Canine Behavior/Poodle rehouse emotional problem
Hi Me and my wife recently adopted a poodle about 2 weeks ago. she's about a year old very timid. Currently we are the third owner living in an apartment. The first owner migrated to a different country, the second owner gave up due to commitments. We've visited the vet for checkup and understand she is perfectly healthy.
However, we are facing a few challenges that we don't quite know how to approach. Firstly she's not been eating consistently, we usually feed dog palette, can dog food and rare occasion doggie treats, but she only eats it occasionally sometimes not at all. Sometimes she only eats if i hand feed her. But thankfully We discoverd that she likes milk.
Secondly. Although she is slowly getting used to us but sometimes she still feels insecure. She is very timid and scared to even walk around or meet new people, she would only rest on her doggie bed or the couch she could stay there the whole day either sleepy or gloomy. Sometimes we bring her out for a walk she would just stand or sit still not moving, even if she walks its very much reluctanly or be shaking in fear. Plus at the moment we never hear her bark or cry once basically not a single sound. But she is a smart girl we potty trained her once there after she knows where to do it. Is there something that we could do to help her regain her confidence and be more comfortable at home and us? Or it's just sheer time?
Thank you for your question. The first thing to understand is that this poor little dog has been bounced around to 3 different homes (plus her birth home, and possibly an in-between foster between owners) in just the first year of her life. Each time she comes to trust and bond with her people, they abandon her. So, it's not at all surprising that she's very insecure and downright depressed. She's only been in your home for 2 weeks and so she has no reason to believe (based on her past experience) that this living arrangement will last. The very best thing you can do for her is give her time. Be quiet with her, be patient and gently encouraging, but don't rush her. If she's comfortable with you touching her, then you and your wife should spend time every day gently stroking her and offering her yummy treats such as chicken breast, beef or lamb, scrambled egg, or any other dog-safe human food that she seems to like. Be careful giving too much milk as adults dogs are generally lactose intolerant and so a lot of milk can cause some tummy upset. Some milk or cheese is usually fine, but watch her poops and if they are loose, or if she's having a lot of stinky gas, then cut back on the dairy. If she's staying on her bed, then you and your wife (separately) should go sit or lay next to her bed and just be with her - meditate with her, stroke her, feed her, etc. where she feels comfortable. The reason I want you and your wife to do this separately for now is that I don't want her to feel crowded or trapped by too much activity around her at once. If she comes over to you, gently/quietly tell her what a good and brave girl she is. Offer her a tasty bite and a gentle stroke along her back. If she'll sit on the couch with you both, great!
It's OK to hand feed her for now so that she associates your being near her and interacting with her with yummy food. I would hand feed her until she's readily eating from my hand, and then I'd start to drop the occasional bit of food on the floor instead of handing it to her. I'd make a game out of it. Feed two or three bites, then drop the food next to her so she has to turn her head a little away from me to get it, then back to me for more, then every 3rd or 4th bite, I'd drop in a slightly different location (near her left paw, near her right paw, near my feet, just behind her left shoulder, just behind her right shoulder, etc. As she starts to get comfortable with this game (which may take her a few weeks if she's really scared), I'd start tossing the bites just behind her and then a foot away, two feet, three feet - behind, off to one side then the other, etc. The idea is to create a game that is pleasant and rewarding (yummy food is tasty and filling), and gets her moving away from me to get a reward and then returning to me to get another reward. This back and forth process can help her build some confidence moving around in your presence (in the safety of your home) and can increase her bond with you that good things happen when you're around.
I'm not familiar with the food you're feeding her, but right now, if she's refusing to eat that then the most important thing is to get calories into her however we can and so even if it's not the most nutritionally sound diet, we want to feed her whatever she'll eat. We want to keep her strength up as that will improve her emotional state and we want to have a "way in" to connect with her and food is the absolute fastest way to do this with dogs.
You can also pair physical touch with yummy food so that you touch her and immediately provide food. As long as you're touching her, the food should be there, and then take the food away the moment you stop touching. If she's very uncomfortable being touched right now, then touch should be very brief, just brush the back of your hand gently across her paw and then immediately give treats. I'm linking a YouTube video that shows a session in real time with a dog who is afraid of being touched to show you the process of working up to longer and longer touches.
If she has a potty spot in your home, then I would not take her out of the apartment for at least 2 weeks. Just let her settle in your space without the added pressure of public walks. When she starts to relax and act a bit more comfortably in your home, then start small. Walks just up and down the hallway of your apartment building and back to your living space. Then, just outside your building and back in... build up slowly and let her tell you if she wants to go further or back inside. It is likely to take some time - and may take months - before she truly trusts that this is her forever home.
Many dogs also like to chew on things and chewing can be an excellent stress reliever. I would encourage you to provide a few appropriate items for chewing. If there are pet stores that have hard chew toys for dogs, you may want to get a couple. You can also get some marrow bones from the local butcher. Marrow bones are the long tubular bones with a hole in the middle (the thigh bone). Beef, pork or lamb is fine. Roast the bone with a little bit of meat on the outside and marrow on the inside until the meat is cooked and the bone is browned, then turn the bone over and continue roasting until the bone is browned on that side as well. Wait until the bone is back to room temperature before giving it to her. The meat and marrow may entice her to engage with the bone and working all that goodness off may help distract her from her fears. Once she's cleaned the bone (make sure that you scoop out any marrow that she can't reach or it will spoil), you can keep the bone interesting by sticking bits of food into the hollow of the bone. You can smear some spreadable food item such as apple sauce, soft cheese, mashed/whipped potato or mashed/whipped sweet potato and then stick food to that, and allow her to spend time working on getting it out. The mental stimulation of working out the food along with the innate stress relief of chewing may go a long way toward helping her feel more secure and comfortable in your home.
As for her lack of voice at the moment - some dogs are naturally more quiet. But many dogs when scared, insecure, uncertain or depressed shut down and will not vocalize at all. All of the behavior you describe - not playing, just dozing on her bed all day, silent, not eating - all tell me this dog is depressed and/or scared. She's shut down. So your job going forward is patience, quiet encouragement and gently drawing her out of her shell. I expect that as she begins to feel more certain that you're her forever home, that she can in fact trust you and your wife, you will see her relax, explore the space more, eat more readily and she may even start talking to you.
I wish you the best of luck and a very happy new year. Kudos to you for taking her in. Give her lots of love, time, patience and gentle encouragement and I promise she will return that love doubly.
Please feel free to followup if I can be of any further assistance.
Los Angeles Behaviorist