When Nikita came into the care of the Ontario SPCA and Humane Society, she was anxious and fearful of people and new environments. She would pee in the house, a submissive, fear-based behaviour. Her entire posture was submissive, closed and nervous. Even treats weren’t enough of an enticement for her to trust someone new.
Changing lives at the Dog Rehabilitation Centre
Imagine a place where dogs like Nikita, who need special care and training, will thrive – a place where dogs experiencing challenges will have the emotional and behavioural support they need. That place is the Ontario SPCA Provincial Dog Rehabilitation Centre currently being built in Peterborough.
Once complete in late 2022, it will offer services and space for the unique needs of dogs requiring more time to learn to be the best they can be. The facility will have training rooms where very anxious, submissive dogs like Nikita can receive more specialized care for behavioural challenges.
Taking time to trust again
Rehabilitating dogs like Nikita is far more challenging in an animal centre environment, where there are many other animals who are also in need of care. Hours of behavioural sessions were spent trying to gain Nikita’s trust and spark her interest and curiosity. The animal care team made sure to offer positive reinforcement to build her confidence. It didn’t happen immediately, but slowly they gained Nikita’s trust – she became curious and would finally take treats.
Accepting treats was the first small glimmer of hope that Nikita was learning to trust. The real breakthrough came when Nikita chased after a ball. She loved to play fetch! Her ears perked up and she became engaged in the game, her nervousness forgotten.
When she was playing fetch, she was no longer anxious and submissive. With a mix of tossing the ball, offering treats and asking for a paw (which was her favourite verbal cue),
she began trusting other staff. More time was spent with her, giving her choices, being non-threatening and reassuring. Slow progress to overcome her fearfulness began. Her submissive peeing stopped, and she was able to go to a foster-to-adopt home.
Nikita meets her new family
“She’s a sweet dog,” says Nikita’s adopter, Chad. “She is kind and gentle with the family.” But progress isn’t a straight line. As he explains, just like with people, insecurity shows itself at different times and often has inexplicable triggers. Nikita’s submissive peeing returned when they first started fostering her in January. It is lessening as she gets more comfortable with her new family. Nikita’s new dad has had many dogs in his lifetime and has spent time researching submissive behaviour as well as getting helpful techniques from the Ontario SPCA.
“She absolutely loves going for rides in my truck,” Chad says. She finds a spot just behind his seat and gazes out the window. At first, she was very nervous getting into the truck. Once he threw her ball in the cab, she was in and there was no looking back. Now, going for a ride is one of her favourite things to do. Chad will often drive his son to high school just to give Nikita some additional truck time.
When Chad’s son is taking the school bus, they will walk Nikita to the bus stop so she has more exposure to people. To help ensures positive interactions, they have explained to the kids and parents at the bus stop how to be calm and non-threatening to Nikita.
Dedicated to helping Nikita continue to thrive, Chad’s son is planning on taking additional training with her to help her become even more confident and trusting. He has a close bond with Nikita and wants to help her become her best self.
Building a brighter future together
Extra time and training is needed for dogs like Nikita. If you would like to help improve the possibilities for dogs with emotional and behavioural issues, consider donating to the Provincial Dog Rehabilitation Centre. Visit ontariospca.ca/dogrehab to learn more.