Stella was taken from a home where there were 17 Great Danes. The owner was suffering from dementia and didn’t even realize she had them all. Stella had never met another human. The first time I met Stella, at one of my Canine Good Citizen classes, she looked up at the sky or away every time another human was within 10 yards of her. She pretended I was not there. She did this to avoid the negative, scary stimuli. At the end of the class, the most contact she initiated with me was to come up behind me, while I was sitting on the ground, and sniff the back of my head.
Then, Stella accidentally got loose and was lost in the woods for a week. This trauma deepened her mistrust and she reverted to pure survival instinct and “wild dog” mode quickly. Luckily, with the help of some very experienced friends and her owner, she was returned home.
These two videos show the work we are doing to help Stella see humans as safe and trust worthy. Please note the difference in her tail position between the two videos. In the first one, she would tentatively come into my space with her tail underneath her and then quickly return to her owner, who she trusts. As she would retreat from me, her tail would come up.
In the second video, you will see her coming up to me, voluntarily, and her tail remains up, rather than tucked underneath her. These videos were taken after we had spent about 45 minutes on the carport playing the treat and retreat game with her. We used her companion dog (the tiny Chihuahua) whom she trusts and looks to for ques about whether it’s okay to feel safe, as well as Turner who belongs to a good friend of mine and is a very stable, well-behaved, calm and centered dog. (You will also notice a couple of cats who wanted to get in on the game and are part of Stella’s pack.)
Helping an extremely fearful dog takes time, patience and commitment. I use calmer, quieter praise for Stella because the “puppy party” rewarding I use for exuberant dogs would freak her out.