What happened next?
Olla arrived at my family home, shy, nervous, and worried. He was fearful of anything that moved and any large object. Having spent his life to date with his brother he now found himself with the responsibility of having to process the world around him and make his own decisions. He was out of his comfort zone and could no longer rely on being a follower.
During the early days I questioned my own thought process in separating the dogs. I was worried that Olla couldn’t cope. Running water frightened him, logs, fallen trees, large boulders, rustling bags, trees blowing in the wind – all caused him stress and anxiety. He was unsure of people and he wasn’t sure about me. Other dogs unsettled him; aggressive dogs terrified him to the point he would scream, whilst nervous dogs brought out a reactive response. His world had changed drastically and his brother was no longer available to help him process this world or protect him from the things that worried him. I started to wonder whether it was right to allow a dog to live in such way. Should a dog have to experience daily fear, stress and anxiety? My options were limited; returning him to his former home and his brother was an option, but not the answer. This would possibly see him passed from home to home with potential owners being charmed by his impressive appearance, but probably failing to cope with his view on the world.
I’m not afraid to admit that, several months in, I felt exasperated by his irrational fear and high levels of stress. It was time for me to consider whether I’d been defeated and accept the work of Mother Nature. An unwitting breeder had allowed these brothers to leave the litter together and be homed in the same family, with the family unaware of the potential pitfalls. Whilst there is limited scientific research on the side effects of raising litter mates together, dog experts generally accept it as a bad idea due to the different behavioural problems that can occur, which in some extreme cases can include fighting each other to the death.
Not willing to admit defeat, I gathered my thoughts and focused on the positives. A change of diet was starting to yield results. His coat was fantastic, his appearance healthy and he’d gained 10kg. Obedience work was improving daily and heading towards competition standard; his agility was getting better as his body strength increased; search work kept him focused and happy with his big bushy tail swishing to and fro excitedly as he searched for the object. All in all he was making steady progress. I needed to stick with him and allow him time to make sense of his new world.
I looked at all our hard work and the glimmers of hope now evident. My family had supported me through all and were becoming increasingly attached to Olla, but they understood the difficulty of the situation. Desensitisation and counter-conditioning had been effective and Olla was clambering upon felled tree trunks, jumping natural obstacles, and walking along raised surfaces, ready to receive praise and reward. The stream running through the woods where I exercise him was becoming a pleasant place for him to play and no longer something that caused him concern. His confidence and sense of security was growing on a daily basis. There was no way I could think of letting him go.
Olla has been with us now for just over 7 months and has become very much part of my family and has grown in popularity in our local community. He is going from strength to strength with his ability to cope with unusual situations improving all the time. Fellow local dog walkers comment on how he has changed, and how the stressed and anxious look has turned into a happy, confident one. Only recently he attended his first training class as my working partner demonstrating exceptional obedience and outstanding behaviour.
Due to his life experiences it will be necessary to manage Olla carefully for the rest of his days. He is a highly sensitive dog and is capable of exhibiting high levels of stress, or indeed demonstrating intense exuberance. For now he knows where he is at and is comfortable with his routine and his position. I would not choose to be without him. During our time we have built a strong and secure bond and it’s great to see Olla confidently negotiating his world.