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Canine Behavior/Shut down shelter dog


QUESTION: Dear Dr. Connor,
There is a dog in a nearby shelter that needs help. She lived a somewhat unusual life for her first seven years before she was brought to a shelter. One of her caretakers was disabled so it appears that she had companionship at all times (the surrender form indicates she was walked once each day).  
Arrived at the shelter 6/14
Behavior Evaluation 6/20 - Mya was tolerant of minimal touch, but would not tolerate handling. She remained tense with her tail tucked and repeatedly tried to exit the assessment room. Mya displayed no interest in the food toy or rahwide. She approached the helper dog submussively (sic) with her head low and her tail tucked. Food. No interest. Toy 1. No interest. Rawhide 1. No interest. Dog - dog 1. Dog approaches the helper dog submissively (head low, tail low, ears back, lip long).
Volunteer notes 6/23  - “  It took a day or two but eventually a leash was finally placed around her neck. But coaxing Mya out of seclusion was futile. After a few moments of shared silence, it was she who finally made the decision to set foot outside her den and venture into the unknown. Her movement was quiet and calculated, her body tense, her facial expression flat. But in her eyes the pain was clear. Caught between uncertainty, concern, and debilitating sadness, she took her first steps and has moved slowly forward ever since. It took some time before she allowed herself to focus on anything but protecting herself from her unknown human handler, but now she comes out readily, walks more assuredly, and is relaxed enough to accept, as well as invite, gentle contact from those she's come to know well. The first time she accepted an invitation to sit quietly by my side and then gingerly climbed up on the chair to lean close, I was stunned and nearly moved to tears.”
Place on hold 6/24 - Due to a shelter SNAFU, she  won’t be available to a rescue until 7/1.
Video 6/27 – The volunteer that shot this video indicates that Mya had not eaten in 7 days so her problems at this point are not only emotional but also physical.  She is receiving no medical treatment, fluids, or nutrition at the shelter.  
The only experiences I can draw upon are with two other dogs.  One was a senior who was neglected, abandoned, got loose and was trapped under a low deck and unable to move for three days.  He was ‘shut down’ at the shelter but would eat in solitude. It took two months at a good shelter and three months at home with a volunteer before he recovered to the point of being almost normal.  The other dog is one of ours who did not eat or drink voluntarily for nine days due to an intestinal infection.  We were able to keep him somewhat hydrated and to get enough nutrition into him to keep his glucose level to the point where it didn’t cause serious problems.
Of course the first stop for her has to be to a vet.  I would anticipate that any recovery will take months of care with extra work in the beginning until she starts eating voluntarily.   
Assuming that her medical needs are met, the question becomes home much of a recovery can she be expected to make?

ANSWER: I never follow links, but I did for this dog.

What I'm seeing are a great many "calming signals": ear set, lip licking, turn of head, lying down.  Despite her obvious breed and its notorious history, this is a darn good dog.

She will need (and most likely does now) IV fluids for dehydration and nutrition.  Nutrical is a substance you can squeeze from a tube directly into the dog's mouth.  Most dogs like it although this dog will be leary of this action unless habituated to the human doing it (the caretaker who reports she is now responding).  She has had zero socialization in her life.  She is submissive but not overly fearful.  She is responding normally to an extremely high stress environment.  This is what is called a "slug puppy" in kill shelter rescue: a dog so traumatized and so poorly socialized to begin with that it suffers from cognitive dissonance:  WHAT DO I DO.  In her case, she's offering every possible signal of non-threat and anxiety.

Months of care....perhaps not.  If she is responding in a kill shelter environment as you report it appears that she is, a good, calm, consistent home environment might see enormous progress in the first two months.  She will eat voluntarily if the food is put before her (three times daily at first to accommodate weight loss) and then she is left totally alone in the room with the food.  Return to the room after 15 minutes, distract by singing a happy song, out of sight of the dog pick up the bowl (no matter how much is left in it).  Do NOT encourage eating: this is actually a signal to the dog that the food is YOURS.  No dog will deliberately starve itself to "death", eventually every dog will eat.  High calorie, low protein food at first (puppy food), only the best on the shelf, read ingredients.  Stay away from fancy "designer" foods with all this organic stuff, my dog hates that stuff, most dogs hate that stuff, and even a healthy dog will refuse to eat it until they have to.  Would you choose a carrot over a salad with caesar dressing?  I don't think so lol.

A stressed dog will not "bait" = accept food, treats.  A stressed dog will not "play" or interact in any manner in a social context that tests rank/social status (which is what "play" actually is.)  Get that dog the heck out of there ASAP.  GO EVERY DAY, BE SURE THERE IS A DND ON THIS DOG.  Take her out the first available opportunity.  I do not understand why the owner did not sign a "surrender", meaning the dog is up for adoption.  If possible, get the form from the kill shelter and go to the owner and ask for a signature.  You will probably need a witness or two for this signature, ask the kill shelter.

As soon as you have her, give her three weeks to adjust.  And then you'll see what you have and so will I.  Keep me updated using followup feature.  God bless you for your efforts on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi Dr. Connor
In rescue things happen in strange and mysterious ways.  First thing this morning I contacted two rescues that have approved us to foster.  We were rejected by both because Mys will be too difficult to get adopted  I then contacted the only rescue that had expressed any interest in Mya and made two very nice ladies cry - the contact person at the rescue and her friend who volunteers at the shelter and had spent time with Mya.  We raced through the foster application process and the rescue started the process put a hold on Mya which would ensure that she would be safe. Two hours later I got a phone call that we were too late in a good way. Another rescue had placed a hold on Mya an hour before we tried.
I have contacted the new rescue to pass along a link so they can access your answer to my question and an offer take care of Mya if things don't work out in her current situation.
Thank you again for being a safety net for so many of us.

Beautiful dog, coming along quite well from body language in that photo.  There are all sorts of "rescue"; some are nuts (period); some are well intentioned but fail; some are truly horrific; some are opportunists; some are for real with behaviorist and or really experienced trainer working pro bono.  Some foster homes are hell holes, others are wonderful.  Pit Bull type is very, very difficult to place.  I worry about this girl.  I'd like her to go into a "forever" home, a "sanctuary" environment.  I did a lot of rescue work for many years.  A couple of dogs stayed with me for their lifetimes.  Of the rest, one took 18 months to place well.  You can't save everyone, and you can't keep everyone you save.  But you do have to do everything in your power to follow this dog and see to it that this "rescue" is legitimate, that they know what they're doing, that they do house checks and have a contract and do followups.  The best place to start is with legitimate no kill shelters who know the "good" from the "bad" or the kill shelter itself.  In some kill shelters, the staff really knows the various rescue networks.  The Central Islip Shelter, years ago, was run by a man who would not adopt a Rottweiler or Pit Bull into any home he had not seen for himself (and this is, as you know, illegal lol).  So keep an eye on her.  She's a gem.

Canine Behavior

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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