Since March, the Humane Rescue Alliance behavior and training team has been working overtime with a group of 36 chihuahua-type dogs to prepare them for life in homes.
The dogs, ranging in age from 1 to 7-years-old, came to the Humane Rescue Alliance from Mississippi as part of a large-scale surrendered situation of more than 250 chihuahuas. While healthy, the dogs were all under socialized, shut down, and understandably fearful in their new environment.
HRA’s behavior and training team has been implementing a detailed training regimen to build their confidence and work on socialization skills.
“We started slowly, with drive-by trainings where we approach the animal, toss a treat, and then walk away,” said Alexandra Dilley, HRA’s Director of Behavior and Training. “This is a very helpful first step with dogs that are really scared of people, using the principles of classical counter-conditioning and desensitization."
By tossing a treat after they approach, Dilley and her team are able to associate the approach with something good for the animal. And by not lingering after they toss the treat, the experience is short, which makes the human interaction tolerable. This technique is used for all fearful animals when they first come to HRA. In just a few days we generally see the animal start to positively anticipate our behavior staff, which allows them to elongate the interactions and progress to other training techniques.
“For the chihuahuas, we have to manage their environment closely, so they're not experiencing things that are too scary, too quickly, which could set them back,” said Dilley. “Once we gain their trust, we can begin exposing them to new people, and for those that like other dogs, we’ll also introduce them to social dogs they can learn from during training sessions.”
For now, the dogs are only interacting with specific animal care, medical, and behavior staff tasked with caring for them. In addition, HRA’s behavior team is currently handfeeding the chihuahuas all of their meals, gradually helping them get closer and more confident around people. Next, they’ll work on getting the dogs to touch the trainers’ hands, and pair gentle handling with food, and eventually help them become comfortable with leashing.
Before being made available for adoption, our goal is for each of these dogs to be able to be handled and leashed. Once adopted, the work for these dogs will need to continue. With support from HRA’s behavior staff, we hope adopters will use positive experiences and give the dogs space to acclimate to new situations that will occur in the home.
“Just being in a home will be novel for these guys, especially in an urban environment,” said Dilley. “It will take time for them to get comfortable with their new surroundings, and we’re encouraging adopters to go slowly and have patience as they get comfortable.”
The Humane Rescue Alliance is fortunate to have such a talented, caring, and compassionate group of professionals working on behalf of these dogs. With a continued commitment to their care and training plan, we’re looking forward to finding them homes here in DC where they can continue to thrive.
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