Chained or Confined Dogs
By Debby Dobson
is heartwarming to see a dog who has been confined most of its life
be allowed to finally explore the world with all its sights, sounds
and smells. However all too often, the effects of extensive confinement
render a dog fearful and often terrified of what they are not
familiar with. Sometimes this fear can manifest itself in aggressive
behavior in a dog who knows of no other way in which to cope with
the overwhelming stimuli he or she is now receiving. Many of these
dogs need a patient person to work with them over a period of time
to help them adjust.
are several main points I cannot stress enough when working with
a dog who needs to be socialized. One is patience, another
is consistency and a third is balance.
believe that dogs have the same range and depth of emotions as humans
and that those who have been neglected seem to display heightened
or exaggerated feelings to various stimuli. For example, while a
loud noise will certainly startle a normal dog (one
who has been raised with the comings and goings of people), that
same loud noise will often terrify a dog who is not used to hearing
a cacophony of sounds. The overly frightened dog will display a
variety of reactions in the form of body language such as cowering,
growling, snapping, hiding, putting their ears back or their tail
between their legs. It is important that the person who is working
with this type of dog understand how overwhelming the world seems.
For a dog like this, the world is not a comfortable, safe place
it is terrifying. I would advise anyone trying to rehabilitate
a chained or confined dog to first put themselves in the dogs
place emotionally and understand the level of fear with which this
dog faces his or her new environment. At first glance, it would
seem that a newly freed dog would welcome this change, but that
small area in which they were living became their security, especially
when the confinement started at puppyhood and was extended through
the period of time when a growing dog normally becomes familiar
with the larger world.
important point when rehabilitating a dog who is afraid of the world
is to be consistent. I have found that it helps, especially
in the beginning, to have regularly scheduled events a dog can count
on and look forward to. If you walk your dog in the afternoon, make
sure that you give him or her a favorite treat when you return.
Daily rituals help calm a frightened dog, and add consistency
to their day. Another suggestion is to use soothing touch on a regular
basis. Before bed tummy rubs or hugs while walking are great experiences
and will help your dog feel loved and comforted.
you are offering regular doses of affection, you must also be consistent
in your corrections. For example, although it may be tempting to
ignore unacceptable behavior in a dog who tugs at your heart because
of the horrific life theyve led, this wont help in the
long run. Its similar to training a puppy and teaching them
good manners the goal is to ultimately be able to bring your
dog into any situation and know that he or she will be well behaved.
Far better to say NO! every now and again than to
have a dog who doesn't understand acceptable boundaries and behavior.
next area is balance how much and when? It is often
difficult for a dog who has little or no worldly experience to go
out! I would suggest that when you first start rehabilitating your
dog, simply focus on getting him or her used to walking with you
on leash. Dont try to combine this with any other socializing
initially. When your new friend becomes comfortable on a leash,
you can then begin to take him or her to places where they can meet
new people and other dogs. In other words, take it step by step.
Dont expect to be able to put your dog on a leash and go to
a noisy soccer game the first week after they have been released!
Start by taking time to get to know your new friend, allowing them
to get to know you one-on-one and letting them explore the world
they have been separated from. Then over a period of several months,
begin taking your dog out for short periods initially and allowing
your dog to meet new people and other dogs.
special note about introducing your dog to other dogs: because a
dog who spent much of their life in confinement often became frustrated
when they saw another dog, they may not view all new dogs as potential
friends! If you can work with a friend who has a calm, relaxed dog
this will help. Take both dogs to a neutral area such
as a park. Keep both dogs on leash initially. Let them meet in an
open, non confined area and watch carefully. I usually start with
a nose to nose contact and during that time I say, Good dog!
as they sniff each other to reinforce the positive outcome of this
encounter. This simple phrase has helped diffuse many a tense situation
for me over the years I believe that if you convey the
idea of being a good dog, so shall the dog respond! If however,
there is any sign of aggression, pull the dogs apart. Depending
on the situation, you may want to wait a few minutes and try again
or wait a day or so.
have mixed feelings about having dogs on leash when they meet. The
obvious benefit is that if there is a problem, the dogs can be separated.
However, to a confined dog meeting another dog for the first time,
the leash may signal confinement and may then trigger aggression.
I would suggest that if your previously confined dog has had a number
of positive experiences meeting other dogs on leash over a period
of months and has not exhibited aggressive behavior, you can probably
safely let your dog off leash to play with another dog. Observe
him or her closely, however, for any signs of fear or aggression.
process of socializing and rehabilitating a dog who has been confined
requires a tremendous commitment it may take a year or more
to see real progress*. It is a process that at times may seem
futile, but dont give up! It is often a fine line between
giving enormous amounts of love and setting boundaries if your dog
displays aggression or other unacceptable behavior. Because their
emotional growth was stunted, these dogs vacillate between
fear/aggression and a huge outpouring of affection which can sometimes
border on neediness.
goal is twofold: to help them overcome their fears and to simultaneously
boost their confidence, which means putting them in initially stressful
situations. It sometimes seems like a Catch 22 the only way
to help them is to subject them to stress. Yet, if done gradually
and in small steps, this type of systematic desensitization can
be very effective.
I can think of no greater reward than seeing that huge doggy grin
on your friends face as he or she strides confidently down
the street with you a journey that had once been filled with
terror before you came along to help.
has been working with dogs
for over 20 years and she is the owner of "Good Dog!"
The author of this article cannot be held responsible for the actions
of any dog or dogs and wishes to make it clear that the advice of
a professional trainer or animal behaviorist should be sought in
cases where a dog or dogs may be exhibiting aggessive behavior.
note: Although this is sometimes true, please realize that most
often a dog can be housetrained within one-two weeks. Here Debby
is talking about other behaviors, fear and aggression issues that
will still be in place. Many dogs can readily live with the pack quickly.