security - it's great that she'll let you take her food, but clearly she is also afraid of losing it to the other dogs. (you don't mention if she scarfs it down really fast?)

one technique is to give her about half her meal in the bowl, then drop a few more pieces in, then a few more... my pittie quickly learned that me being around her food bowl was a GOOD thing, since it meant more food was coming.

good luck with this!

Posted by: kelly a | January 16, 2015 5:44 PM    Report this comment

Roscoe&Me, you might find an answer via Cesar Millan. I just finished reading one of his excellent books and he talks a little about this. You can look it up on his website.

Posted by: Tamara Heikalo | January 14, 2015 10:54 AM    Report this comment

Thank you for this article! It's reassuring to know that I'm not the only one who gets overwhelmed with my rescue's issues. I have 2 rescue dogs, ages 3 and 4, lab/boxer mix and border collie mix. And they couldn't be more different in temperment and personalities! The border collie mix is aggressive and non-stop alert status while the lab/boxer is skittish and possesive of me. The border collie has been quite the challenge for me and I've had dogs, trained and well behaved, for over 40 years. I've almost given up on him a few times but have talked myself back into keeping him because if I, with my years of dog experience, give up on him I'm pretty sure the next person, who might not have my experience, would give up on him and he would end up in a shelter. He is a great dog most of the time but when he's not good, he's very challenging!! But....the challenge has been accepted and we are going to grow old together!

Posted by: JulieBug | January 13, 2015 12:44 PM    Report this comment

My present foster is a Boston beagle mix that was pregnant. She was in phase 1 labor for three days which resulted in no sleep for me. She delivered 7 pups that were huge. Hard labor and delivery which ended up with last two pups being delivered via c section. But when I look at mom and pups who are all healthy that makes me forget about all the sleepless nights.

Posted by: mmm | January 13, 2015 12:11 PM    Report this comment

I foster lots of dogs with issues both health related and behavioral for my local shelter. To me dogs are a little like people. Everyone is dealing with something. We cannot go back in time and change things. So my job is try and improve the situation so the dog and potential owner can have a better life going forward. Some cases take more time (like a fearful dog who stayed with me 4 months). Others are quick fixes with surgery or meds and rest. I'm thankful that I foster for a terrific organization that has the ability to afford medical treatment. For me the fosters allow me hands on with difficult behavior issues which in the end usually results in finding the right home for final placement. But these pups/dogs also in my opinion make me a better trainer. Because I have experienced what some of my clients are experiencing. I feel the dogs come to me because either I need them or they need me. It can be nor only frustrating but also very rewarding.

Posted by: mmm | January 13, 2015 12:05 PM    Report this comment

Needed this. Have 8wk pup who is putting me to work & it's a bit discouraging!

Posted by: AmiNJed | January 13, 2015 10:56 AM    Report this comment

I have such a dog. She has been with me since she was 8 months - now almost 8 years old. She came from a puppy mill in Colombia and I attribute all her issues to the conditions she lived in when she was born and subsequent separation from her mom too early. How do I keep going on despite her issues (biting, destructive, extreme anxiety, etc.)? I think that she is alive because I love her despite herself since someone else would have either beat her, put her to sleep or given her away by now. That's all I can think of. I live alone with my mom and neither one is inclined to get rid of her. Maybe a husband would behave differently, but, then, I would not be with such a man. I admit that it is exasperating and trying.

Posted by: gizziem | January 13, 2015 9:01 AM    Report this comment

Rescued abandoned young female Blue Pit.... Healthy now and fairly well-behaved... Gets along well with smaller male chi-weenie and very large male APBT.... When fed, all 3 are not real close, 10' X 12' room, as far apart as possible.... She growls while eating, sometimes like she is getting ready to attack... Yet I can reach down and take her food with no problem... The other 2 do not bother her or try to get her food... I was thinking that this is a defensive behavior from when she had to scavenge for food... Any ideas how to stop that behavior....??

Posted by: Roscoe&Me | January 13, 2015 8:57 AM    Report this comment

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