I’ve naturally had the deck stacked against me with our foster momma’s so far. In my experience up til now, men in this world have an uncanny ability to imprint a negative association on a dog with frightening precision. Being a man, in my foster mom’s eyes, means that I am a threat to her and her puppies. Naturally they do everything they can to avoid having me near them.
It makes it easier that my girlfriend is able to bridge the gap in providing care for these momma’s while I work on breaking the stigma they have towards me and replacing it with something positive. My gf is amazing with these dogs, which probably stems from being a mother herself, which allows me to let the momma dog to let me in at her own pace.
It’s a pretty straightforward method that I employ to build the trust that is necessary to prove to the momma that I’m good and that I will never hurt her. First and foremost, I talk like a girl! It may seem trivial and silly to speak with a high pitch tone whenever I’m around the mom and her babies, but the name of the game is baby steps. Being in her vicinity while speaking in a high pitch voice starts the process of her accepting my presence without becoming fearful or reactive straight away.
In the beginning, I don’t interact directly with the moms at all. In the course of the day, I may go upstairs to stick my head in and say hi, but beyond that my girlfriend does all the work. This is something that I do to allow the mom to acclimate to her surroundings and become comfortable before anything new and potentially scary(me) is introduced.
The next phase is really a “play it by ear” kind of thing. I take note of what reaction I see in my fly by hellos and when I start to see little or no response I know it’s time to move to phase 2. I relate the reaction I’m looking for to the nod or wave that people will give a coworker or acquaintance that they see on a regular basis. When I get that “hey, how’s it going” reaction, I begin to leave super high-value treats in the bathroom near the bedroom where we keep the family. In my visits upstairs during the day, I start throwing in a treat while saying hi(we have a baby gate up in front of the door to avoid startling the mom with opening/closing doors). Again this phase lasts as long as it takes until I the mom starts to exhibit the next reaction I’m looking for, which is the head and ears up “oh snap here he comes with some goodies” look.
This is all pretty straightforward, as I mentioned earlier, but this next part is where I think a bond can begin to be established and therefore trust can start to be built. There are very few dogs on this planet that do no go head over heels bonkers for peanut butter. I replace the treats in the bathroom with a small tub and now, every time(consistency is extremely important), I go to see the mom I take a finger size scoop of the peanut butter and spread it on the top portion of a couple of my fingers, from about the big knuckle to the tip. In my opinion, this is where the magic happens. When entering the room I make myself as small as a can and approach the mom at an angle. In the dog world, a head on approach is a sign of aggression so I obviously want to avoid that. I look away and at the floor(again showing that I mean no harm) and let the momma close the last 6-8 inches of my hand.
The process doesn’t always go smoothly, sometimes the pups are between the mom and me, that’s an instant abort. I don’t want to put her in a situation where she has to decide if I’m going to be a threat to her puppies or not. Also sometimes the mom isn’t ready for me to be that close to her and will let me know from her body language, looking for an escape route, ears back, head down, whale eyes, any of the calming signals really. In these cases, I just rub the peanut butter on her x-pen or something else close to her and slowly back out of the room.
I believe the secret to the peanut butter on the hand phase of my trust building plan is the physical contact that is inherently required for the momma dog to lick it off my fingers. It reinforces the fact that physical contact and close proximity to a man is, in fact, a very good thing…cause it means PEANUT BUTTER!!!
Our current foster Irelyn is already in the last phase of my plan and, although she still is a bit fearful, I find and have been told by my girlfriend, that she actively seeks me out. Here is a video that shows me working with Momma Irelyn.