When a skinny brown foster pup landed up at my place, the trainer in me saw all the “oh nos! ” – 1) fear of men, 2) barking at things that were novel to her, 3) a horrible habit of jumping on people (that she loved) and 4) a propensity to play rough with dogs.
But oh gosh, she had such character!! She ran like the wind, loved a good cuddle, had the funniest curliest tail and such an earnest face. She was toilet trained, was okay being left alone, loved her kong and loved her walks! She took a day or two to settle in, and then seemed to make her mind about us – she trusted me and Ginger, my adult dog.
When approaching a behaviour case, I find it helps to list areas needing work and prioritizing. I decided the first priority behaviour to tackle was her fear of men. I needed her to be okay with men so that she had wider pool of potential adoptive homes and an easier time to settle in.
The following two dog training principles helped us:
- Observational learning – I noticed that she mimicked my adult dog a lot! So I instructed every new person who visited, particularly if they were male, to pet/play with Ginger and ignore Mighty. We did this for every man that crossed our paths- the male household staff, male friends, colleagues, strangers in the park, vegetable vendors (usually male), security guards (usually male) etc Mighty went from needing 2-3 meetings with a person to just needing 10 min, before she climbed up their lap!
- Putting Distance from scary men (and other scary objects) – All fearful dogs need time and distance. Every time we crossed men (and scary things such as creaky gates) on walks, I made doubly sure the leash was loose and I encouraged her to “Walk Away”. We would have to walk past these triggers, but we walked in an arc. She stopped reacting and started to ignore – because she learnt that walking away was very effective in ensuring strange men don’t approach her! A lot of praise followed suit! (Food treats were not used with Mighty – reasons for this, and consequences of the decision are for discussion another time!)
In addition to the above two, I tried to socialize her to different environments as much as possible! Her socialization window was closing, but I think we did well. In the one month we had with each other, we walked on busy city streets, a few different parks, visited the ATM and the market multiple times, went on car rides and 1 auto ride, attended a couple birthday parties and visited a friend’s house.
One advantage of fostering, for us trainers, is that it allows for unlimited access to the dog. I could observe and decide what and how to prioritize. The disadvantage though, is that, with most fosters, they do bounce around and have to adjust to different environments, often detrimental to the pup’s development! In Mighty’s case, she went back to her original rescuers (info below! ) a month later, and that ensured a lot of learnings continued.
Cut to several months later – she is happily adopted, has tons of human friends and the colony kids come to play with her 💃🏾💃🏾💃🏾
You can learn more about and support Mighty’s rescue, Kvaab Welfare Foundation, here.