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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Beachy

4 Month - Adoption Update

Reflecting on Enzo’s history is excruciating sometimes. I can’t help but wonder what he went through prior to us adopting him. Enzo's natural disposition is sweet, loving, and calm. Fear increases his stress, and past the threshold, resulting in Enzo's display of unwanted behavior. A few weeks after I published the “Welcome to the Pack” blog, Enzo began lunging at Clifford and displayed a defensive threat posture in the presence of children. Clifford is double the size of Enzo, and thankfully he didn’t fight back; he is trusting us to make sure attacks stop, for now. We don’t want Clifford attacked at all, and if attacked repeatedly, he may respond defensively and fight back. For the defensive threat posture, whatever the trigger is, it must be removed. A dog in the defensive threat posture can respond with a bite if the dog feels he has no other option to protect himself. Currently, children are not permitted near Enzo. On walks, or at stores, all people are simply told, “no you may not pet our dog,” pointing to Clifford, “but you can love on this big guy as much as you want!” The irony, people are afraid of Clifford because of his size, (Shaking my head!) This is an important side note: Always supervise your children, never leave them alone with a dog, even the family dog, and it is critical to teach children to ask before approaching a stranger’s dog!

We are now four months & a week into bringing home Enzo! We tried to find out about his history to predict triggers more easily. The only information we could track down was that he was brought in with another dog, both were strays. Regardless of his past, and the hiccups to his transition, we are committed to working through Enzo’s stress and trauma so he can live his best life. God is great and always has a plan; He made sure Enzo was in the loving arms of two people that will navigate these challenges and don’t have children in the home, which would be a clear safety hazard.

Enzo is not an aggressive dog. His behaviors are caused by fear and stress, most likely due to past trauma. Examples of these behaviors are:

  • If Brian is laying on the couch with Enzo and I walk over to hug Brian, Enzo will pop up, body rigid with heightened stress, eyes dark and pupils dilated, and he is ready to lunge at me.

  • Kids running near or at Enzo results in his defensive threat stance. Body lowered, cowering, pupils dilated, and mouth is tight, with edges pulled back.

  • The dynamic between Clifford and Enzo is complex. One moment they can be playing, and the next, Enzo’s body language is communicating his stress. It can feel like only a second passes before he lunges at Clifford.

  • In response to his lunge at Clifford, we will cue “time out” and Enzo stops and reaches a submissive body posture, now salivating profusely and teeth chattering traumatically.

  • Enzo will potty in secret places sometimes; terrified, he sometimes cleans the mess.

Our approach to this? Structure! Now structure can be misunderstood as a rigid schedule and no flexibility. That would only increase the stress. We responded to this with a "flexible" structure, overloading Enzo’s positive experiences, minimizing his stress experiences, and teaching him new skills. Examples of these are:

  • Continue separate eating spaces at meals.

  • Constant supervision of Clifford and Enzo. They are not left alone except when playing in the yard. The yard seems to function as a safe place for the dynamics of their relationship.

  • We tracked the attacks on Clifford and when the 3rd took place, we decided it was best to seek the veterinarian’s advice. We wanted to make sure we rule out a mental disorder and physical pain. He had a full check-up following adoption, but it is important to rule these out.

  • Enzo had a clean bill of health. The Veterinarian prescribed Fluoxetine to help support his transition into the home while we work on Enzo’s behavioral training.

  • We keep the house calm, using the focus cue to center all dogs when there is something exciting like a package dropped off or deer in the yard.

  • A bad day at work - the day job - not dog training :-), I'm careful with the animation while venting about it to Brian.

  • Reduce Enzo’s stress. This can be tricky!

Reducing Enzo’s stress is critical to eliminating the reaction to lunge at Clifford, or me! Stress clouds the brain in humans and we don’t think as clearly, or sharply which results in our misinterpreting, or overreacting to a situation. A dog’s misunderstanding that a threat exists can cause him to respond to the threat with his only defense weapon, his mouth!

How do we reduce Enzo’s stress when he can’t tell us what is wrong? Body language! We are extra vigilant and aware of Enzo’s body language so we could identify his communication of stress and evaluate what caused it. If it was a sound, we made the sound stop. If it was one of the dogs, we redirected each to a different room and activity. The key has been to connect with Enzo, read his body language, and respond appropriately to that communication!

We began obedience training, but learning will not be as successful until basic needs are met. Fortunately, we were able to teach Enzo “Sit” and “Look at me“ (focus cue). Enzo associates these cues with treats and positive feelings. Remember, at Beachy Dogs we only practice positive dog training!! When we notice Enzo experiencing heightened stress, we cue him, “look at me” and by asking for a different behavior, one that brings him positive and confident feelings, we're able to change the dynamic, remove him from the trigger, bring down the stress level and center Enzo. Then he receives lots of praise, and this further loads him with good feelings. We are helping him navigate some options and map out actions for success! This is only a start. We don’t know all of Enzo’s triggers. We have come up with ideas, some more obvious than others:

  • Loud and fast-moving movements, especially from children.

  • When humans around Enzo are stressed, he picks up on it and his stress level elevates.

  • Changes in the home; a new person entering and remaining at the home, Brian, or I traveling.

  • Kennel training. Enzo became quite the Houdini and broke out several times.

Next, we looked at what could we do to increase positive experiences for Enzo:

  • We decided that since Enzo was so worked up over being placed in the kennel, we would try leaving him out. Before leaving a dog loose while you are gone, you have to evaluate the safety of your dog, and your home. Enzo is not a chewer, and upon entering the home, he didn’t even chew toys! Our biggest concern was his safety, since that was checked off, we were willing to clean up potty accidents if these were a result. We found that Enzo was a lot happier being able to look out the window and run free in the house. Winner!

  • Enzo enjoys car rides, so we increased those! He even went on a road trip with Brian. Other than a little bit of motion sickness, the trip seemed to tighten his already fantastic bond with Brian.

  • We continued loads of love and praise, and positive mental stimulation using food puzzles, outings, and walks.

So where are we at today? Enzo is a precious and loving soul that had a very unfortunate start in life. BUT! That life is in the past for Enzo and he is living his best life now, and it will only get better! We experience such joy seeing this sweetheart fit in and act like a pup! Within the last few weeks we have noticed:

  • Enzo will now pick up chew toys and spend time exploring and chewing them.

  • He looks forward to mealtime and has stopped responding in fear to the kitchen sounds.

  • Porsche, Enzo, and Clifford engage in play. We keep an eye on body language and monitor if the dynamic is shifting to frustration or dominance. If they become too rough with one another or seem tense, we cue “timeout” and separate the dogs to redirect them positively.

  • Enzo has added to his repertoire of obedience cues, and he is beginning to follow “leave it,” and “stay,” and he has an amazing recall with Brian.

  • Enzo excitedly and curiously follows the other dogs with confidence in his step.

  • We have plumped this little one from a skinny 36 pounds to over 50 pounds! While he needs to lose a few pounds, that is not a big concern right now.

We’re looking forward to taking Enzo off medication. Consulting with his Veterinarian will be a crucial step in doing so safely. Clifford never fought back and we want to foster a healthy transition for all so we continue moving forward on the right paw!

The success that we are having with Enzo is large because of positive dog training practices. We use the LIMA approach, the least intrusive and minimally aversive. There are different training beliefs and some use devices like shock collars, pinch collars, and punishment. These work with dogs to stop a behavior out of fear. Practices like those would have increased Enzo’s fear and stress, and he would not have thrived to reach this level of success. Positive dog training teaches the behavior to perform and it helps build a strong bond with your dog. The trust built in that bond is paramount to the dog’s success. Enzo arrived at our home fearful of women. This fear was revealed after he "thawed" out from the transition from stray, to being picked up and brought to the shelter, experiencing surgery and the sounds of the shelter, and then suddenly in our home, a whole new surrounding. Through positive training, we have built a bond and he is trusting me, and responding positively to me. So think of this when you are training your dog, stick to positive training methods to improve their behaviors and build stronger bonds!

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