Glencadia Blog

Life in the country... with lots of dogs

Nervous Nellie

I chatted today with someone who has a dog with separation anxiety, and some other kinds of anxiety as well, who was asking if we offer any training services with boarding… and we actually do have some limited training services over the summer but I didn’t think a “service” per se would help in the situation as she described it.

We often get dogs who seem anxious. Maybe it’s their first time at camp. Maybe that’s just their temperment. When we talk about the dogs with people who don’t work here, we often end up discussing the size, age, breed, and other external characteristics but for those of us who have to work with the dog the psychology of a given dog is far more important than anything descernable from a quick glance.

This internal over external metric makes sense when you think about humans. Over the course of a whole life, external characteristic matter but how you act (your pattern of behavior) is going to be pretty significant to your friends and family, the people in close proximity to you.

When we try to work around anxiety, ameliorate the condition, and help the dog feel comfortable, there can be no clock involved really except for the schedule the dog sets. You can’t pay a trainer to show up and fix the problem I don’t think. Mostly what we have to do is observe, wait, and try a few tricks.

One key trick is another dog, Joe Cool Dog. Dogs are TREMENDOUSLY susceptible to the emotions and moods of other dogs around them. Again, this is pretty similar to people. Two anxious dogs together are not twice as anxious they are 1000 times more anxious than they would be apart. A group of dogs, like a single dog, can be frightened or aggressive or affectionate or relaxed. So, if you can get a nervous dog with Joe Cool dog and let them chill like a snowman for a bit, next thing you know the nervous dog is mellowing out. Maybe he doesn’t come when you call him, but Joe Cool does, and Nervous Nellie wants to be with Joe, so, same thing.

Another trick is to avoid eye contact. There are not a lot of animals that like you to look in their eyes. Dog, you can. But a nervous dog, like a wild animal, will absolutely perceive eye contact as a threat. Get low. If you stand up, you look big. You should try to appear as small as possible to Nervous Nellie. Offer your hand from behind. If she seems a bit calmer, she might touch your hand from behind and you might be able to give her a quick pet on the head behind your back without looking at her at all.

Sit around and do nothing. Let her come to you. Offer Nellie a small space where she can hide. Don’t change her surroundings more than necessary. She might prefer someone else. Don’t take it personally!

I don’t blame dogs for being nervous in a new place. I mean, what the hell is going on here???? It’s normal, it’s fine, she’ll come around.

There is more to it than what I have posted here, but this is a little hint of my Nervous Nellie approach.

A Dog’s Day at Glencadia

A lot of people have been writing to ask questions about the day here. Here are some recent sample questions from people curious about Glencadia:

What is the daily routine/structure of their day like? Indoor vs outdoor time? Activity vs rest time?

We have at least two and at busy times (holidays, summer) as many as five people here in the morning to do clean up and feeding (remove all feces, clean floors, beds, feed, bowls). In this time, from about 7 in the morning to 11, all dogs also get some time in the big fields.

Depending on the mix of dogs, we might have a group of dogs go out to a field with a human – maybe 5 to about 15. Another group of about the same number might be in the yard closer to the building. While, say, I am out by the pond (Will), Vern is cleaning back in the house. Still, all the dogs are outside playing, digging, for the whole time if the weather is halfway decent.

In the summer or Christmas, plus a few other times, add some more people and more groups out, and more people cleaning.

By the time everyone has been out for a romp, the place is clean, everyone had breakfast, it might be 11 or 12 or even 1 in the afternoon, depending on how many people are working and how many dogs there are, and also the weather.

We have five 1+ acre fields (ranging from an acre to about seven), three with access to ponds, one with a woods, another with a sandbox kind of digging area, and then there is the driveway/entrance area. In addition, we have 12 smaller yards, but I’ll get to that one.

So, then there is midday, from about noon to maybe 3 or 4 in the afternoon. This is time when people and dogs are supposed to rest. Dogs would be broken up into small groups of say 3 to maybe 6. They will all have access to some kind of yard for most or all of this time.

The evening is very seasonal. Five o’clock feels like the end of the day in the winter and just the beginning of a long evening in the summer. Either way, we will mix up the groups a bit, head back out to the fields, do a light clean up, give a lighter meal, then put out more beds and blankets, turn up the heat or AC as needed, and eventually bring everyone in, most of the time. On a really fine summer night, I might leave the yard doors open so they can still go out at night. Or we could take some upstairs, close everything up. If it’s winter, we turn up the heat.

What are the sleeping arrangements like for the dogs?

We have as many at 48 different rooms, which vary quite a bit in size. Some are clearly only for one dog and others could have three. We have beds we think work great and the dogs seem to like them. If dogs are from the same house they will definitely be together. And a couple of super friendly dogs that have been together all day and are clearly enjoying each other’s company might also well share a room. Dogs seem much happier to share a space with someone than to be alone. I guess technically a dog that I have known to be nice for years could get in a fight with another dog I know for sure is nice, but it never happens.

Are they off leash the whole time?

We basically never use leashes. We don’t need them. We have double fencing all around and we can close up the entrance way and lead them all out to the fields without leashes. We use leashes in the van sometimes to make it easier to get everyone in for the night. Then we take them right off. Some dogs need a leash because they don’t listen and won’t come back or for some other special reason, but generally, almost all the dogs never go on a leash once they get into the Glencadia area.

Are the dogs always under human supervision? Is there any time when dogs are left unsupervised?

There is always someone around the general area but that doesn’t mean we can see every dog all the time. If I’m in the kitchen area, I can’t see the dogs in the field or on the north side. If I’m in and out of my house, I might not see every dog every minute. Someone is always around, though, and we check in on every dog regularly. They would almost never go an hour without seeing someone, except at night.

Are intact dogs permitted? (Heath is neutered.)

Yes. We don’t have many. And they may well not have as much freedom as neutered dogs. Some neutered males, for example, do not like intact males, if they were castrated over the age of two in fact. Otherwise, females in heat could be a problem, so we have to be aware of the possibility. So people do have to tell us!

Or dogs who are not good with other dogs and/or are dog aggressive?

Aggressive dogs are not allowed. Some dogs are unfriendly or just don’t like other dogs. We can isolate such dogs and they can be by themselves if they come in here.

Do you know of fireworks in the area for July 4th? Where are the dogs during this time?

Good question! We don’t have official fireworks but I can’t guarantee some clown is not going to shoot something off in the cornfield behind my place. A lot of dogs hate fireworks and thunder and when these loud booming noises break out, someone sits with the dogs and comforts them, and makes sure they don’t get desperate.