Feral dog step 2?
March 20, 2014 7:16 AM   Subscribe

We adopted a five or six month old dog that was born into a feral colony and rescued at 3 months old. He lived in a shelter office for several months and seems past the first stages of acclimating to people, but he's still terrified of us.

I read a great deal about the basics of socializing feral puppies -- but it seems like we're past that. He'll sniff at us and eat food out of our hands, but he doesn't like eye contact and mostly wants to stay in his crate. He definitely recoils from petting.

He is not leash trained yet, but is great about using Wee Wee Pads (I was doubtful, but thank god for wee wee pads). We got good guidance about leash training but I'm feeling like we need more advice about how aggressively we should be socializing him.

I mostly work from home so I spend a lot of the day clacking away on my computer in his vicinity. He does come over and sniff me.

He's only been in our home for three days. He's willing to wander around if we aren't looking but if we look at him he goes back to his crate. We'd been locking him out of the crate and I'm wondering if that wasn't a bad idea -- now he's afraid to leave it because it might be locked when he comes back.

He drinks water but isn't really eating much (though he's made a decent bowel movement every day). We've been insisting that he eat out of our hands, at the advice of a trainer, but I'm wondering whether there's a point where he's so starved that we should just give in and feed him?

I realize that asking for "any old advice" is probably doing it wrong, but I'm still wondering if the MeFi hive mind has suggestions for us.
posted by amandabee to Pets & Animals (22 answers total)
His crate should always be open and available to him as a safe space.

Are you rewarding him for doing the things you want? Do you know what "rewarding" would look like for this particular dog?
posted by Sara C. at 7:35 AM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Three days is nothing. It sounds like you are doing everything right, just relax and give it time. It took one of my record two weeks to trust me, he was a skin and bones stray when we got him. The second one had broken bones from being abused and fear bit, it took him two years to completely trust me. The day he ran to me for comfort when scared instead of running to hide made me cry.

Follow the trainers advise. Other advice, be calm, don't loom over him, sit at floor level and let him approach you, don't stare or watch him to directly, when he looks at you, look away, luck your lips and yawn (these are all dog appeasement dials that dogs use to say hey I am not a threat ). Have lots of super delicious high value treats, if he approaches you throw one in front of him, if he comes up to sniff offer him one out of your hand with slow movements.
posted by wwax at 7:37 AM on March 20, 2014 [9 favorites]

My only experience with feral dogs is that I have friends who took in a mom and a litter of feral pups, and it was years before they started acting like typical domesticated dogs. Compared to that experience, it sounds like you and your dog are doing very well, especially given that you've only had him a few days. Take it easy on yourself.

I do think locking him out of his crate was a bad idea. You can't force him to be comfortable by depriving him of the safest space he has, so don't do that anymore. Lure him with good stuff, make his experiences with you as positive as you can, and be patient. Make progress in small, happy bites. If he's scared to come out of his crate and scared to eat from your hand, then tackle those issues separately; put a bowl down some distance from the crate and let him go to it; defer the hand feeding a bit. I wouldn't aggressively socialize him to others until he trusts you a little more.
posted by jon1270 at 7:38 AM on March 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Aw, he's only been home for three days. He'll probably need a lot more time to adjust and learn that he's in a safe place for the long haul before he'll start warming up to belly rubs.

My dog was picked up off the street by Animal Control at ~6 months, and spent at least a couple of months after we adopted him constantly running under my bed or into his crate, often if I just bent down to give him a scritch. He's been with us for five years now but he still does it sometimes. Don't lock your little dude out of his crate -- it's like his bedroom! Dogs love to feel ensconced in cozy cave-like places. And many dogs instinctively dislike eye contact, even when they trust you completely.

How much does he weigh, and how much is he eating? In my experience, dogs will act ravenously hungry forever, even if they've just finished off a pound of meatloaf, so just making sure he's getting a measured amount every day is your best bet, broken up into 2 or 3 servings a day for consistency. You might try a puppy teeth-friendly food-dispensing toy if he doesn't really know how to play yet.

Start taking him outside a TON (like every 15-20 minutes) so he gets used to associating going out with, er, going instead of just bopping over to the Wee Wee Pads whenever he feels the urge.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention that AskMe generally requires the inclusion of at least one puppy photo per puppy-related question in order to provide the best advice. Congratulations on your new addition!
posted by divined by radio at 7:39 AM on March 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding Sara C., you must keep the crate open and available to him all the time. I would definitely be afraid to leave my home/favorite safe space if I thought it might not be available to me when I returned -- imagine how confusing that must be for a puppy.

Otherwise, I think that time will do the trick. You've only had him for three days? Even a puppy raised in happy conditions would feel odd around new owners after just three days. Interact with him calmly when he initiates contact; otherwise, make him feel safe in your home so that he can comfortably start exploring both his surroundings and you. Give it time.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:39 AM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


We've been insisting that he eat out of our hands, at the advice of a trainer...

IMO this was pretty terrible advice for a feral puppy. This dog is unfamiliar with humans and justifiably uncomfortable with them. Do not force him to eat out of your hand. He should be eating out of a dish.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:42 AM on March 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Locking his crate was a bad idea. Don't do it again.

Just keep working with the trainer.

Overall, be as consistent and calm as humanly possible at all times.

Try to set up situations where the dog has the opportunity to make choices and learn, from those choices, that you and the new environment are predictable.

Three days is not a long time. I wouldn't expect a foster dog who was an owner surrender of the "We spoiled this dog and now we don't like him" variety to settle in after three days.

Hand feeding, very regular bathroom schedule, and not much else for at least another week.

If you have a crate pail so dog always has water in his safe space, that would be nice.

If dog has any interest in chew toys or stuffed Kongs, then those would be calming activities. (Probably - I do have a dog who can transfer her nervous energy to a Kongsicle with becoming all that calm. But I think her buzzing brain benefits from the success of slurping all the goo out of her Kong.)

Word of caution - hunkered down and wary can look like relaxed. Dog has been through a lot. Dog needs time.Give the dog room and time to figure out his new reality.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:48 AM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Missed the locking out of the crate part, add my voice to the others saying keep that open and let him have a agar place to go, having a safe haven to retreat to when he gets overwhelmed will make him feel braver in the long run.
posted by wwax at 7:54 AM on March 20, 2014

I got a feral dog when she was 9 months. She in now 9 years and still will not come (unless I have the leash as she loves walks), runs out of the room if I call her name or make eye contact, will not stay in a room with strangers.

Having said that, my bed is her safe place and goes there when scared. She is very loving when she is on the bed and paws me to pet her. But overall she is still scared of her shadow 8 years in. I would not trade her for anything- just saying she was imprinted early and cannot shake the scared of the world feeling no matter how much love myself and her 3 pack mates give her.
posted by shaarog at 8:01 AM on March 20, 2014

wwax: Three days is nothing.

Yeah, you are in for a pretty long haul. Our feral dog was on the skittish side for her whole life, but over the course of weeks, months, years was able to appreciate the value of a good skritch. You really do have to take things at her pace and understand that some of her limitations may be permanent. Our dog for example, was never able to ride in a car without vomiting and was pretty strongly dog-aggressive her whole life.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:15 AM on March 20, 2014

You guys! I feel terrible. You're absolutely right. Pictures! Here: Pic | Pic | Pic

Don't be fooled by the eye contact. These were all taken kind of over my shoulder and I called him to get him to look up just before the flash. He was definitely not approaching me and my camera!

There's no going outside until we can put a leash on him, and I think that's a ways off yet. Did I already thank the flying spaghetti monster for giving us the gift of elephant urine and giant absorbent pads? He's super good about peeing on the pads.

Thanks for the consensus on the crate. It will stay open. At the rescue, they were forcing him out of his crate and into social situations, but I decided today that I'm not sure that's cool. Mostly, he really struggles in the morning (two whole mornings, so far, so not a lot) between wanting to pee and not wanting to leave the crate. You can see the panic and indecision as he steps in and out. Want to pee. Do not want to leave crate. Want to pee. Do not want to leave crate.
posted by amandabee at 8:22 AM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

My brother was a vet tech and would come home with sooooo many stories that amounted to "I knew this animal when it was terrified and miserable, but with the right owner and enough love, you wouldn't believe how calm and snuggly it is now."

It may seem daunting. It took me six months of daily work with two feral kittens before I could even get them into the house, and then there was a lot of skittishness to say the least, not meeting my eyes, freaking out about any little noise, etc. I don't have many kitten pictures because the noise of the camera shutter was too scary. But now I have two affectionate sweet kitties.

Even on days when you aren't able to do anything that might feel like specifically "socializing the dog," you're still communicating a ton of useful messages, just by virtue of your home being a safe space. Little things may continue to make him nervous for a long time, but every day that where he doesn't have to feel terror or starvation, that day goes into the dog-brain bank and counts toward a time when eventually everything will click and he'll figure out he's in a safe place now. Just keep being kind and consistent and he'll get there.

And it sounds like you're both doing great for only three days in! Coming over to sniff you is an awesome indicator of curiosity, that he isn't totally controlled by fear. Answer that curiosity every time with quiet words, calm (or no) movement, or whatever seems to work on him as a message of "I am not scary, you are ok," and he'll get it in time. You might want to choose a specific phrase for these moments - to this day, I can see my cats calm down when I say "It's ok."
posted by jessicapierce at 9:18 AM on March 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

My dog wasn't feral (to my knowledge), but she was a stray before we adopted her and she's one of the most skittish dogs I've ever met. When we first brought her home, she was clearly out of her element. It took weeks before she would willingly leave the living room carpet to walk on the hardwood floors. Still more weeks before she ventured down the hallway. And at least a year before she conquered stairs. It was 2 years before she trusted me enough to expose her belly to me.

What I'm saying is that this is going to take a looooot of patience on your part. Tons. More than you ever knew you had. But it will be very rewarding in the end :)

Like everyone else said, leave the crate open at all times. My dog cowered in her crate for months when we first brought her home, and still does when anything scares her. It's their safe place and it's very important that it stay that way.

Get down on his level and let him approach you. Lay on the floor completely still if you must. If/when he does approach, praise and treat the daylights out of him (calmly, of course, so you don't startle him). You may need to work up to physical contact. Take it slow and let his reactions be your guide.

As long as he's drinking water, I wouldn't worry too much about the food - unless he's extremely underweight already. If I were in your shoes, I would maybe feed him half his daily food in a bowl, and feed him the other half by hand. Or maybe all food in a bowl, and feed him treats by hand. (Do some trial and error to see what treats really appeal to him. For my dog, it's fresh cooked chicken and salmon!)
posted by geeky at 11:08 AM on March 20, 2014

We adopted an abused/street dog, 7-month old, about a year and a half ago. She still super uncomfortable with eye contact. And hates being hugged. And snuggles. And showers. And TV... I'll stop here bc it's really long list of scary, terrifying things. But she'll let us do all of the above because we are her humans and feed her. Of course it's getting easier and easier over time. Patience. And kudos for adopting!

Beautiful puppy! Kinds looks like a cat in the third pic.

Pardon my ignorance on this, but why not use a collar and leash already?
posted by Neekee at 11:34 AM on March 20, 2014

I was just reading about ways to interact with shy dogs! This link may be useful.
posted by chowflap at 11:46 AM on March 20, 2014

Eileen and Dogs is the website of an amateur dog trainer with a feral dog. I'm not sure if she has any specific posts about socialising a feral dog (most likely she does) but her whole ethos is about building trust with dogs and maintaining that with positive humane training. Having a look through her posts might help you learn how to interact with and begin to train your new dog, on the road to a happy loving relationship.
posted by mymbleth at 11:58 AM on March 20, 2014

He's a beautiful dog!

The crate is his safe haven and you want that for him. At the same time, your rescue is correct in taking him out of his crate and outside of his comfort zone, which is different than "locking him out." It's ok to take him out of there to pee and it's ok to take him out to socialize. It's not cruel to do that.

Also, you can start working on eye contact = good things. If he's food motivated, take a treat, bring it to your eye level, and say something like "watch me" and reward him for making eye contact. This should be part of your training. Reward him for his secure interactions with you.

Another thing: Don't pity him. Don't walk on eggshells around him. Don't feel bad for him for being insecure and scared. Be positive, take the training slowly, but with an eye towards reaching small goals and then moving forward from there. Don't be afraid to take him out of his comfort zone in slow, easily attainable, ways. You just have to watch for when he's mentally exhausted or has reached a limit to which you have to pull back from and start over.

Good luck.
posted by vivzan at 12:49 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

One more thing: when I had a puppy, I fed her entire supply of food by using it as treats for when i was training her (obviously it was dry food), or within a kong. She didn't eat out of a bowl for a while. Try that?
posted by vivzan at 12:54 PM on March 20, 2014

I don't have anything to add, except what a handsome boy! Thank you for taking him in and being patient with him.
posted by sarajane at 1:47 PM on March 20, 2014

As a concerned owner, 3 days probably seems like an eternity, but it sounds like you're on the right track and mostly need to just be patient. Agree with others to let him hang out in his crate as much as possible. A lot of dogs (rescue and not) like to hang out in their crates as it's their safe space. You might think about feeding him in his crate with the door closed.
posted by radioamy at 2:17 PM on March 20, 2014

I know you're all waiting with baited breath to hear that he's lying next to me as I type and I can reach down and pet him if I want to. That's new -- a few days ago I got him to let me scratch him while playing, but just being allowed to pet him is a big step.

And he can walk back to his crate if he wants to. We're still working on the whole leash thing -- loads of snarling, snapping and outright biting when we try to get a collar on him, but we manage to do it twice a day and then wait, sometimes 20 minutes, until he takes a few steps.

And, contrary to anything I ever thought I'd do, I've been organizing playdates FOR A DOG so he can socialize while we work on convincing him that the leash holds the key to a huge amazing universe that he's going to love.
posted by amandabee at 5:04 PM on March 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just ... FYI, he's letting our foster kids pet him and use him as a pillow these days, so Memail me if you need some advice civilizing a feral dog. :)
posted by amandabee at 8:11 AM on November 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

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