Whilst dropping off a dog to our colleagues at Brent Knoll, I was rather too easily persuaded to return to Little Valley with ‘Crazy’ George! George had been at Brent Knoll since November and was proving quite a challenge. In order to help his rehoming chances, his behaviour needed further assessment and rehabilitation.
After a couple of days settling in, he proved what an active and intelligent lad he was. With no constructive outlay for his energies he had developed quite detrimental, obsessive and reactive behaviours as a way of coping with life. This, contained in a kennel environment, resulted in George spending his day in a state of high arousal, which is not a healthy state of emotion to exist in for prolonged periods of time. Compare this to a human, on the go constantly, to-ing and fro-ing, not knowing what to deal with first, in a state of anxiety, excessively out of breath, never able to stop still, their feet are bleeding, they have no control of their environment, plus there’s other people all around them shouting. And imagine this lasting for 12 hours every day with very little periods of escape!
To take George from his kennel each day and expect some consistent and concentrated work in this state of mind would only add to the pressures in his life. George needed a quiet environment away from the stresses of kennels where he could come down from this heightened state of arousal in his own time, and the perfect place is our behavioural chalet. To succeed and progress George needed to develop a relationship with me and allow me to remove some of his stress by teaching alternative ways to cope with certain situations.
Starting with tiny steps of rewarding George when he was actually able to acknowledge me, we built on these foundations. George began to alter his view of his handler as someone to look towards for guidance, they provided fun games which gave George more constructive uses for his very quick collie mind, which gradually gave George better coping mechanisms as he was able to remain in slightly lower levels of arousal for longer periods.
Once we’d got to this level, more emphasis could then be placed on specific training needs. George knew what 'sit' meant, but George didn’t know it could be a good and clever thing to do. Tell George to 'sit' and he thought he’d done something wrong, so he couldn't. He was worried, he would just look at you. It could have been mistaken for stubbornness, but you could see he just didn’t want to be told off, which is how he’d associated the command ‘sit’. Tell George in an encouraging voice what a good boy he was and continue this voice to ask for a 'sit' and George's bottom couldn’t get to the ground quick enough!!
He quickly started to understand he was 'good' and he loved being 'good' which helped the training no end! George needed this background work to really understand the difference between what his handler is encouraging and rewarding, and what is being ignored. George didn’t know that he could be good and that a relationship with a handler could be positive and worthwhile. A dog like George can only make so much progress in a kennel environment, as it’s impossible to remove all the triggers that cause a dog stress. However we were able to alter his behaviour and gain enough control to begin looking for a home, and fortunately he wasn’t kept waiting too long.
George has been living with his new owners nearly a month now and has settled in well. He’s found the 1:1 relationship he so deserved and is proving to be a very loyal companion, as he and his owner run Devon’s green lanes together!