Petrified Puppies Tackle New, Scary Things

They didn't experience kindness until they were rescued and are slowly starting to trust.

two alert border collie puppies
Dickens and Zora are on high alert when they see movement outside the gate.

Mary Jo DiLonardo

Everything was fine until my husband took out the garbage cans.

The new foster puppies were running around the yard, grabbing pine cones and racing each other back and forth. But then the rumbling of the bin down the driveway made them freeze in their tracks. They were utterly still as they assessed the sound, and then bolted as far away as they could. They ran back into the house where they knew it was safe.

My newest foster puppies came from horrific conditions. They lived outside in a filthy chicken coop, piled high with puppy and poultry droppings. They rarely saw people and they likely weren’t treated too kindly when they did.

I foster puppies for Speak Rescue and Sanctuary, the group that removed them from that awful place. They were petrified and had to be carried in fear to the car, where they huddled together for some attempt at comfort.

They’ve been slowly coming around and will bounce behind me in the yard, sometimes tugging on my pants legs for attention. They’ll crawl up in my lap but they are tentative about it and usually have their tails tucked between their legs.

But new people and new experiences are frightening. Like sirens, the TV, and leaf blowers down the street.

And the recycling bin.

With a little coaxing and a few treats, I was able to get them to venture timidly outside when the cans had been wheeled to the curb. They sat, shaking, by my side while my husband messed with the bins some more, pushing in some odd-shaped boxes and slamming the lids.

The same thing happened when they heard dogs barking down the street. They scurried to hide, trying to find someplace safe.

Friends came over to visit last weekend and the puppies, who had been playing carefree in the yard, turned around and fled. They quickly became bold enough to creep back outside to meet the new people, but their first reaction is always flight.

Trust and Confidence

puppy sticks out tongue
Dickens comments on the scary garbage cans.

Mary Jo DiLonardo

My last foster puppy was the total opposite of these pups. Jet was fearless, inquisitive, and loved everything and everyone. He needed no coaxing to try anything and was incredibly well-adjusted.

He came from a backyard breeder who obviously had socialized him and exposed him to sounds and people. So his world wasn’t scary. He’s now living an amazing life with a couple of canine brothers and two adoring humans who are taking him on great adventures.

But for these border collie puppies, all adventures are approached with trepidation.

Fortunately, they’re coming around and that’s a good sign for their future, says certified trainer Susie Aga, owner of Atlanta Dog Trainer.

“They are recovering quickly, and that’s what we look for,” she says. “It’s important to slowly introduce them and get them used to new things. Every time they conquer their fear, they get more confidence.”

The puppies are learning coping skills. The most critical learning time in a puppy’s life is the first four months. That’s when a key imprinting stage happens and the exposures and interactions they have can have a substantial impact on how they approach their world for the rest of their lives.

These puppies are at the tail end of that four-month period. The beginning was likely very negative and scary. Now it’s our turn to make sure things get better from now on.

It’s amazing what love and kindness will do and it’s sad how the lack of affection and exposure can change the trajectory of a dog’s life. Hopefully, these babies are back on track.

You can follow Mary Jo and her foster puppy adventures on Instagram @brodiebestboy.

Why This Matters to Treehugger

At Treehugger, we are advocates of animal welfare, including our pets and other domestic animals. We hope stories like this one will highlight to our readers the importance of adopting rescue pets instead of shopping from breeders or pet stores.  Learn more about how to support local animal shelters.

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  1. certified trainer Susie Aga, owner of Atlanta Dog Trainer