Mora’s Journey from Fearful/Anxious to Family-Ready
Mora is currently on day 25 of her rehabilitation. BUT, let me back up and tell you what we worked on in her second week!
Our plans took a hard turn in Mora’s second week of rehab when our oldest male shepherd, Titan, took a turn for the worse. He had dealt with some medical issues nearly all of his life, and some neurological issues for about 5 years. During this week, his pain became unmanageable even with the help of our amazing care team. So, we made the difficult decision to put him down on Mora’s 14th day with us. While we focused on him, we let our pack take the lead with Mora, and they delivered some pretty great outcomes!
My goals shifted for the 2nd week, obviously. We’ll come back to them!
Old Goals for 2nd Week
- Use high value reward to build the foundation of a relationship.
- Introduce obedience commands I’ll need to put her in slightly uncomfortable situations (come, sit, down, place and heel).
New Goals for 2nd Week
- Integrate Mora into our pack with minimal bloodshed.
- Let our pack work their magic.
Meet Our Pack
Before we get into the how, let’s talk about the who. Our pack shifted when Titan passed and is still shifting as the rest of our dogs learn to live without his leadership. Here’s a quick introduction to the members of our pack:
- Jemma – Our oldest German Shepherd girl Jemma will turn 14 around the 1st of June this year! She’s my original rehabilitation dog – about 13 years ago she found her way to me and has taught me more in that time than I could ever have dreamed! She was unsocialized like Mora but was older (about 14 months) and would flee instead of fight when scared. In fact, she would hide out in my fenced yard for days if a stranger or mailman came by the house. She also had pretty destructive separation anxiety, hurting herself to get out of the crate but also destroying my things like a tornado if left out of the crate.
- Retta – Retta has been the only lab in our pack for a number of years, and she’s turning 10 in July. TJ raised her from a puppy and socialized her well with everyone!
- Bear – Bear the white German Shepherd, came to us from my parent’s farm a few years ago after he got himself in some trouble chasing cows (oopsie Bear!). He’s 7 years old, and a typical farm dog. Easy going, but not socialized with much outside the farm life. He loves being part of the pack and going on adventures with us, though!
- Ras – Our 3-year-old shepherd Ras (pronounced Rahz) has a very similar rehabilitation story to Mora’s. She came to me at 6 months old, fearful, unsocialized and having not had a good human relationship up to that point. She and I worked together the same way I’m working with Mora now, and she actually became a Search and Rescue K9 in the Tracking discipline, certified with North American Police Working Dog Association (NAPWDA). It took her about a year of seeing the same people at training each week to become best friends with them, and now she greets her best friends with loud squeals of excitement and lots of kisses!
How a Pack Can Help Rehabilitate a Fearful Anxious Dog
Since I started building my pack, they’ve been helping me rehabilitate other fearful dogs. Many dogs can build a relationship or kinship with another dog faster than they can with a new human, unless they have been entirely unsocialized with other dogs or have dog-related trauma in their past. When a fearful dog becomes part of the right pack, they gain confidence from the others. Seeing how my other 4 dogs interact with my husband and me gives Mora an idea of how to interact with us, and what to expect from us. In one of her first instances meeting a new friend, seeing that Jemma wasn’t nervous around a stranger gave Mora the cues that she could relax as well.
In Mora’s case, she didn’t have socialization with other dogs before coming to stay here, so she had to learn about meeting new dogs, being respectful to them, and how to play with them. The right dog or pack of dogs can teach all of this. If she crosses a boundary, like biting too hard when they play, they’ll give her a fair correction without crossing the line. If she’s really behaving badly, they’ll disengage and show her that they’re not going to keep playing – they’ll take their toys back to their own sandbox, so to speak. Basically, they’ll show her what the rules are in a fair way, correcting her when needed and encouraging her to learn and play with them.
How Do I Introduce a Dog to MY Pack?
Introductions are more of a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do situation. Ha! Unless you have a dog or a pack of dogs that you 100% know and trust to react the way you expect them to when a new dog comes in. Mine have been meeting new dogs every week, sometimes every day, since they joined my pack. I can predict with a pretty high level of confidence what their reaction will be, and I know when to step in if I need to. Note, it’s not enough to have a bunch of dogs that live together to say they’re good at meeting dogs – your pack has to meet NEW dogs often to be good at it.
So, my introductions typically involve me in the training room with the new dog, letting one of my dogs in at a time until everyone is together. I start with the dog that I think the new dog needs to meet first. Jemma doesn’t really care about other dogs and is deaf, but she does love people and treats! She is great if the new dog needs to warm up to the idea of a dog in their space, because Jemma won’t push. She’s also very nearly 14, so she’s not one to initiate play. If I need a dog that will play with the new one, I start with Ras, because she’ll still young enough to want to play almost immediately with new friends!
For a few days I had only Mora and Jemma in the room together, both getting treats from me. Initially Mora’s fear did take over and she was charging/barking at Jemma (thankfully Jemma can’t hear and didn’t mind, lol). Once they had established a truce, I went for it and invited the rest in. After a little hair-raising and some noise, they settled and have been working together since then!
It’s important to know that things might get loud and a little scary while dogs integrate into a new friendship or pack. The line for me is the threat of bloodshed – if there’s bloodshed we need to reassess, if not, I try to let them work it out on their own. As we all know, dogs are built with teeth that can shred meat and crush bone. IF they wanted to shed blood they would. If things are loud and scary but I don’t get the feeling that blood will be shed, then there’s a good chance that neither dog actually wants to hurt the other, they’re just having an argument or conversation. If we step in too soon that argument won’t be over, it will just be paused for another time.
Obviously if I think there’s a potential for one of the dogs to get hurt, I’ll step in. But the more we step in, the more we need to stay involved for them to have a peaceful relationship. If you have two dogs that are consistently shedding blood, they’re probably not a good combination, and definitely not a healthy pack.
How Should You Introduce a Dog to YOUR Dog or Pack?
If you’re bringing home a new dog, the best piece of advice I can give you to improve the odds of a good first impression is a walk. Outside of my own pack or dogs I know extremely well, I’ll always have two new dogs meet each other on a walk. I don’t think there’s a better way to let them work out their emotions (fear, excitement, uncertainty) than while they’re in motion.
To introduce two dogs, you’ll need them on a leash 6′ or shorter, one person walking each dog. I start out with some distance between us, usually one on one side of my driveway and the other on the other side. Their reactions will tell you how much space you need – the more worked up the dog(s) are, the more distance you’ll need between them. Both humans start walking the path, alongside each other, maintaining the distance until the dogs seem to settle down. When comfortable, shorten the distance slightly between the dogs. The more comfortable they get, the closer they can get, being cautious to not let them close enough to cross their leashes or really even make contact with each other at this point.
When you start to see the dogs shift their attention away from each other and to other things, like the grass, birds, smells, etc, that’s a good indicator that they’re getting comfortable. Some dogs will only need to walk a short distance to get comfortable with each other like this, some will need a longer distance, and some may never get comfortable enough to shift their focus elsewhere. If one or both of the dogs are still staring intently at the other, then they should not meet – keep walking or schedule a second, third or tenth walk to work on this process.
If or when the dogs are shifting their focus to other things, and seem comfortable, you could stop together and let them sniff each other. Be careful to not let the leashes cross in case you need to separate them, but also have little or no pressure on the leashes as they meet. Tension on the leash can send the message that you’re tense to the dog you’re holding.
If they’ve sniffed a bit and still are comfortable, AND they have Off Leash training, let them play! If your dog needs Off Leash training, give us a shout, we’d love to help!
Here is the result of about 3 days of Mora living with our pack! Ras is the one with the toy in her mouth most of the time, and she’s coaching Mora on how to play like a shepherd!