Special Needs Dogs – Autism/Lack of Social Skills

    In April 2011 we rescued Loki, a podenco Andaluz about 2 years old, through Ibizan Hound rescue.  We had no history on him at all apart from that he had wandered into someone’s garden in Spain, starving & covered in fleas & ticks.  We already had a lurcher, Sauron, who we had rescued a month earlier, around the same age…. fortunately they got on very well together from day one.  We expected some teething problems and were prepared to work through them.
    We soon found out that Loki was scared of pretty much everything.  The vacuum petrified him, if we picked up a paper to swat a fly he ran, if we shouted at Sauron, he trembled.  The first few weeks he slept, went for walks and ate…..and slept some more…..obviously his way of coping was to shut down.  Although he wouldn’t instigate it he was happy to be stroked but didn’t like to be kissed and avoided eye contact.  We quickly realised that his attention span was zero and any thoughts we had had of training him went out of the window.  As time went by we came to realise that his problems went deeper than that and we noticed that he could be very OCD about things.  ie: I put his food down one day and he walked away from it even though I knew he was hungry.  I looked and realised that I had left a towel hanging off the chair above his bowl……. I moved the towel & Loki ate his tea!  There were various other incidents like this.  Several months into him being with us he still wasn’t reacting to us when we asked him to do things and taking him out for walks……well, we might as well not have existed and we realised that Loki’s problems were deeper than we had thought. He also became very reactive to other dogs (thanks to an idiot neighbour & his out of control dogs) when we were out and attacked a pup once.
    I knew a little bit about autism in humans and thought that Loki presented with some of the mannerisms.  Someone pointed me to an article by Angela Stockdale, re:autism in dogs and I could have been reading about Loki.  Apparently, lack of socialisation in early years can be a trigger and knowing what I do about Spanish hunting dogs, this seemed very likely.
    19 months on we are starting to see a different dog, he makes us laugh all the time.  He still likes his routine and we respect that, it helps him feel secure.  He is also starting to respond to commands, not always, but a lot more than he used to…..he even gave me his paw for a treat last week!  He will look directly at us now, not for too long, but he does it and he quite happily comes up to us & gives us kisses.  Now, when we are out, he will sometimes walk past us and look up at us with a smile on his face and if he sees another dog he now looks for his treat instead of barking & lunging……..in fact, he has made friends with several dogs and enjoys saying hello to them.  Instead of running off in a blind panic if I get the vacuum out, he waits until it comes near him then gets out of the way.  We have had to make an effort to keep the house calm & quiet for Loki, we didn’t argue very often….now we make sure we don’t raise our voices in front of him. I dropped a glass of wine a few months ago and swore rather loudly and it set him back several weeks!  We have to be careful to ignore the unwanted behaviour and praise the behaviour we want and he is slowly getting the hang of things.  Calmness & consistency is the key.
    I have taken a lot of advice from several people about how to cope with Loki and help him, forums such as this can be a mine of information.  We were considering contacting our insurance company for a referral to a behaviourist, we still might in the future. But for now it’s going well and we are happy with Loki’s progress. He will probably always be special needs to a degree but to us he’s just special and we would happily do it all over again!
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