When we adopted Otis (then Ricky) in May of 2020, he was a very sweet yet timid four-and-a-half-year-old pup. PAW said they believed he was a failed hunting dog, so we knew he would need a bit of reassurance and time to acclimate to a home environment. As he settled into his new home and family (two pup parents and a quite energetic one-year-old pup named Etta), we quickly discovered that he was a very fearful dog who struggled a lot with quick movements, being in small spaces (like hallways, bathrooms, or stairways), and the attention paid to him by our rambunctious Etta. He also was reactive on walks and unsure of how to act in new situations, usually resorting to freezing or fleeing.
Initially, we felt overwhelmed with the pairing of a fearful dog who needed space and a puppy who didn’t fully understand boundaries or body language, but we set our sights on meeting the needs of both pups and did as much research as we could. We knew Otis needed some time and space to acclimate, so we restricted Etta’s access to him and started taking twice-daily walks as we noticed he seemed the most confident outdoors. These walks allowed Otis to get exposure to Etta and the two of us in a positive way without the confining walls of a house.
After giving him a few months to quietly adjust to his new life and new family, we employed the help of a local trainer who works with fearful dogs using positive, science-supported training methods. Bringing in a trainer to help us work with Otis to replace his fear and reactivity with confidence and comfort was such a transformative experience for us and Otis. Upon the trainer’s recommendation, we immediately started providing enrichment activities for Otis two or three times a day (squeaky toys, snuffle matts, Kongs, etc.) and an extra decompression walk each week to help him get any nervous energy out and explore his natural and soothing behaviors like sniffing, rooting, and licking.
We worked with our vet to assess his anxiety level and provide appropriate medications to help manage it, and we worked diligently on his leash reactivity over several months, which resulted in much happier and relaxed walks for Otis (and us). After a year of training with Otis, he is a much happier and more confident pup who loves a belly scratch and isn’t afraid to explore new situations, even if at a slower pace than other pups.
This gentle and patient approach to training with Otis has allowed us to build a strong, caring, and loving relationship with this gentle boy, which has been such a blessing. Otis is the sweetest dog you’ll ever meet and now feels confident enough to ask for endless pets and squeaky toys whenever he wants them. We always happily oblige.