This week for #RehabWednesday, I want to highlight Oliver, an 8-year old dog who came to Brother Wolf after floods threatened his community in South Carolina in 2015. In Oliver’s pre-Brother Wolf life, he lived on a chain outdoors, which led him to acquire some behavioral challenges.
According to Rhi, an experienced kennel staff member who has developed a relationship with Oliver over the past couple of years, “He was very mouthy and energetic when he came to us. He didn’t behave in a way we want dogs to behave around humans. I think his behavior was because he hadn’t gotten much human interaction in his previous home.”
Through extensive work with kennel staff like Rhi and the behavior team, Oliver has learned not to be so mouthy with visitors. They have been able to teach him that he will get more praise and reward when he remains calm.
Unfortunately, while Oliver has made progress on some of his behaviors over the past couple of years, other behaviors have emerged or gotten worse. “What he’s experiencing is typical for many dogs who stay in a shelter environment for a long period of time,” Rhi says. “It’s hard on them.”
While he came to us with some food guarding issues, for instance, he now guards people that he has built emotional connections with. “When you haven’t had much in your life that makes you feel good,” Rhi explains, “you get worried about things being taken away from you once you get them. I think that’s why Oliver guards. He is finally getting the affection he has been wanting and now he’s just trying to protect the people who have given him a better life.”
His behavior recently got him in trouble in an adoptive home, which ultimately resulted in him being returned to us with some tight restrictions about who he is able to interact with and what kind of home can be adopted to in the future.
There is currently an adoption hold on Oliver while we assess his behavior and can make sure we’re able to create an environment that’s safe for him and our community. Once he’s available again, his future adopter will have to agree to certain requirements such as single–family housing, liability insurance, and putting a muzzle on him if he leaves their property.
An adopter must also commit time to ongoing positive training with Oliver around his guarding issues, not just management. Our behavior team will continue to work with Oliver post-adoption.
Now that Oliver is back at the Adoption Center, he is only allowed to directly interact with a few very experienced staff members and can have no contact with volunteers. Rhi says that the “restrictions are frustrating because they really limit the things we can do to improve his behaviors.”
Rhi, other kennel workers, and behavior team volunteers began thinking about ways they could give Oliver the attention he needs and deserves while abiding by the restrictions that have been set for him.
“He really does need to be around new people,” Rhi says, “so he can learn to not be so reactive to them. We started thinking of ways people can engage him from outside of his run. One of the behavior team volunteers, Nancy, suggested that we find him a sturdy box to stand on when prompted. I couldn’t find a box, but I did find a small skateboard at the thrift store next door.”
Their goal was to get him to put his front paws on the skateboard when visitors prompt him with a special hand signal. While he is doing the trick perfectly with experienced staff members inside his run, he’s having some trouble learning how to do it through the barrier of his run, possibly because he can’t see or hear very well. In the meantime, volunteers have been working with Oliver using a clicker and treats.
Animals like Oliver wouldn’t stand a chance in other shelters, that don’t have the resources and skills to work with him to solve his behavioral challenges. Our team works tirelessly with him and other behaviorally challenged animals every day to ensure happy healthy lives for each one.
We can’t continue to do this work without your help! Please consider making a donation today to the Help Me Learn fund, which gives our staff and volunteers the resources they need to train dogs like Oliver. When it comes to funding this life-saving work, every dollar makes a huge difference!