General Non-Fiction posted September 19, 2023

This work has reached the exceptional level
So easy, it's worth trying

Maybe ... a simple solution

by Wendy G

Today, while out walking, Sunny and I met a dog named Basil, roughly the same age and size as Sunny, together with his owner. They clicked immediately and enjoyed their playtime together, always beautiful to watch. Strangely enough, we did not introduce ourselves, just enquired about our dogs’ names – somehow that’s what “dog people” do.

As we conversed, I was telling her that Sunny was a rehomed dog, whose name I had changed from “Crank”, because it did not suit him – and that he had accepted his new name immediately, answering to it straight away.

She told of the time she went to a rodeo and was watching a man with his kelpie dogs rounding up sheep. Highly intelligent dogs they were, and she was amazed by the rapport between the man and his dogs, as he communicated his instructions via both verbal and hand signals. Afterwards she was chatting with him, and found he was a professional dog trainer. His skills with dogs were impressive.

He recounted to her how he had also chosen to adopt a rescue dog, which had been mistreated in its past. He figured he could make a difference and retrain it to more sociable behaviours.

He was surprised to discover that none of his kindness or retraining strategies worked, no matter how hard he tried. The dog remained frightened and very wary. The man was disappointed and perplexed.

He was chatting with another friend about this dog, and this man suggested, “Have you tried giving him a new name?”

He hadn’t. He took this advice, and almost instantly the dog’s frightened behaviour changed. The poor thing had always associated his previous name with anger, cruelty, and mistreatment by humans, and could not respond positively when he heard this name.

We humans simply do not have the insights we need to fully understand how to help an animal overcome trauma, how to calm them from the anxiety of past experiences. However, somehow we must convey that things will be different from now on, in order to rebuild trust.

For this dog it was as simple and yet as profound as a new name. A different identifier. A new beginning. The dog quickly learned to respond to him, and love and trust him. Tone of voice matters of course, but sometimes words used with that tone of voice are forever associated with unhappy memories.

If you are rehoming or rescuing a pet who has been treated poorly, perhaps offer it a new name along with a new home and a lot of love. It is an easy strategy, and it makes sense. Animals are highly intelligent and will understand quickly that their new name is offered in tandem with much love. A simple solution perhaps, but it may work for other dogs as well. 



The image is of a dog who looks a lot like Basil.
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