I sent this along a couple weeks ahead of my visit there. I was guessing at the emotional condition of the dogs, based on previous experience with hoarder/puppymill victims.
I was pretty much spot-on. The Montana dogs are overall more fearful and much less aggressive than I'd expected. This protocol is the right one for the vast majority of them. A few were already pretty social. These are the older dogs, and several of them have been positively identified as individuals that were bought from good breeders as pups. Usually, in hoarder/puppymill raids, it's the oldest dogs that are behaviorally the worst. But that early environment makes such a huge difference, we have seen the exact opposite in Billings.
I did not invent this. It is cobbled together from the experiences of animal trainers and rescue workers in many fields. The oldest reference to something substantially the same I have found was in a book about circus trainers, written in the 19th century. I simply drew the information together into one document, and imposed on my husband and dog to act as models for photographs. I think the photographs really make it, and wish I'd had room to use more in the printed version. Of course I really didn't have a fearful, feral dog to model the postures -- and if I had, I wouldn't have had the days or weeks to capture each stage as it happened. But Moe did very well in simulating what I wanted. He's a pro. (And yes, he has an agent. Sadly, not a lot of casting calls come up in Western PA.)
There are three big challenges for the people implementing it:
1. Most of the dogs are housed in three-dog stalls. The dynamics among the dogs can interfere with one another's taming in many ways. In many of the stalls, there's a door dog, a middle dog, and a corner dog. (This was how it played out at the start of taming; adjustments are being made as the dogs progress or fail to.)
The door dog rushes the door. He then either withdraws, paces, or in some cases, makes overtures to the person who enters.
The middle dog will sometimes back the door dog in the rush, sometimes not. He often spends the rest of the time a human is in the stall pacing or darting from corner to corner. A few will make hesitant overtures.
The corner dog stays in the corner.
Some stalls had three corner dogs.
In some stalls, my colleague Douglas reports, the boldest dog has started overtly suppressing the other two -- guarding the human. This is in some ways heartening -- a mark of progress. But it's also a real hindrance to the taming of the other dogs. We've suggested a number of ways to address this.
2. It's really, really cold. It's hard for the volunteers to sit still for an hour to read. Most are wrapped up in blankets. When I was evaluating the dogs, I would crouch in each stall for five minutes, write my notes, take photos, and then go straight to the next stall. There was one day it was so cold I could not do even that -- being still for five minutes at a time was too much. I was fine if I was up working my muscles.
3. Human nature. This protocol requires patience. One can go weeks with no apparent positive feedback from the animal. Patience is something that must be learned, practiced, drilled almost. It's the most difficult skill to practice. Then it gets harder because of the social environment. The volunteer who is working with a particular stall of dogs sees other handlers whose dogs have come further. Perhaps they are already ready to come out on a leash. His dogs are still in the corner. Why? Am I doing something wrong? Is this protocol not working? Of course the "advanced" dogs are most visible -- the dozens of other stalls that are populated with dogs just like his own are not in front of him. So the handler is tempted to rush. Make eye contact and start cooing. Grab hold of the dog who has just approached and pet him. Put a leash on the dog who has not started to follow yet. But they are not ready -- they need a foundation of trust before they can accept human leadership, and even the mildest coercion in the form of restraint can undercut that. Of course it's possible to restrain these dogs, and sometimes necessary -- a dog must be examined, treated, or moved. But it sets them back.
Anyway, here's the protocol, as it's being used in Billings, re-formatted for the web.
I will send a packet of Brandywine tomato seeds and some other garden goodies to the first person who can identify the three titles that Ken is reading to Moe in the illustrations. You are on your honor not to blow it if I've already told you. Check the comments for others' guesses.
A protocol for gaining the trust of feral dogs, puppymill and laboratory stock, junkyard dogs, hoarding survivors, and other unhandled domestic dogs
When unhandled and feral dogs come into rescue and rehabilitation programs, it is counterproductive to treat them as if they were badly-behaved pet dogs, or ordinary abuse and neglect cases. Although these dogs’ genetics are those of domestic animals, their life experiences may be more like those of wild creatures. Before they can be trained, desensitized, socialized and civilized, they must be tamed. A tame animal is not one that refrains from attacking when cornered or restrained -- many wild predators freeze when trapped and handled -- a tame animal is one that voluntarily chooses to approach human beings, and will freely accept and solicit handling. Please keep in mind that “tame” does not equal either trained or safe!
Depending on the dog’s individual temperament and life experience, taming can take a few days or many weeks. During this period, it will normally be necessary to handle the dog for veterinary care, to transport him, etc. Since an untamed animal is very stressed by handling, it is best to keep these first interventions to the minimum required for his health and welfare. At all times, handling must be conducted in a professional, confident, smooth, no-nonsense manner; if a dog’s first significant intimate experiences of human handling includes fumbling, flinching, or openings for him to bite and make a person withdraw, the process of rehabilitation can be significantly complicated.
We recommend that an untamed dog be housed in roomy, clean, quiet, escape-proof quarters from which he need not be moved. If the dog is acclimated to the outdoor environment and circumstances permit, an outdoor run with appropriate shelter is preferable. If that is unavailable or the dog requires more protection, an indoor run or room, such as a dog-proofed garage or basement, is an option. It is unsatisfactory to house the dog in a crate or small cage. A large fenced yard is also unsatisfactory, as it permits too much opportunity for flight and panic.
Taming should be undertaken by one person who can devote time to the project every day. If there are multiple dogs and multiple caretakers, each person should work with the same animal(s) each day.
The key to taming is patience and self-control. It is a boring process. The most frequent source of setback and failure is a lack of impulse control in a human who tries to rush progress, or who overreacts to the dog’s first overtures and frightens it with intrusive enthusiasm.
If the dog is overtly aggressive, protective of his space, and willing to charge a person, this phase begins with the dog tethered on one end of the run. Remember that catching and tethering the dog is stressful and dangerous, and must be done smoothly, confidently, matter-of-factly. A daily dog-rodeo debacle is counterproductive. Ensure that the tethering is both secure and safe for the dog, and sit well out of range.
If the dog is aggressive, do not remove the tether until he no longer threatens; do not corner the tethered dog
Most dogs should be loose in the run. If it is an indoor/outdoor run, close the door so the dog can’t hide inside.
Take a chair into the dog’s run or room. Bring a worthwhile book.
Place the chair near the middle of the run, and against one wall. Orient yourself sideways to the dog if he’s tethered -- do not face him or turn your back to him
Sit in the chair.
Read the book aloud in a normal tone.
Frightened or unsure dogs appreciate, and will try to maintain, a sideways or offset orientation; frontal approaches are threatening in this context.
Don’t look at the dog, move towards the dog, coax the dog, or otherwise pay any attention to the dog. Continue to read in a normal tone and at a normal speed, whether the dog cowers in the corner, paces, approaches, darts and retreats.
Continue for one hour -- longer if you have abundant time -- then stand up and leave the run. If you can’t read aloud for the entire time, just continue reading silently. Take the chair or leave it. Be sure not to stand up suddenly if the dog is approaching you or making overtures.
It may be that “nothing happens” on the first day. The dog may hide, pretend to ignore you, cower in a corner. “Nothing” may happen for weeks with certain dogs. Trust me, something is happening. It’s also possible that the dog will climb into your lap ten minutes after you sit down. This process has to go at the dog’s pace.
Eventually, the dog will begin to show interest. His initial approach may be hesitant. Keep reading! Don’t look up, make eye contact, sweet talk, or reach towards the dog. Just let him check you out.
The dog may sniff you, put his head on your knee, paw at you, or rarely mouth you or tug at your clothes. Unless he is doing something that is actually dangerous, ignore him. If he starts getting too fresh with his mouth, stand up and if necessary, step towards him and require him to yield space to you. Don’t yell, threaten, or chase the dog. You have not earned the right to correct him.Let the dog investigate you and gain confidence.
When the dog begins making overtures, you may offer a hand for him to investigate. Do not reach towards the dog to “pet” him, and do not reach over his head or in any way loom over him.
When the dog is coming to you immediately when you sit down, is initiating physical contact with you, is not darting in and scuttling away, does not startle when you move slightly or there is a noise or motion outside the enclosure, it is time to put the book down and start talking calmly to the dog and, when he comes in to you, very gently stroking him under the chin and on the throat. If he offers you his flanks or butt, you can stroke and scratch there, but don’t overreach or touch anywhere he doesn’t invite. Be very mindful of how threatening it is when a person reaches or leans over a dog’s head and back; while the dog will need to be desensitized to these actions later in his socialization and training, now is not the time.
Now put away the chair and encourage the dog to come to you anywhere in the enclosure. Crouch down in a stable position, oriented sideways to the dog. This is another time where it may be useful to offer food to some animals.
Again, the idea is not to have the dog dart in, grab the booty, and retreat. The dog needs to come and stay, and show social interest in the human.If using food, control the food to encourage the dog to stay with you. Don’t threaten with a frontal orientation.
The goal is social interest from the dog; note how the human is crouched so he can get up quickly and smoothly.
Move confidently -- not aggressively --into a pushy or rude dog and require him to yield space.
Do not loom over the dog or chase him, just require him to yield.
But it is more likely that the dog will be somewhat intimidated by your movements. Keep crouching at different spots and quietly encouraging him to approach; this is a good time to teach the dog his name.Never loom or chase; you will trigger the dog’s flight or defense response.
The dog is ready to be taken out for leash training when he voluntarily follows a person around his enclosure, and no longer panics or bolts at a moving person.
Thanks to my patient models, Ken Chiacchia and Moe. We did not have a genuine wild beast available for photo illustrations; please be aware that Moe’s body language is only a trained simulation of an untamed dog’s possible postures. There is no substitute for hands-on experience in learning to understand and respond to canine language. Do not attempt a taming or training program if you do not have significant handling experience and skills. A “love” of dogs or ownership of many pets is not sufficient qualification for working with untamed or aggressive dogs. If you cause a dog to bite you with mishandling, it is the dog who carries the stigma. This protocol is derived from the experiences of security dog handlers, exotic animal trainers, professional dog trainers and dog rescue workers.
Copyright 2008. Heather Houlahan. First Friend Dog Training.