Recently I began to work with a rescue named Bacall. Bacall is a mixed breed rescue from Israel Bacall is a non-typical beauty. She wears a mantle of short golden blonde hair, with black pointed ears. You can she is a good listener with ears as big as hers. Bacall has soft brown eyes framed in black fur. Her face could be compared to a lovely timeless soul who has seen too much in her young life. When she smiles, she looks weary and happy, her face creases inward, hinting at stories of the past that she keeps a secret.
I was introduced to Bacall through Dog Tales Rescue and Sanctuary, a different kind of organization who actively finds and then rescues both dogs and horses from around the world. They are delivered into luxurious accommodations and world-class care. Bacall arrived in Canada at the Sanctuary for two weeks before coming into our home. Bacall’s nature was friendly with humans although she was unsure that everyone would be kind to her.
A rescue dog is different than an adopted dog. A rescue dog is a dog who has been traumatized physically or mentally. Their true personality cannot be fully revealed until they have been worked with by a trained behaviorist. A behaviorist has the knowledge and understanding to guide the dog to integrate with his/her's new life. An adopted dog may have been pre-loved and needs a new home, but is still mentally and physically sound. Adopted dogs still may need some professional assistance if they have behavioral issues as they adjust into a new home but not to the same degree.
What was known about Bacall's background, like many rescues, is limited and established theories were created based on facts known. Behaviorist working with rescue dogs generally begin by observing the dog to find clues to help understand what may or may not have happened to cause the trauma. We know Bacall was one of 240 dogs that were packed into a kennel meant to house 70 dogs. She shared a kennel with at least one other dog possibly more. We heard feeding was an unreliable event with a lack of concern with proper nutrition. Visitors would throw scraps in for the dogs. Observed as underweight on her arrival, her ribs were clearly prominent. Also noted by her rescuers was the kennel where she was found had several dead rats and mice found both outside and inside the kennel. Horrid conditions for any living being to be in.
Based on observed and known facts described above, theories were used to inform and design a mental simulation game. One theory, she has a mistrust that food will always be provided by her caregivers. Another theory is that Bacall on hearing a noise which she cannot see nor make sense of, signals her to respond and alert her kennel mates through barking and howling.
The theories are an important starting point to her rehabilitation and must be disproven or updated as required. As a starting point, the theories provide a backbone for establishing a strategy for goal-making and designing mental stimulation games. The goals were for the games were as follows:
• Gain trust
• Build confidence
• Reduce her mental discomfort
• Help Bacall progress in her journey to integrate herself into her new life
Here is one of the mental stimulation games created for Bacall:
Hide and Go Seek the Caregiver & Treat
Using the popular childhood game of Hide and Go Seek, we added to the game a treat reward when the dog successfully finds the person who is hidden. This game can be played indoor or for more advanced play, outdoors. It requires two people with several treats on hand. It also requires enough room where the dog cannot visually see a person hiding, without introducing a level of seeking action by the dog. The game requires both people participating to have an equal number of treats. One person, joined by the dog, delivers an initial treat, thus distracting the dog. The other person then hides within the house. The hidden person then provides a sound cue. The cue may be their name, a word, or repeatable sound. The dog on hearing the sound should first think about what they are hearing, connect the noise to the action of seeking and then begin using their nose to seek out the person. On finding the person who was hidden, they receive a treat. The first time this is played I recommend the sound be repeated several times to reduce any frustration or anxiety around the noise and to help the dog be successful. The time lapse between the noise and the treat must be sufficiently short to establish engagement and build confidence. The frequency of the sound cue can be decreased once confidence is built and full engagement is seen. It is suggested to play the game for an agreed set of rounds with an equal amount of treats split between the person with the dog, and the person who is hiding (10 is a good start). The game is ended by all by coming together, with the people holding their hand outwards and empty, communicating there are no more treats.
To play this game with Bacall, I engaged a helper, Martin. Ten treats were split between the two of us. Martin began by herding Bacall into a room out of sight of hiding areas. In a few seconds, I was hidden, and I gave the sound cue. Martin then encouraged the dog to find out what the noise was and to seek it out. He observed Bacall's body language for later discussion. If Bacall and Martin sounded like they were going in the wrong direction, another noise cue was made to help redirect the dog. In turn, once Bacall had found me and received a reward, I distracted her with congratulatory scratches until Martin was hidden and in turn, gave a sound cue. Then, I followed and encouraged Bacall until she successfully found him and received a treat. The game continued until all treats were consumed.
Bacall loved this game and we saw her make leaps forward with her confidence. It was fascinating to watch her use her sense of the house, smell and noise to solve the problem. Bacall was clearly happy with the stimulation and us. The noise cues we used are becoming linked to the desired behavior: if she comes to us when we make the noise she will receive a treat. Foundationally it is a start to mapping sound cues to a desire to be with us.
Let me know if you try this game with your dog. I would love to hear what you experienced? Did you dog appear to enjoy the game?
More about the author:
Sparky Smith is a certified Canine Behaviorist and a Cognitive Assessor of Dogs, working at the Executive Pet Services & Resort. Sparky creates and implements specialized games to find out your Dog's strengths and weaknesses in their intelligence. Your Dog's unique ability is used to help tailor confidence-building, pleasurable experiences for each Guests at the Resort. Sparky is continuing her life-long studies on Dog's through the International School of Canine Psychology and is currently working towards her diploma.
'Sparky' Smith is a Canine Behaviorist and Practioner, educated through the International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour, earning her ISCP.DIP.CANINE.PRAC.