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There is a good probability that we may be getting a scared little boy to foster in the upcoming weeks and I wanted to pick your collective brains on strategies to bring him out of his shell. Last Saturday I got to sit and interact with him for a bit at an adoption event and he seems to have just “shut down”. He seems to like it when I scratch behind his ears but that’s about as much interaction as I get.

He’s a beautiful, one-to-two year old full BC that comes from a situation of extreme neglect, where he had little human contact. What contact he had was possibly abusive and he was probably left for long periods in a crate. From my observations, he’s not really reactive and doesn’t cower overtly, he just seems to be one stressed little lump in situations where there’s a lot going on and new people about.

I’ve been told that he seems to have a strong herding instinct, loves to play with other dogs but just seems unsure whether to trust humans and hasn’t gotten the hang of toys.

We plan on setting everything up at our house so that when he comes home he has his “den” where he can feel comfortable in the short term. Given the timing we’ll be able to give him a lot of one-on-one attention over the upcoming holidays. We’re also planning on getting some “doggie crack” to hand feed him.


My question is; what are some other strategies to coax him out of his shell?

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Patience is 90% of the game.


Take it slowly and learn his comfort (and discomfort) levels. Gradually and gently push him to accept a tiny bit more each time. You need to earn his trust and that comes very slowly in a dog like that. He likes to be scratched? Good, use that as a starting point. Treats can help to break the ice, but their benefit fades away fast. Use them to help in certain situations where an extra push is needed, but don't overdo them.


Read Constance's thread on Kelso. You will see that progress can be slow and it's easy to feel you are going nowhere, but when you read her latest posts and compare back to how Kelso was when he came to her, you will marvel at the extent of his readjustment.

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Give him time and lots of patience! I got one in that I planned to put down-not something I usually do but this dog had a bite history. She was so scared I couldn't touch her-nor did I want to as I was sure she would bite. But the owner was such an A$$ I had him put her into a kennel and it was 3 days before I could even touch her. It took my husband(dogs usually love him) 3 weeks just to touch her. After much time and patience she started working and became quite friendly-earning her CGC and being rehomed with a friend who knew her history. It can be done just lots of time and patience.

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Time, time, time, time, time, time, time, time, time.


Tessa was a lot like you describe and it simply took time. She spent a lot of time just being in our house - watching what was going on, no real expectations on her.


When I did start training her, we took babysteps of babysteps, and sometimes I still had to back up and move slower.


Appreciate the little victories. I'll never forget the first time Tessa actually went through a door ahead of me, or the first time she was comfortable enough to eat with me in the room with her, or the first time I woke up and her chin was on my leg.


I pretty much ignored all of the conventional advice of hand feeding or tying her to me to make her bond or separating her from the other dogs so she would bond with me. That just wasn't appropriate for her. I let her eat far enough away from me to be comfortable, once I knew she was trustworthy in the house, I let her choose where she wanted to be (at first she stayed far away, gradually progressed to wandering in and out, and eventually just became normal - hanging out when she wants to, going off on her own when she wants to, like my other dogs), and I let her bond with the dogs as much as she needed to for her own security.


It paid off. I think she and I may well have the strongest bond I've ever experienced.


My point in saying that is just to point out that with a fearful dog, what is needed is not always what is conventionally advised. There are times when conventional advice does provide the best approach, but there are also times when such approaches would do more harm than good. It is critical to learn to read the dog.


Finally, appreciate him for who he is. He will bring something to your household, and to you, that no other dog can. It may take him a while to be comfortable enough to show you the best in himself, but the best in him is there. When you earn his trust, the rewards will be more than worth the wait.

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When you bring him into your home, try crating him for a few days where he can observe the house hold but not need to interact with the people. Or your den area should work good for this too. Just an area where he can figure things out without any pressure to interact. Then several times a day walk over with a few pieces of "doggie crack" place them where he can get them and walk away.


When he gets to the point where he seems eager when you bring the treats, put them down and stay in the vicinity (ignoring him). Then work it in baby steps until he's ready to take treats from you.


If you've got a fenced in yard to work in, after a few days take him outside, turn him loose and do a short training session with Cerb. Once again, you're letting him observe and figure things out without the pressure to interact.


Basically you let him figure out his new world, become comfortable with it and chose to interact with you before you go further.


Anything that has to be done (ie, if you need to take him outside on a leash and he still isn't sure about interacting with you) just do it in a low key, no nonsense way. Do what needs to be done, but still don't force him to interact with you if he's not ready to trust you.


ETA - if he likes to interact with other dogs and Cerb likes to interact with you that should really help. Let them play, call Cerb over to you and play with him reward him, then let them play again. Let him learn from Cerb that people can be really awesome!

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Lots of great suggestions so far. The central theme seems to be time; take it easy and progress on his terms. Don't push it and don't be afraid of going back to his last comfortable point if he starts to shut down again. I really like the idea of letting him observe from his "den" for a couple of days before we do anything, and keeping the hustle and bustle to a minimun.

Cerb just turned two in October and can be pretty hyper, but he's also an incredible sweetie who loves and craves human interaction. If the new dog wants to be with Cerb, that necessitates that he be near me.


Thanks and keep the good advice coming.

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Have you joined the Border Collie Rescue of Texas Support Group on Yahoo? It is great group. It was set up specifically to help the foster homes with the dogs rescued from the McKinley Hoarding situation and the Jefferson hoarding situation, and they just rescued a group of 13 dogs from a home.

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Lewis, best of luck to you. If it helps you to read the thread I wrote (am still writing) about Kelso in the Rescue Resources section, great. Good suggestions, above. the main thing, I will reiterate, is time and patience, although it really never seems like patience to me, except for trying to be patient with myself when I do something that doesn't work well. Mostly, I have come to believe that these dogs have their own time table and will come out on their own, if given the right atmosphere and enough time. I tried all kinds of plans and programs and strategies for months with Kelso and am now just living with him and I think his progress is steadier and more grounded as a result. You never know what will work best with one dog or another. I had no idea when I took Kelso on that it would be such a long process, so prepare yourself to have the dog for a long time in case it goes that way. No regrets on my part, at all. But what I thought would be a 6 month process is more likely to become a year and a half before he is ready to be adopted.


If you ever want to run a specific thing by me, PM me and I will do my best to help.

Have a good journey with the dog, and keep us informed!


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Well, I'm both sad...and happy to tell you that the pooch I was hoping to foster will be staying with his present foster mom. After a lengthy round of e-mails and phone chats, It was decided that it would be better for him to stay where he is.

A little background: The dog is already in our foster system, staying with his second foster family. The opportunity to foster him was offered in a well meaning attempt to relieve some of the stress from his present foster mom. Upon taking with her, I found out that he was becoming comfortable in her home and was making progress in his recovery. We both decided that moving him at this point would not be in his best interest. We'll just have to wait our turn for another foster to come into our system.


Thanks all.

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We got our Jack from the Humane Society when he was estimated to be between 4-5 years old.


Very scared, meek and withdrawn. He was obviously treated very poorly by some scummy person or persons.


I tried everything to get him to perk up and join our family and had no real luck.


Finally, I decided that I would "out-meek" him.


I would lay on the floor in front of him on my belly with my chin on the floor and squint at him, making soft sounds and the like. I'd roll over on my back and snuggle up against him in real subservient fashion. I just persisted for several days like this and all of a sudden, he made a playful lunge at me and wagged his tail for the first time I had seen. I immediately took him outside and began running around him in circles and by golly he responded like a pup out of nowhere. When we went back inside he ran to my wife, wagging his tail and nudging at her like a real live Border Collie. Something we had never witnessed out of him before.


That was about five years ago. Today Jack is still a very docile, submissive dog, but really well adjusted, extremely well behaved, friendly and pretty much a big hug toy. He just cringes and cowers if anyone raises their voice in his presence - we never do so with him because of his "quirk in that way. He has the personality of an aloof cat Versus an outgoing BC, but he is one great companion and friend.


I'm certainly no expert in such matters, but just wanted to share what worked for one dog with one man.

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