By Linda Cole
When we agreed to foster a friend's dog almost two and a half years ago, we didn't think he'd still be with us today, but he is. Dozer is actually a great dog and he will remain with us for as long as he needs a home. He's loving, smart, and ‘almost’ willing to do what we ask of him. I say almost because it's taken us this entire time to teach him to come to us when he's called. I don't know for sure, but it's possible he was punished in the past when he did come, and that's the best way to teach a dog to not come when called. I understand it can be hard dealing with an independent spirit some dogs have, but people don't always understand how their actions are viewed by a dog, nor do they understand why their dog misbehaves or won't follow commands. Sometimes you have to step back and try to get into the head of a dog to try and see things from his viewpoint. Sometimes dogs need us to be understanding.
Dozer is a handsome and sweet pit bull mix. He loves to cuddle, and when he was a puppy he spent many evenings cuddled up with his owner on the couch. But sometimes things change and for Dozer, the changes began when his owner moved into a house that didn't allow pets. Dozer found himself spending most of his time outside, away from his human. When he was allowed inside, it was to a crate on the back porch. Not because he was bad, but because that was the only solution available to my friend who was trying to figure out how to keep his dog. Dozer was about a year and a half when he came to stay with us.
Change is hard for us, so you can imagine how it can affect a dog, especially one that's sensitive or timid. Dozer came into a home with multiple dogs and cats. He had to learn how to interact with them and us. His routine was drastically different and he was very unsure and confused about what was happening to him. As far as he was concerned, he had been abandoned by the person he loved.
Dozer has a confident independent streak, but he can easily get his feelings hurt. We teach dogs basic commands and reward them with their favorite CANIDAE treats. They reward us by learning how we expect them to behave. Training a sensitive dog requires understanding, calmness, and time for a dog to learn at his own speed.
Dozer is still uncertain how to interact with the other dogs because he wasn't socialized properly when he was a puppy. He prefers being alone and is indifferent with them with no desire to mingle. He likes Keikei, but doesn't understand how to handle her when she tries to dominate him. His best friend is a pit bull/bulldog mix we rescued the same winter Dozer came to stay with us. Zenia is extremely calm, but corrects Dozer if he gets out of line, and it's her calmness that draws him to her. She's the only dog he's comfortable with. He's great with us and loves to snuggle every chance he gets.
In the two years Dozer has been with us, we've made progress with him, but it's been slow and we're still working with him. When working with a sensitive dog, you have to work within his comfort zone and take as long as he needs, otherwise you risk losing any progress you have made. You need a lot of patience, you need to stay calm and consistent, and sometimes, you have to think outside the box when conventional training methods don't work. The most important thing to remember, however, is to never try and dominant a sensitive or timid dog. That will usually result in the dog shutting down, becoming fearful of you or causing him to become aggressive. It's important to control your frustration because he needs your understanding and patience, not your anger.
Getting Dozer to come has been a challenge. We finally discovered that what worked for him was a calm, quiet and encouraging voice, followed up with lots of praise and ear scratches. I sit and watch him when we're outside. He has a gentle nature and a curiosity about everything he sees. When he sees me watching him, he now comes to me on his own for some attention. He isn't asking for a lot from us, just a little understanding.