Hoarder Case Rescue. I was a fool. Need advice.
I am very embarrassed to be writing this, and fully expect to be flamed but am trying my best to make some honest and clear decisions here. I could use examples and outside opinions on my situation.
I feel like I just made the dumbest decision of my life and it is not fair on my newly adopted dog. I have no idea what I was thinking. Now I understand the 2 week shutdown, and initial freakout as I have been pouring over anything I can find because I am so distressed. I am trying to keep rational about if this is just me being incredibly stressed out and tired or if I this is a nightmare waiting to happen.
Let me explain my situation. I have adopted a really tough case and I thought I could handle it but I seem to not be as confident as I remember. He is a hoarder rescue from a very bad situation, completely unsocialized, about 1.5 years old and terrified of loud sounds (most sounds are new to him anyways.) I am not unexperienced, have had fear aggressive Rotweiler cross dogs in the past, but think I have totally lost my mind thinking I can handle this situation. The shelter seemed to play it really low key, saying he just needed love and time but I am starting to think I should have trusted my instincts better.
I have a really quiet house, am 29 and single, live 12 min from work and have so much time I am bored. I have been looking for a dog for a few months but the rescue route proved to be really traumatizing, I was late once so didn't get the dog I wanted, the next time I was an awesome fit but the dog went to another home at the last minute. It just continued like that. I think this did not help my decision making.
So I know, it is not even day 3!!! So I am not making any decisions yet, I fully expected to wait at least 3-6 weeks before letting my freak out get the better of me. But I do need some honest opinions if this is best for the dog.
He is doing surprisingly well considering what he has been through. After being pulled from the hoarder case he spent 3 weeks at the shelter before coming to me. It was loud there and he was not doing very well. That is A LOT to go through in a month!
Now my problem. I thought I was pretty chill, used to ride worked up skittish horses, had a dog that tried to maul everyone, none of this really phased me. The thing is, this was a few years ago. It is day two today with him and I thought I was completely prepared for his skittishness, but it is out of this world. Twice today we were out in my small fenced yard and he got scared so badly from the snow sliding off my roof that he dragged me down and almost got out of his collar. He thrashes like a madman. If he gets away it is all over. I only have a standard chain-link fence. I can eventually calm him down enough to reach him when this happens. I am using a 6 foot traffic leash. But he is shaking and freaking out. and sadly so am I which is not helping AT ALL. I started to get a little scared he would bite (the shelter swears he would not even when cornered). I have a quiet street but am in a very downtown area. So of course there is stuff going on, but nothing crazy. But he is SO scared, of me, of everything. Every time he hears a noise he thinks it is me and tries to run.
What I am panicking about is can I honestly say I am able to help this dog? What is scaring me and what was completely unexpected, was how freaked out I got my those incidents. I have become scared to take him outside, let alone ever walk him in the future. I thought I was stronger than this and feel very ashamed. An anxious owner is the LAST thing this poor dog needs.
Days are too early for any bond to have formed of course. He is hand shy but if I don't make any sudden movements and stay real calm I can touch him and get the leash on and stuff, I attach him to my waist in the house and he does fine. Honestly I just ignore him at the moment, don't force anything.t He has been doing pretty well in the house actually, immediately took to his crate which I covered in a blanket. He relaxes inside he house and has shown a lot of curiosity. Outside though...I feel like I have this wild animal on the leash (which essentially I do.) I have started to have a complete meltdown over my decision. I took a week off from work but I am not sure it is nearly enough. I feel he needs a confident owner, that is home most if the time and possibly has some confident dogs already.
I am not sure if I should act fast or wait this out. Perhaps offer to foster him but get more suitable adoptions coming in. At least he is out of the shelter here hearing more home sounds. I feel very guilty for thinking it, but I realized I thought I was prepared to have a skittish dog, but what if it never gets better? I honestly don't have an answer to that since we are not exactly attached.
Please help. I am not sure what to do and understand what a failure I am being.
Poor guy! From the hoarder to the shelter, he hasn't experienced any good life so far.
I don't think you are a failure AT ALL. The decision is yours to make. To me, it seems like the shelter downplayed his issues so you wound up having a more stressed dog than you expected?
But one good sign is that the shelter did not put him to sleep...they must have seen something in him worth saving.
I'm not sure I could decide within 48 hours! At 48 hours, my rescue was still lying down in dark corners far away from us, and would pull like crazy on the leash as if he had never been on a walk. We had a two week "trial period" given to us by the rescue, and by that time we knew he'd be fine with us. Do you want to give him a little more time to show you his nature?
I really can't say what I think you should do - commit, foster or return...it's so personal!
There is certainly no judgement if, as a 29 year old single person, you want to live as a normal person with a normal dog.
Another thought for you is that the upcoming decade is often the life decade when people date, marry, have kids...that means, new significant others and maybe new babies in the house with this dog (assuming he has a typical GSD lifespan)...just a thought...
This dog has been failed by everyone. You aren't failing him -- you're giving him his best hope. You might have taken on more than you thought, but instead of feeling defeated, just decide that it's going to force you to expand your skill set!
First, shelter research has shown that it takes at least 3 days for the cortisol to come down after the shift to a new environment -- so he's chemically been in fight or flight mode the whole time you've had him. You can't train through that. You can't even do a fair temperament assessment in that period.
It's not too late to start him in a 2-week shutdown either -- I would!
Dogs like this just take time. Years of living in the horror of a hoarding situation means that you've got a lot of learned fear -- he expects bad stuff to happen, constantly. Counter conditioning is a hugely important technique to learn about -- Patricia McConnell's stuff on her website and in her books is all very approachable (her 30-page booklet called "The Cautious Canine" should be mandatory reading for dogs like this).
Her blog posts about fear are collected here:
I would also recommend reviewing the resources at Fear Free Pets -- an organization that trains vets, techs, groomers, and other professionals techniques to minimize stress in frightened pets. They have a site just for pet owners too:
I'm also a big proponent of clickers for dogs like this -- they haven't ever experienced them, so there's no negative association, so it's a blank slate for training. Reaching for a dog that's been abused, even with a treat, can be overwhelming, so learning to mark positively without reaching for the dog is sometimes helpful, especially in the beginning. It's a way of communicating within the dog's narrow limits right now. A clicker-based trainer could be very helpful in getting you started.
We have 2 in the rescue now that flailed like fishes out of water the first time we leashed them, they busted out of crates, destroyed the foster's home, and got into everything because they had never been inside a house. They were sweet but WILD. One of them has come so far in 3 months that he's a candidate for a PTSD service dog program right now! They were out at a pet adoption festival last weekend and were well behaved, awesome dogs -- one was used to demonstrate an obedience drill at the festival. Their foster dad works full time, is single, and is fairly young -- he just figured it out, using the resources available to him.
The rescue has another dog right now that was terrified of all humans (severely abused). I wasn't even sure we'd be able to get him to an adoptable point when I pulled him, but there was a foster home with experience with these dogs that promised they'd be in it for as long as it takes because they like helping this kind of dog. So I pulled him out of the shelter and hoped for the best. After 4 months, he's become a dog that just graduated from a group obedience class where he successfully now works around other dogs and strange people! For him, just being in a group class was impossible at first -- he had to attend class a parking lot away because the people scared him and he'd lie flat on the ground and shut down. He's made phenomenal progress under this trainer, and he's now participating in class. Again, it took about about 4 months to get him here. He's still a shy dog, but he's not debilitated by fear. He's looking to his person for a cue on what's safe and okay, and he is transforming into a lovely companion.
One thing we added for him that seems to help is a prescription for a new anti-anxiety probiotic called Calming Care. It is a proprietary strain that you can't purchase in regular supplements. It has to be purchased through a vet. It's not going to hurt, and the research on it is very interesting.
If you have access to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, I would encourage you to consider a consultation. There may be some meds to take the edge off his fear to help get access to his focus for more successful training work, but I wouldn't trust a regular vet for that. (The board-certified vet behaviorists have a DVM plus years of additional training, research, and residency, and earned diplomat status in the ACVB -- but there aren't very many of them.)
You're not going to solve this in a week, or a month. You'll make some progress in 3 months, some more in 6 months, and in a year, if you are lucky, he may finally feel like a dog you're really proud of. Someday you won't even recognize it's the same dog. The timetable though has to be set by the dog, not by your expectations.
Working with dogs like this is a challenge and also a huge opportunity to grow in your ability to communicate with dogs. If you let him, he will teach you a lot about yourself too. It's humbling, involves lots of days that feel like set backs, and lots of self-doubt sometimes -- but when you get there eventually, the feeling of pride is incomparable because you earned it together. I think dogs like this make us better people by forcing us to set our own egos aside and listen to the dog.
One of the secrets of rescue is that it's hard, full of disappointments, and often soul-crushing. I feel like you aren't really a "rescuer" until you've had a dog like this make you sob like a baby at how much you don't know -- and then we put on our "big kid pants" and find ourselves trainers and mentors to teach us what we need to learn to help the dog. Being a rescuer isn't posting "save this dog" on Facebook when there's a sad thread about a hording case...lots of useless people do that...the real work is what you are doing, and it's HARD. Most people who've been active in rescue have been EXACTLY where you are, either with a foster dog or a personal dog. All those experienced rescuers who seem to know so much only know so much because they went through this same thing years ago and let it be a chance to learn and grow, rather than an insurmountable obstacle.
This dog has no one else -- he's with you because he was in a shelter languishing. There's no magical pool of people out there waiting to help or adopt dogs like this: if you give up on him, who better than you is he really going to find? People take dogs like this and put them on chains to guard property, but not many people want to bring them in their homes like this. (If you must rehome him, please at least try rehabilitate him for 3-6 months to get him to a more adoptable state so that he can attract more potential interest so he'll have better odds of getting a worthy home.)
You haven't failed until you give up -- and you haven't given up. Vent. Cry. Laugh. Pray. Whatever gets you through. You will be tested, you will struggle, you will learn, but it *will* get better over time if you have patience, set your ego aside, find local resources to support you, and ask him only to do only as much as he can do right now. Tomorrow it might be a little more than he can do today. With enough tomorrows, you'll get there together.
Welcome to the forum!
What a good deed you have done to step up and try to help this abused dog. I can understand that it must seem overwhelming. Don't beat yourself up! It's too early to feel like a failure.
I'm not experienced enough to give you the advice you need, but I'll share a few thoughts:
1. Get a trainer who can come to your home to assist.
2. You are very early in the process. I struggle with a very hyper and stubborn landshark puppy, who is now 7 months old. You have more of a challenge on your hands. It will take time.
3. I'm thinking the dog can sense your fear. Take it slow and easy and try to relax. You likely have a series of problems to solve. Your fear can make situations worse.
4. You are a slender woman, so your choice of collar (s) and leashes can make a difference. If he almost came out of his collar, you need to adjust the collar or get a different type of collar. May need a different leash. You need tools to gain better control over the dog.
There are a lot of opinions regarding collars. Prong collars can be controversial, but I started to use one. I rarely use it for a correction, but I have that tool if I need to use it. If used properly, it can be a helpful tool to use.
AN OPINION ON USING A PRONG COLLAR ON A FEARFUL DOG:
SOME OLDER THREADS AND AN ARTICLE TO READ AT LINKS BELOW:
EIGHT TIPS TO HELP FEARFUL DOGS
Some of this might pertain to your situation.....even though you cited " Now I understand the 2 week shutdown"
Leerburg | The Groundwork to Establishing Pack Structure with Adult Dogs
The topics that might be of value would be:
What Breeds Need Ground Work?
Many Rescue Dogs Genetically Have Faulty Temperaments
The First Weeks
Always On a Leash
I would start at the vet's and put him on an anti anxiety medicine as Maggie suggested. Continue with the 2 week shut down as much as you can. Get a good trainer. This poor dog has probably never been exposed to anything. :(
During the shut down, the only thing he has to deal with is his new home to get a sense of where he belongs and with whom. He is past the imprinting stage so a few weeks of doing nothing but adjust and calmness will only help him. If you feel overwhelmed, give yourself and him two months and re-evaluate and make a decision then. This may take the pressure off you. For now, sit with him and crate him (if he is OK in a crate), sit with him, crate him for a day. Then leash him and take him around the house wherever you go and crate him again to let him digest the experience. He needs to learn that he is safe with you.Let him sleep next to your bed for bonding. I admire you for doing this and please, please don't feel bad. You saved this dog; a true rescue.
I had a similar case with a Black Lab, completely traumatized, scared out of her mind and deathly ill. The shelter asked me if she could die with me instead of in a kennel. Long story short, it took a few months and she found a home and was able to deal with a quiet life in the country. It was my master piece in fostering.
1. Leave The Dog Alone --- quit trying to force a connection. (2 week shut down.) Let him get used to you.
2. for outside, consider a temporary installation of a kennel immediately out your back door. Set it up so that your door opens directly into the kennel and that, for the near future, the kennel door opens out on the yard. Keep the kennel door closed for now so that when he is let out, he will be in a confined space directly out side your door. You will not need to leash him for the two week shut down, you will not need to fuss about the collar. You WILL be able to let the dog adjust and get used to you.
No vet, no trainer, no company for right now. Two Week Shut Down. Let the dog come to you on his terms/time for now.
Because it sounds to me like you are OMG rushing the crap out of this.
Take a chill pill. Leave the dog alone to adjust to you -- quit pressuring him for now. Things will get better.
Thank you so much for your words of advice. Unfortunately since the snow sliding scare yesterday (and it is STILL doing it!!! I have such a steep roof it is pissing me off) Haku (my rescue) now refuses to come out of his crate and I can no longer get near him at all. It was a hard hit to the both of us. Due to this he has almost gone 48 hours again without relieving himself. I don't want to scare him by taking him outside as he now refuses to come anywhere near me, I can't touch him, can't get his leash on without invading his space a bit and can't get him outside without some drama.
I have just let him be all day and he has just stayed in his crate. He is eating but not drinking, I think I will need to move his water bowl to outside his crate now.
I feel I should elaborate a bit on the "Shelter". I was very tired when I wrote my previous post. They are a no-kill rescue, and very, very lovely. The reason I felt Haku was struggling is because unfortunately they are not able to foster dogs and are kept in typical fenced runs but with people coming in 4 days a week to view the dogs and dogs barking madly, it is a lot to deal with. Haku is SO sound sensitive. In fact there was a guy there (Ted) who works with the Shepherds that come in, Haku was starting to trust him and get friendly. Ted cried when he loaded him into my car which broke my heart. They actually had 3 Shepherds from the same hoarding. We have been texting and he is trying to help me out. Today he suggested I call the other lady who took the other Shepherd from the hoarding. He said she was amazing. It stung, but I pushed my ego aside and called. What a wonderful woman. It hurt a bit but the other Shepherd is doing fantastic. No bathroom issues, tried to run but she had a small enclosed place so could let him off leash, has another confident shepherd there which is doing wonders, is already warming up to her and she only picked him up yesterday. I felt crushed.
We talked for over an hour and she says I am doing everything right, and that the ice scare was unfortunate. Anyway. What really eats me up is like Magwort says, learning about yourself. In 4 days I have learned that I am not as patient as I thought, have anxiety issues, am incredibly insecure and am selfish. My family is lovely and are trying to help but have seen what is happening to me and are concerned. I feel bad dragging them into my decision as well. I just hate myself because I don't feel that I can deal with this long term. Being alone is really hard. And now I have just cut off my family due to this situation (he is too scared, I can't have anyone over and can't leave). No one can help me with the pressure. I was already an introvert, now I just basically don't exist. I wanted a dog because I was lonely. The two must haves on my list were "affectionate and playful," what a joke I am. I feel like I will never be able to visit my family, can't go on vacation or paddle boarding (I was planning to take my future dog). Just lovely dark, soul-searching thoughts.
I have decided to take it one day at a time, one step at a time. First survive the week, then survive the first work week etc. At least right now Haku is warm, comfy and resting in my creepy quiet house (and seems to like peanut butter). On that note, I was so excited to clicker train, in fact the reason I was seeking out a shepherd/ shepherd mix is because I LOVE training tricks and doing obedience, I was looking for a possible agility dog (just for fun, really low key). But Haku refuses all treats, even if I casually throw them in his crate every now and then. We are just not at that phase yet at all. The peanut butter was a first interest so thats good, but I don't think I can clicker train without anything he wants.
I will brace myself for the bathroom epidemic in my room tomorrow, take a deep breathe and just see where the day takes us. Deep down I think my selfish expectations of a dog is what is the problem here and the guilt from that realization is devastating. Hopefully I can sleep better tonight and tomorrow will be brighter. Thanks for all the helpful links, I will go through them.
Oh and NaughtyNibbler, I actually have a martingale collar I was thinking of using, I will need to get it on him though and will start looking around for a trainer that may be able to help me out and also give me some honest feedback about what the future would look like etc.
It's day two? I would not use medication at this point. I would put a martingale on him rather than a flat collar so he cannot slip the collar.
He's 18 months old, so it is going to take him a little longer than a young puppy to acclimate, but he should be able to do so.
Let him come to you.
You just put his food down and walk away. I know you have to take him out on lead, but do everything low key and with as little interaction as possible. When he figures it out that you are trustworthy, he should come around.
Dogs are social creatures. So it is a drive within them that is as basic as any other. Be stable/consistent, and gentle, he ought to figure it out.
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