Under socialized dogs from hoarding conditions

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Barked: Tue May 28, '13 9:40am PST 
I'm fostering two dogs rescued in Dec. 2012 from a hoarding situation. I do not know many details. I have been taking care of these dogs since mid January and while progress has been made, I'm sorry to report that they are nowhere near ready for the "real" world.

First, Foster and Fuller (the rescue shelter's names) are the very best friends and not even slightly aggressive with my dog. When I first took them in they would not look me directly in the eye, nor come to the front of their crates. They now will come up to my hand to sniff and actually run around the living room with me (and my neighbor) for exercise. The lab mix often wags his tale when he sees me.

They sleep in their crates in my living room, with the doors open. They are semi-house trained (the go in an area where there are newspapers and a tarp).

I desperately need to leash train them in order to get them outside, but when I try to pull on a leash, they act like complete wild animals and eventually slip their collars. I'm also worried that they might actually break something as the reaction is violent.

Has anyone ever tried gentle leaders with a dog like this? And do you have any experience training a dog to be leashed?

Please help. I'm running out of time with these dogs.

When the night- closes in I will- be there
Barked: Tue May 28, '13 10:36am PST 
Don't hold the leashes. Let the dogs drag them around attached to their collars, it might be helpful to start with fairly short leashes. Use treats, lots of treats and gradually get the dogs used to you touching their leashes. Work on them following you as a separate thing, use treats again to tempt them to come along. Once the dogs are following you and comfortable with their leashes start carefully holding the leash. Try to avoid pressure just hold the leash while the dog follows. Once the dogs are comfortable in the house and yard you can start introducing them to people, noises and things like bicycles and skateboards. Stay in the yard or a secure area so that IF you push too hard and they bolt they are still safe. If the rescue is pressuring you to hurry I would be concerned. I've had dogs that took months to get to moderate levels and still had to be carefully placed in homes where the progress could continue.

Member Since
Barked: Tue May 28, '13 11:14am PST 
Sabi -- I very much appreciate your suggestions.

There are a couple of issues: so far, these dogs are not particularly food motivated. They will eat bologna, if it is left on the floor and i move away, but will not follow me for it. Sometimes, they will take it from my hand.

Unfortunately, I do not have a backyard. I have access to some closed in areas, but need to transport them in a dog carrier (which is so terrifying, it sets us back in time for trust).

Feeling the time pressure: It was my mistake -- when I took the dogs in January I had no idea how long this would take (nor do I think that the shelter had an accurate idea). I am leaving for the month of July and may try to find someone to take care of them - -but it is really difficult.

Many thanks for your suggestions and help!


Let's play tug!!
Barked: Tue May 28, '13 5:13pm PST 
They sound a lot like my mom's dogs. They were from a semi-hoarding situation. Something like 10 or 15 dogs, bullied somewhat by the other dogs, not socialized much, healthy but no vet care, and fearful of most people.

I'd work on some slooooooow counterconditioning. How fast you go will depend on them, and you might find, like with my mom's dogs, that one is much braver than the other, and need to do it separately (also may be a good idea to prevent fighting over treats or one not getting any). But to give a rough sketch, maybe:

Day 1, show them their new harnesses, and give high value treats, like little pieces of deli turkey, for sniffing them. If you have to sit across the room and use your most relaxed body language, that's fine. Say "yep!" in your happiest rainbow-sunshine-butterfly-unicorn voice and toss the treats over. Even if they wait to eat them until you leave, receiving them was still reinforcing. Aim for 2 or 3 sessions a day of less than 5 minutes each. Day 2, sit at half the distance and do the same thing. Day 3, lift the harnesses off the ground, "yep!" treat, repeat. Day 4, lift the harnesses and make the tiniest bit of contact with their noses or backs, etc, etc.

By the way, head collars are a no-go for reactive dogs who lunge and twist. They can cause neck damage. If they're strong, I'd use front-clip harnesses, and otherwise regular/mesh harnesses. Making it uncomfortable to pull tends to cause even more of a negative conditioned association with other dogs, but if it's necessary for safety, so be it. You may also be ok with a regular harness if you get one of the Kong traffic leashes with the giant padded handles so you don't get rope burn.
Star BN RN- RA

Barked: Tue May 28, '13 6:25pm PST 
I am very familiar with this type of situation. The good thing is they do not sound fear aggressive as 2 of my rescues that came from bad situations, 1 was abused and the other was a puppy mill dog with no social skills, were..i could not even touch them for awhile. I have had many abused/fearful/under socialized fosters, Kagra came from a hoarder (she was one of 50 dogs, when the shelter got her they thought she was a brown pit..i gave her a bath and discovered she was pure white, all the brown was dirt!)

In my experience, letting them drag the leashes around is a great way to start, most under socialized dogs..in my experience..will not take food from the people who are trying to help them. They are simply to nervous to accept the food. You want to have more than 1 collar on them, i prefer a collar and a harness with a leash (i use a coupler) that will hook to both (1 part of the coupler hooks to the collar, the other hook goes on the harness). When they start freaking just stop and let them chill out..it takes a LONG time. Doing this in a enclosed space is essential, this way if they do get loose you can get them back but it also helps to avoid the dog from getting overstimulated as you can help to control what/who comes into the space and can concentrate on the task at hand which is getting them comfortable on the leash.

I am actually surprised that the rescue placed both of them together with you, usually the best thing to do with a dog who is under socialized is to place them 1 on 1 with a patient, calm person (a stable, friendly dog in the home is a help but not another fearful dog). These two are in all likelyhood getting the comfort from each other which is great in some regards but they are bonding more with each other and are not being forced to deal with the people in the house as much as they should.

Do you know anyone with a very social dog that walks great on a leash? The only way I got one of my fosters to start walking on a leash was to use a coupler with the foster and my dog Star. Star is the type of dog you would want to use a dog; very social with other dogs, loves people, very calm, does not react when other dogs freak out, and willing to let another dog jump and carry on next to her without reacting.

You want to leash train them 1 at a time, do not try to do both together as they will just feed off of each others energy.
Kali earned- her wings- 10/21/14

She's game for- anything that's- fun.
Barked: Wed May 29, '13 7:19pm PST 
Will they let you tough them? Scratch them? If so, you might try taking the leashes and use them to scratch their favorite itchy spots. That's how I got my horse, when I was a kid, to not be terrified of a whip. I used it to scratch her favorite itchy spots. After that, Sabi had a great suggestion. Don't hold the leash. Maybe put it on them while their running around the living room. Try and make it a positive thing. Good Luck!

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Barked: Thu Jun 6, '13 7:11pm PST 
Thank you for all your posts. In response:

Kali - no, they do not like to be touched. Once in a while, the lab mix will hold still long enough for me to pet him, but it is hard for him. And the petting makes them very anxious.

They are not particularly food motivated, and have just started liking praise. (before they could care less if I was happy). The border collie mix is even showing some happiness (instead of cowering for months on end).

They are normally so good natured, but today we had a set back.
I tried putting a leash on the lab mix (Fuller) and he dragged it around for a while. But then it got caught on the leg of a table. when I tried to free him, he became terrified - biting the metal part of the leash, trying to bit me, pulling frantically like it was a life or death situation. I could not get close enough to him to get it off, and finally he slipped his collar. It was horrible and now they are back to being more skittish, anxious, and some trust has been lost.

Lessons learned -- use a short leash (mentioned by Sabi, i believe); but honestly, can this leash fear ever be overcome? If I had a back yard for them to run in, I feel that they could be trained, but the leash seems like a major obstacle.

Member Since
Barked: Thu Jun 6, '13 7:23pm PST 
Smokey, Star - Thanks for your tips.
I need to find a way to get the harness on them. I like the "day 1, day 2..." method, but am pretty sure that it will be more like: week 1, week 2. I can't imagine them ever willingly letting me put their harnesses on.
I'll look at couplers at the store. Thanks for confirming that neck collars alone are not good.
Jax (earned- her wings- 5/30/12)

Give me your- toy.
Barked: Fri Jun 7, '13 4:09am PST 
Sorry to hear about the set back. I know you said they are not food motivated, but I would find a yummy treat that they would die for, like liver or something they never get that you can use ONLY for training. That's how I got Jax to trust me. You can start with just giving them a piece now and then after calling their name. Sounds like you're making progress, it's just pain-stakingly slow. It took me years to get Jax to come out of her shell. The best way to a dogs heart is through their stomach, at least it was for Jax. I would try and associate the leash with something positive, like set it on the floor and put a yummy treat on the floor a foot or two away. Slowly inch the treats near the leash until they are right on them or next to them. Then I would only give them the yummy treats on/next to the leash. Do you work with them separately? Sometimes dogs will find security in each other and will not respond to training if they are together. Another thing I did was use my dog to help her. I would feed him treats and pay a lot of attention to him during training sessions in front of Jax. After a while Jax couldn't stand him getting the yummy treats with her getting none. Her stomach over-rode her brain. LOLOL Good Luck!

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Barked: Thu Jul 18, '13 1:21pm PST 
Sadly, I'm in need of someone else to take on the long term project of fostering Fuller & Foster. I'm in the process of painting my condo and will sell soon. Does anyone know of rescues who specialize in rehabilitating dogs like these? The rescue that they come from have not been helpful - i think that they are overwhelmed. I'd be willing to drive quite a distance to find a good foster.