I adopted a rescue dog, Noel, from Florida about two weeks ago. She is about 9 months old, and was found on the streets. She is very shy and timid for the most part, but has a very sweet demeanor.
However, I am seeing some behaviors that I’m not sure how to help her with, one of the main being, whenever I leave the room she immediately tries to follow — and if she can’t (the door is closed, or baby gate is up), she searches out something to chew up! Whether it is a hat, glove, sock, slipper, basket, ornament off the tree … or table leg — she isn’t too picky.
And it is not for the lack of toys or treats.
It happens so quickly too — I’ll hear a whine or two, and come back to her on the couch shredding something.
I am getting concerned, because I can’t always be with her (obviously), and with the holidays over, normal work routines will have to start back up.
What would you suggest?
First of all, let me thank you for being one of the “Good Guys” by adopting a street dog and probably saving a life. Since she’s only about 9 months old, we can’t even imagine what her puppyhood on the streets was like. Being chased away from edible scraps of garbage by larger, older dogs, being taunted or kicked by insensitive people: not the ideal socialization for a baby. Then taken off the streets of Florida and transported to the Vineyard by strangers, to be adopted by more strangers — you.
Emotional baggage is to be expected, and operant conditioning is virtually impossible in a high emotional state. If you were in the middle of a piano lesson and you received a call from the police saying that your daughter just got arrested for a hit-and-run with your car, would you be able to continue to focus on your piano keys?
Your new rescue named Noel will need some time to adjust and trust her new circumstances. She will learn to trust more quickly if you block her access and don’t allow her to hide under beds and and in closets. This gently forces her to confront the “new world” and see that it doesn’t bite.
I don’t think I’ve ever said it before, but in this sense, the separation anxiety is somewhat of a good sign, in that it shows trust — she trusts you, Emma. I highly suggest you make sure she loves her crate, sees it as her den, by feeding one of her two meals a day in it, luring her into it with treats a lot, and having her in it overnight.
Get a few “special toys,” hollow marrow bones that have people food wedged in the middle, so that she really has to work at getting some of it. If you’re going to separate for 20 minutes to take a shower and put up the gate, give her a couple of the special toys. There’s a good chance she’ll prefer them over your socks and table legs.
Important -— remove the special toys the moment you return; she only gets them when she’s alone! If you’re going to be gone for any length of time, she’s lured into the crate with treats and left with a special toy or two, period. The “specials” are removed when she’s let out of the crate. It’s much easier to grant privileges than to take them away, so I suggest she not be allowed on beds or furniture until she’s a happy-go-lucky family member (if you want).
I’d also suggest that she drag a four-foot piece of leash with the handle cut off when she’s loose in the house. If she’s on the couch, I don’t want your hands to go to her negatively by dragging her off by the collar. Instead, tell her “Off,” and gently pick up the end of the leash and pull her off, and tell her “Good girl” with a smile the moment she’s on the floor. Your hands go to her body for treats and petting. Another suggestion: You and the rest of the family members call her to come 20 times a day, and she gets a treat the moment she arrives. Sometimes she doesn’t get a treat, just a lot of love. Intermittency is the strongest way to condition. Not only will you start developing a good recall, her attitude will be, “Maybe there’s a treat, I better go check it out!” As for the other stuff, we’ll be able to teach her a whole lot more when her emotional state relaxes. Thank you for being a street dog adopter.
Have a question for the Dogcharmer? Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org. “Michelle and Me: Dog Trainer Diaries,” available soon.