Meet Baby Girl. Not much is known about her before she came to Humane Society Naples as a rescue from Clewiston, FL. Most of the information comes in the form of her scars, her injuries and her fear. The odds were stacked against Baby Girl from the beginning. This 5-year-old came to us extremely fearful of both people and other dogs likely due to her use as a “bait dog”. Covered in scars, Baby Girl also had an old and untreated injury that required our veterinary team to remove an eye.
Helping her was never a question. We knew you’d want us to give her a second chance and knowing that allowed us to go above and beyond for Baby Girl. “Her initial assessment looked like fearful defense (some inappropriately label it aggression). She was very frightened of the dogs that approached her and would growl and lunge at them,” says HSN Dog Behaviorist, Bekah Coffing. “They hid behind me and then stopped trying to approach her. Even after that, she would continue to pursue them to drive them away. Given the scars and injuries that she came in with, I was not surprised at her reaction. The process is exposure therapy; repeatedly exposing the dog to appropriate dog interactions to overcome the defensive nature that has been the original response.”
Under the guidance of Bekah, we recently begin the exposure process. She needed to pair Baby Girl with shelter dogs that were “socially aware” or “control dogs”. Socially aware dogs would not over correct her and would defer to Bekah instead or make the right decision on their own. Matching Baby Girl with the right dogs for this exposure therapy was one of the keys to getting her with other dogs. This process required multiple handlers. It was the introduction of HSN Director of Animal Care, Gabe Water and a small group of experienced Canine Coach Volunteers (3LV – the highest ranking for canine volunteers) that were interested in learning to run playgroups, which made this possible.
The First Pairing
Determined to do everything she could for Baby Girl, Bekah brought her into a play yard muzzled and on a very long line with two appropriate dogs. The size of the play yard gave all of the dogs the ability to avoid each other if they needed. Having multiple control dogs in a playgroup meant that the interactions did not have to be with Baby Girl. She was very uncomfortable initially, but showed the team that she could be tolerant of dogs that would respect her space. “The use of the muzzle has a tendency to push fearful dogs in one of two ways. The first way is that it makes them overly defensive because now they have absolutely no way of protecting themselves. The other side, you’ve taken the weapon away and they are more comfortable. The muzzle can have a suppression effect. After this initial session, it was clear that Baby Girl fell into the ladder of the two categories,” Bekah said.
From this point on, it was a matter of teaching her that dogs are not scary and to drop the muzzle from interactions.
“The fourth trip out to the play yard brought tears to my eyes,” Bekah said. “When Baby Girl opened up and played with two dogs after I had removed the muzzle, was an epiphany moment for dogs like Baby Girl, where they overcome the fear and learn that other dogs can be quite fun.”
After Baby Girl played with the other dogs it was a matter of seeing her take and give an appropriate correction before Bekah was comfortable kenneling her with another dog. This is when the dogs don’t necessarily agree about something, but work it out on their own. Our attempts to control the situation doesn’t allow the dogs to make the right decisions on their own. While out in the play yard with another dog, that dog growled at Baby Girl for playing too rough with him. She appropriately moved away and then re-engaged play on a softer level. It was a perfect example of taking an appropriate correction.
The purpose of all of this work is to help Baby Girl not fear dogs and boost her confidence. This, in turn, allows us to reduce her dog restriction which helps make her more adoptable. Baby Girl will continue to go out to small groups and be introduced to new dogs. Continuously exposing her to these socially aware dogs has brought her one step closer to living the life she was always supposed to live! With love and care from our dedicated staff and team of volunteers, she has shown an infinite capacity for love and forgiveness – from both dogs and humans. She even found a job in our A Tale for a Tail reading program! Every week, Baby Girl sits attentively and patiently while youth volunteers read her a story and show her love.
Pets come to us with all sorts of history, hurt and needs. Your support gives us a chance to provide comfort and lifesaving care for pets like Baby Girl. Thank you, in advance, for generously offering to be a part of that second chance to abandoned pets.