Years ago, I noticed that lots of attention helped deficit dogs. Deficit dogs, dogs who had limited/inadequate early socialization, often are disconnected from humans. My early training in dogs had taught me that the way to reorient a dog to humans was to limit attention and have them work for the attention they did get. That is a useful approach for many but a total fail with most deficit dogs.
Much to my surprise what worked best was heaping on the very sorts of attention that I advised other people with out-of-control dogs to withdraw: lap time, couch time, bed time, “unearned” contact.
Why? Why did that make such improvements?
Recently, I was reading about how oxytocin ( the “cuddle” hormone) seems to be helpful for some autistic children and the lightbulb went off. Of course! For dogs out of connection, for dogs who are not yet social with humans, raising their oxytocin levels makes them more social and once the dog is more social then training/bonding is easier.
What increases oxytocin levels? Loving touch, hugs, cuddling, loving interaction, gazing at a loved one and being gazed at. Such things raise this hormone in us as they raise it in them. And that’s why doing so many things I had been taught not to do can help these dogs.
And, it benefits both dogs and humans. Boosting our levels can help things, as well. After all, people caring for dogs who are not yet social can feel quietly disappointed or even rejected. Increasing loving handling and touch increases the human’s oxytocin and therefore increases their attachment. So doing all this strengthens the bond in both directions.
I certainly have experienced this. Three of my personal dogs have been seriously deficit dogs: PJ out of a backyard in Queens, NY apparently untouched by humans, Milo out of a food trial laboratory where he had never seen the outside world or people not in white lab coats and Pip from a roadside in Kentucky who had no interest in people in general or me in particular. These dogs all taught me that breaking the old rules got me the results I wanted.
Now, this increase in attention/touch/cuddling has to be at a level the dog can accept. Our goal is not to frighten deficit dogs further but to help engage them. Gentle touch then moving away from the dog, allowing the dog to sit/curl next to you, treat training can all get things going in the right direction. There is much skill involved so please seek hands on help if you think your dog is deficit.
The most important message from this blog is things can get better. A lot better. PJ, Milo and Pip grew into the wonderful, social dogs they were always meant to be. Helping deficit dogs past their pasts and into their happier futures is one of the great feelings in life.
One of the great feelings.