Helping With Fears – Desensitisation and Counter Conditioning

 Sometimes our dog’s fears are entirely rational, booming fireworks, alarms and the dreaded vacuum are all things that millions of dogs around the world struggle with. However, even with a perfect start in life, dogs can also show a fearful reaction towards the most surprising things, such as funny shaped rocks, everyday sounds and even unexpected shadows!   

All dogs have emotional responses, and just like us, sometimes these feelings can override the brain and cause an unwanted action. Fear can be distressing for both you and your dog. The inherently unpleasant sensations of fear can also become associated with the trigger, making your dog even more scared of it next time.  This is why we often see fear – and a dog’s reaction to the cause of it – tends to escalate over time.

Tejon – The Mexican Miracle

Our work in Mexico sees us meet a huge number of dogs, all in need of desperate help, and though we are always surprised at the forgiving and kind nature of every dog, none have surprised us more than Tejon.

Tejon, meaning Coati, is named after his adorably cheeky personality. Growing up on the Riviera Maya coastline, Tejon spent most of his time exploring, asking for snacks, and generally trying to stay out of harm’s way. Although he had owner of sorts, Tejon was often left to fend for himself on the streets from a very young age, finding his own food and shelter most days.

As a young puppy, Tejon should be spending his days chasing his tail, tripping over his feet, and perfecting his best puppy-dog eyes. But instead, we learned that he had been hit by a car, something that is unfortunately all too common in Mexico.

After a harrowing car accident, Tejon managed to drag himself back to the only place he knew as a home, though when he was found, his former owner simply threw him out, into pile of rubbish and left him to die. Tejon was just 10 months old.

Incredibly, Tejon was still alive when he was found by two young men, both of whom knew him from the community, where his playful and engaging personality had won them over. They had no resources to get him the help he so desperately needed, however, they reached out to our team in Mexico. As part of our amazing community outreach we agreed that we need to try all we can to save this puppy’s life.

Tejon was taken to the nearby vets and into the practiced hands of Dr Juan to learn what his future would hold.



Surviving such a traumatic incident was remarkable in itself, but after the tenacious boy also managed to drag himself from the site of the accident, we were beside ourselves in seeing how loving and gentle he still was, despite how much pain and fear he experienced.
We learnt that Tejon’s back had been broken in the accident, and it looked likely that he may never be able to walk again. The only chance that Tejon had would be a risky and delicate surgery, and an expensive and lengthy recovery. At Wild at Heart Foundation, we believe that every dog deserves the chance to life a full life, and so even with the odds stacked against us, we know that if anyone could make it through, it would be Tejon.

Incredibly, within 24 hours of the operation, Tejon shocked everyone and took his first wobbly steps on the road to recovery!

As the first rehabilitation patient at the Wild at Heart Foundation Animal Resource Center, Tejon started daily physiotherapy sessions, all in an attempt to strengthen his legs and back and hopefully bring back his wagging tail. Though he shows us his gentle and loving nature every day, even after such a traumatising experience, Tejon is still working on getting his confidence back.

Since receiving regular physiotherapy to strengthen his legs and improve his mobility, Tejon has made huge progress in his mobility. Despite starting his life on the streets, his kindness and compassion for other people and dogs has been constant, so much so that he has taken it upon himself to become an emotional support companion for every dog receiving treatment at the Wild at Heart Foundation Resource Center.

As Tejon has settled so well into the comfort of our WAHF center, we are delighted to announce that he has been officially adopted by our team and will live a long and happy life tending to the stray puppies that come into our care. He has already done a great job at teaching them how to be confident young pups, and we know that his gentle and affectionate nature will be vital to every single dog we save together.

Why A Rescue Is Like No Other

We all love dogs. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t, right? At Wild at Heart Foundation we are a team of likeminded dog-fanatics, just like you, joining forces to speak for the stray and vulnerable dogs of the world. Despite the entire team having grown up with dogs, and the majority owning dogs now, we learn new things about the dogs we work with every day – and there is no shame in that! We are lucky enough to have some in-house experts who understand the way our beautiful rescues think, and sharing that knowledge is the best way for us all to stay educated on the unique and complex beings that join our families.

 

First things first, we always like to preface that every dog is different, and there is sadly no cure-all trick to solving every behavioural challenge (if there was, we really would tell you). Yes, learning what we can about their backgrounds, experiences and potential traumas can assist us in predicting their triggers, and therefore the best way to help them, though it’s important that we say that there are only two hard and fast rules when it comes to building a great future – compassion and patience.

Handling Fireworks Night With Dogs

Recent research shows that over 60% of dogs are fearful or reactive to the noise of fireworks. This shocking number is only comforting in the aspect that many others experience the same head-in-hand ‘how do I help you?’ moment. Applied to the UK dog population, this shocking statistic means that a whopping 5.5million dogs become extremely fearful on the same night! So whilst we can only applaud the small European towns that have banned loud fireworks to protect the elderly, youngsters, people with disabilities and pets, we encourage you to do your best to help your furry friends throughout the festivities.

We know it may seem a little early to be preparing for Fireworks Night, Diwali and New Year, but we can promise you, the more time that you put into helping your dog settle and relax on these special occasions, (and surrounding days) the better!

What To Expect – An Honest Account From Adopters

Finally being ready to adopt your first dog, or getting your home prepared for an addition to the pack, is such an exciting time. If you’re anything like us here at Wild at Heart Foundation, you live and breathe everything dog, so getting your affairs in order and setting your new one up for success is a priority! We have a huge success rate in matching our dogs to their forever homes, and we have seen over 1,800 dogs thriving with their new doating owners, but we’re going to be harsh and honest here – adopting a dog is often not what you expect.  

Dogs of all ages take a considerable time to settle into a new house, especially ones that may have experienced trauma in their pre-rescue life. The different personalities that you see within the first 3-5 months can be a hint towards your dog’s likes and dislikes, but certainly do not define their long-term temperament. During this time, it is essential that concerning behaviours are handled appropriately and calmly, as it will lead to a much stronger and confident bond between you and your pup in the future. So, temporarily discard those utopian thoughts of long walks and dog-friendly pub trips and settle in for an honest account of what to expect when you’re expecting…a dog…

Recall training

Teaching your dog recall may be the most important training you can undertake, and the most nerve wracking. The first time you let your dog off the lead can be daunting, especially if they’re already an adult. Luckily for you and all other dog owners, recall training can be easy if done consistently and positively, so here we are to offer you the best tips and tricks for a faultless recall. If you are struggling with recall, we recommend consulting a positive, force free behaviourist.

Firstly, the key to great recall is to reward, reward, reward. To put it simply, you can’t force you do to come back if they don’t want to, what we are aiming for is for your dog to choose to come back to you each and every time. Whether this is done with food, toys or attention, you want your dog to think that coming back to you is the most rewarding choice they can make.

The Power of Decompression Walks

Depending on your dog’s breed (or mix of breeds), they may be a natural hunter, retriever, scavenger, or something else. A decompression walk allows your dog to blow off steam by letting them follow through with these natural instincts – all whilst working their brain and getting them ready to make rational decisions!

One of the reasons you may be here is that you have an anxious, sensitive, or reactive dog. Whatever it may be, one of the main causes of stressful walks is that our beloved dogs act irrationally or without proper thought. When our dogs react like this, it is common belief that the culprit is over arousal, stimulation, or pent-up energy. Whilst this certainly can be a contributing factor, the concept of ‘tire them out’ is somewhat outdated.

Setting up for success

Perhaps the most important mentality you can adopt when training begins, is setting your dog up for success. In a broad sense, this means not giving them an opportunity to fail.

For example, if you know that your pooch has a big problem with larger dogs, you want to avoid interactions with these at all times, right? Now what if you all of a sudden introduced him to a friendly Great Dane and gave him loads of biscuits? Unfortunately, it probably won’t go too well as you have pushed him way to far past his comfort zone.

 

How to set your dog up for success:

Setting your dog up for success involves two fundamental techniques, Management and antecedent arrangement. Essentially, (in smaller words) this just means organising the environment around your dog to give him the best chance at a rational response to a stimulus.

 

Control of your dog on a walk

Be it strangers, other dogs or loud noises, sensitive and anxious dogs can react to anything. Knowing your dog and ensuring you have control over them around these obstacles is important. Don’t forget to bear in mind that your dog may be a trigger for someone else’s – so only let them off the lead if you’re confident in their recall and stay within sight!

 

Having control of your dog in public is easier said than done, whilst many of us are delighted at the prospect of longer days and sunny walks in the park, the bustling green spaces around town can become a challenging place to walk your dog. Having a dog with boundary issues can feel isolating and frustrating – but do not despair! It has recently been shown that more than 70% of all dog’s exhibit anxiety, and so it naturally follows that we have an incredible community of like-minded ‘dog people’ to offer that ear of reassurance. Unfortunately, if your off-lead dog is injured as a result of approaching a dog on-lead, legally, you are responsible for any altercation that may take place – just something to bear in mind when thinking of your recall level.

Introducing your new rescue to a current dog.

We all reach a point where we are ready to add a new addition to the family. Be it human, cat or dog (or something more exotic) it can be a worry if the current household will all accept the newcomer. Generally, these things go smoothly, especially when the newbie is some kind of youngster, however, what about if you’re rescuing an adult dog?

If you are rescuing a dog through WaHF, you have the added challenge that you haven’t been able to meet this dog beforehand. Whilst all dogs can act completely differently in new environments, rest assured that we will give you a complete background on their compatibility with dogs, cats and their ideal home life. It’s just as important to us that they all go to loving and safe homes! The most important message that we can give you when thinking of these new meetings is to stay consistent and take it slow. Whilst these methods may not be available to everyone, using or adapting as many as possible will help towards a smooth introduction.

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