The very first week I had Melvin he gave me indication of past mistreatment by two objects. The broom and hangers. I brought the broom in on his second or third day with us and he dropped to the floor and nervous pee’d. I knew instantly it was the broom. The hanger was even worse. When you take your clothes off a hanger there is a swinging motion, the very first time I did this in front of Melvin he ran to the corner, cowered and moaned. Again, there was pee. On both occasions I quickly put the object away, with minimal gesture and sat on the floor near Melvin and allowed him to come to me on his own. What was going through my head at that point was of course anger (at humans) but what was going through my heart was that I needed to put his past behind him and introduce him to the here and now.
After that, I set out on a mission to desensitize him. I started with the broom. He’d get a treat, then I’d say ‘broom’ so he’d learn what was coming and then I’d treat him while the broom was around. I’d put the broom on the floor and put treats around it and when I’d do the sweeping motion (a gentle sweeping motion of course) I’d drop treats and let the broom sweep them toward Melvin, almost like the broom was dispensing the treats. I did similar efforts with hangers, although the hanger training took much longer. With the hanger, I moved from just showing it to him, then to laying the hanger on the floor and treating him around it and finally graduation came when I was able to massage him with a hanger. The whole process took months and months and more months. Now, he dens in my closet and hangers fall on him and he does not even flinch. Sweet, sweet success!
Because of those issues with Melvin I have always tried to desensitize the dogs to just about everything. When I’m carrying clothes to the hamper, I always let something fall near them or drag across them so they learn that sometimes that could happen and to not be afraid. When I’m carrying a box to the trash, I always put it low so it grazes them, just in the case a box ever falls near them or they brush up against one. They are exposed to the remote, the phone (and all it’s noises), towels and falling pillows. To this day I still proactively expose Melvin to hangers, and have added Jake to the mix. Googly eyes is pretty skittish over noises and fast movements but I’ve seen a huge improvement with him by just doing these things regularly. If anyone were to ever look in my window I’m pretty sure they would think they had arrived in Crazyville. So be it!
I think a lot of success with de-sensitizing has to do with the human’s energy. While the boys know I would never hurt them, they don’t always have the same faith in inanimate objects. So pairing me with the object and over exposing them to items has really helped them both find a calm. Which in return gives me a calm.
So if you ever come over and accidentally drop your coat on Jake, or flip your shoe off near Melvin’s head, no worries, they’re used to it! And as for Melvin’s past mistreatment, well that was a long time ago. A whole lifetime ago in fact. I believe truly and deeply that he has moved on, that those moments no longer haunt him. In fact, I bet if we ran into anyone that might have caused him fear at one point in time, that he’d now greet them with wags and happiness. Sure, at the beginning when I saw his terror, I wanted to hurt someone back, but rescue requires you to walk with your dog, from one life to the next. They bring baggage and you unpack the baggage and then you figure out where to put the stuff. Me being mad would not have helped Melvin. He needed me to be calm and kind and thoughtful.
Here. And. Now.