Building Resilience in Dogs

by Mike Baughman

I recently watched a webinar on building resilience in dogs, presented by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., CAAB. I wanted to share a few key points. This is great information for anyone with a dog but especially for recently adopted dogs and fosters.

Resilience is a dog’s intensity of response to an environmental stimuli and their recovery time. A dog with a lot of resilience won't be as affected by trauma and will bounce back faster.

Resilience-BlogThere are 3 main sources of resilience:
Early development
Current environment

We can't change their genetics. Some of you do raise puppies so you can have an effect on early development. Early development starts in utero and in the first few weeks after birth. We have the biggest influence on their current environment and that is where this presentation focuses. "Building resilience is similar to healing individuals after trauma"

Resilience requires:
Sense of safety and security - reduce sensory overload, audible, visual, and olfactory stimulation. Create predictability. At Healthy Paws (where we train rescues) we are fortunate to have a hallway just for the rescues where they cannot see any dogs when in their kennel. Patricia McConnell states one of the worst things we can do is have dogs facing each other in kennels or crates. Many fosters foster multiple dogs and use crates. So a good way to reduce visual stimulation is by having the crates in separate rooms or at least blankets covering the crates so the dogs cannot see each other. At Healthy Paws we reduce audible stimulation by playing classical music for them to help soothe them and prevent them from hearing things outside of their hall (their hall is closed off with doors at each end). We also reduce audible stimulation by walking down the run and tossing food to each dog as we pass to prevent them from barking when people walk by. You can do the same at your home. Play music. If you have multiple dogs in crates give them busy treats inside the crates. If you just have one dog, give them a safe place to be where you can reduce visual and audible stimulation. Reduce olfactory stimulation. She talks about your dog’s blanket and not washing it unless you have to. Keep the scent the same. You can also achieve this be reducing exposure to external stimuli. Don't take your dog places or have people come over, especially with new dogs in your home. For you fosters, don't take the dog to an event for at least 3 weeks. Adopters, I know you want everyone to meet your dog but it is better to wait. You want to take your dog everywhere you go, just wait. Build resilience in your dog first, give them safety and predictability. How do you create predictability? Give them a routine like scheduled feedings, potty times, and a rest area. Prevent the unpredictable like going to random places at random times, having people come over randomly. Also be predictable in how you handle and treat your dog. Without saying, that means no force, no fear, no pain, and no aversive punishment.

Provide social support:
Many dogs are afraid of people, especially when they don't know you and you just turned their world upside down. New house, new people, and possibly new animals to meet. That's hard. So we provide social support by just being there. I will go a step further and say be there and predict good things. When they see you, toss them a treat. Avoid petting them, talking to them, and forget about training. Just let them be. Support them.

Sense of autonomy:
This is so crucial. CREATE CHOICE! Give your dog the power of choice. Again this means no force, no aversive punishment. Let them be and make their own choices. They’re getting into the trash? Pick up the trash container, put a lid on it, close the bathroom door. Manage the environment so they cannot get into harmful things. Your dog won't come out of the crate, that's ok! Give him time, give him choice. Allow all interactions to be on his terms; don't force him to meet a person, a dog, or anything. Play training games that make the dog think and make their own choices and are reinforced for their choices. Free shaping is excellent, puzzle games are awesome, teaching tricks. Positive reinforcement!

Health and balance internal physiology:
This is the last one. Exercise and the outdoors can have a therapeutic effect. But make sure your dog is enjoying it. Many dogs cannot go on walks as they are too afraid to go. Or the walk stresses them out due to dogs out there or people. Instead spend some time just in your yard or a field with nobody around.

Fosters you can save dogs after the rescue! You can have successful adoptions and reduce return rates! Adopters you can have better success bringing that dog home!

Thanks for everything all of you do for our animals!!!

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