I awoke in the morning, looking forward to the scheduled telephone conference with Victoria Stilwell later that afternoon. Things were looking up.
Logan had a family that wanted to give him a home. Their experiences with their previous dog demonstrated their commitment to and understanding of a dog with special behavioral needs. More than anything, they met Logan out at our home and found him to be wonderful. Logan, too, seemed just as taken with them.
But I worried. How could we ensure that this placement would work? How should his new family handle him in the event he gave a “back off!” nip?
I found some extra time to jot down my thoughts in advance before some
fellow Buffalo Humane volunteers joined me, excited to hear what
Victoria had to say.
Victoria’s call came promptly at 2 p.m. I answered and gave a quick overview of Logan’s nipping problem.
Victoria asked about the nature of Logan’s issue. Did he use his entire
mouth, or just the front teeth? “Not the entire mouth,” I replied. “A
bit more than just the front teeth, but no canine teeth.”
How had I handled the nipping incident? “Well, there have only been a
couple: once when attempting unsuccessfully to bathe him, another when
looking at a knick on his neck. I went to get a leash, then guided him
to his crate for a time out.”
Victoria stressed the importance of using non-confrontational methods
with Logan. Aggression like this is often due to anxiety and fear, so
responding negatively only feeds the same emotions. It is important
that Logan not feel a need to escalate the aggression.
“Currently, Logan is demonstrating good bite inhibition and a soft
mouth,” Victoria explained, “so corrections must be non-threatening,
but should communicate that the behavior is inappropriate.”
Victoria suggested leaving a short leash dangling on Logan. In the
event that he nips, we should say “uh-oh!” in almost a child-like way, then
remove Logan to a room (such as the bathroom) where he will stay for a
short time out. After about a minute, Logan can come out.
“Don’t use his crate for a time out,” she cautioned. “His crate should always be a positive thing.”
I took this opportunity to ask how we might ease Logan’s transition to his new home.
Victoria suggested having the new family provide a blanket, or a
similar item that has their smells, to keep with his things while he’s in foster care. When he goes to their home, many items from his foster
home should go with him (crate, pad/bed, bowls, toys, etc.). When
I looked over, our cat behavior specialist nodded in understanding.
“I worry that the new family might try too hard to love Logan right
away and won’t give him time to settle in first,” I said. This can be a
common problem in new homes.
Victoria responded that dogs definitely need their personal space,
especially in Logan’s case. We should encourage the family to be
somewhat aloof at first and let Logan dictate the terms of engagement.
“I always try to put this in human terms,” Victoria explained. “Imagine
that you were put in an entirely new place with strange people you
didn’t know. And they keep wanting to get right up close to you and
touch you and you don’t even really know who these people are. How
would you feel? Very uncomfortable, I would suppose.”
Victoria also said that when we took Logan to his new home, I would
need to leave in a very matter-of-fact way, and perhaps out of Logan’s
sight. No long good-byes, nothing that might increase Logan’s
Final question: Logan will need to go to the vet for updated
vaccinations and microchipping. What can we do to reduce the stress of
this and also ensure that no one gets nipped?
Victoria reflected that having a vet come to the home would be ideal,
but might not be practical. Veterinary visits can be notoriously
stressful for dogs since they are almost always negative. Preparing for
such a visit can help immensely. Simply going to the vet’s office and
giving treats with no checkup at all can help a dog learn to relax.
In Logan’s case, he should be muzzled to keep everyone safe, but we
should try to make the experience as positive as possible — and I would go with his new parents to help. We are also
ordering a basket muzzle and will acclimate him to it prior to the
As the consultation came to a close, I thanked Victoria for her
wonderful suggestions and ideas. Victoria wished us well, and said she
would be following Logan’s progress on the Petfinder blog.
After the consultation ended, the other volunteers and I talked a bit
about what Victoria had to say. Like many of us, Jill Domagala, one of
our more prolific foster parents, said she learned a lot: “When a new
dog arrives, I always try to give him lots of attention, as if to make
up for what the dog has missed in his life. But today, I learned that I
should give the dog some space and time, at least until he settles in
and feels more comfortable.”
So Logan has a new home lined up and, thanks to Petfinder and Victoria Stilwell, we have a strategy for his transition. Will he last more than 48 hours? Will he return to his foster home, or will he settle in comfortably with his new family?
Stay tuned for more updates about Logan’s progress.