Canine Behavior/Steve, shut down completely
I collected Steve yesterday at 12.30. He is a border collie type, supposed to be about 3yrs old but I suspect he may be older. He came from Romania where he was a street dog, caught by the dog catcher and taken to a public kill shelter. A girl who runs a private shelter saw him and took him. At this point he was discovered to have an old injury to his back leg that had healed badly and had to be amputated. the girl who rescued him put a collar on him after surgery and he still has it on. Two years later I saw him and wanted to give him a chance. He has been travelling for the best part of a week. I have taken the door off my downstairs bathroom and put a baby gate up to give him a safe place but he can see and hear us and our other 3 dogs (2 collie rescues and a golden retriever-all bitches). He has had a drink and eaten a little from my hand but not toileted at all. He is lying, completely shut down and unresponsive, curled up, not reacting to me or my dogs. He is totally terrified of a leash as I discovered last night, rolling around and biting it before shutting down and just lying unresponsive in a stressed state. I suppose my question is how do I best help him?
Thank you for your question.
This poor dog has been to hell and back. Kudos to you for taking on the challenge of helping him feel safe and giving him a permanent home. Since he only just arrived at your house yesterday after a lifetime on the street, an injury of unknown origin, being put into a "prison" (shelter), moving to another "prison", having a leg amputated, then traveling to new and strange places and now in a home with strange humans and strange dogs, confined (not on the street) . . . I can only begin to imagine just how stressful and terrifying this all must be for this dog. It's entirely possible he's never lived in a home before. It's also possible that he's never had a relationship with a human before (or maybe only with the one who brought him to the private shelter and tended to his leg, which would be for the last 2 years and now that person is nowhere to be found).
He's only just arrived to your home a day ago. I think you're on the right track to give him a space where he can see and hear what's going on, but also not be forced to be involved in it. The best thing you will be able to do for him is to give him time and space. I'm not at all surprised that he's eaten and drunk very little. I'm also not surprised that there's been little or no toileting in the one day. He may have toileted during the travel, and with such little ingestion, there's nothing to come out yet.
If he were in my home, I would make sure he has something comfortable to rest on (bedding), I'd put a few interesting chews options like a Kong toy with some peanut butter in it (not full, rather smear the interior walls and maybe a glob near the top for easy access). I'd offer super high value food such as real meat (chicken breast, hot dog, maybe a bit of ham or cheese or scrambled eggs). Often that level of awesome will push through the shut-down and at least get some food into his system.
Mostly I'd just be quiet with him. I'd sit either just inside the room with him, or just outside the gate if inside is too crowding for him. I'd just hang out there and read or play games (sound low or off) on my phone. I'd make minimal eye contact and just be quietly present. I might whisper sweet nothings, telling him that he's safe now and there's no hurry - take as long as you need....
I might also confine the other 3 dogs to a bedroom or outside and let this dog have time to move around the house and sniff things and get to know the other dogs and the space through smell (rather than direct interaction initially). If it's possible to confine the other dogs so that you can escort the new arrival to the back yard without the leash, and then let him have time outside he may take the opportunity to potty.
NOTE: In the first week, I would not worry if he has accidents in the house. I assume he has no potty training skill at all, and so I will expect accidents. Right now, I'd be more glad that he feels safe enough to relieve himself - we can start teaching potty training next week. Remember that a dog is at their most vulnerable while urinating/defecating and so with extreme fear, that system will often shut down along with the more obvious behaviors because they simply don't feel safe enough to go.
My guess is that by day 3 he'll be eating a bit better and going potty. He may still be very nervous as it's still brand new - this life in your home. It can take several weeks to several months for him to recover and start to show his true personality. Patience will be your greatest gift to him, followed by quiet and gentle encouragement.
How are your dogs reacting to him? Are the curious and trying to engage him? Ignoring him? Growling, barking, acting nervous? How is he with your dogs? He may need a lot of time to feel comfortable with them. Or, he may really take to one or more and need to spend time with them to build his confidence as he sees one of your existing dogs engaging in play, eating, training, etc.
All in all, for the first few days, while it's heartbreaking and I'd have to be constantly reminding myself out loud that it's only been a couple days, and look what he's just been through.... I wouldn't be terribly worried about his shut-down behavior. It is absolutely appropriate given the stresses he's recently experienced. If he's not coming around at all by day 3 (if there's been no potty and only limited appetite still) I might have a vet come around and give him a once-over to make sure he didn't get sick during the travel. In fact, you might do that now to make sure we're not missing a coincidentally timed ailment.
Some things you might try to help soothe his frayed nerves include plugging in a Dog Appeasing Pheromone diffuser (such as Adaptil
or Comfort Zone
You can also play some music softly - music that has been designed specifically to help lower the blood pressure of dogs such as one of the Through a Dog's Ear
The vet may also be able to offer something to help ease his current anxiety or to stimulate his appetite a bit, just to help him over the hump.
Patience, quiet encouragement, supervised interaction with the other dogs if they are not overwhelming him, letting one or more of those dogs stay with him if there is a connection and he seems bolstered by their presence. Confine the dogs to allow him to investigate the house without their interference if he needs that, and also confine the other dogs to allow him free access to go outside into a fenced yard if you have one so that he can investigate outside and hopefully go potty without the social pressure of strange dogs watching him.
Please keep me posted and let me know if I can be of any further help. Hopefully a week from now you'll be telling me he's fully come around (but it could be months before that fully happens...).
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Worcester, MA Behavior Specialist
Masters Candidate - Animals and Public Policy (Animal Behavior)
Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine