This month’s Most Improved Dog Award goes to Matilda.  Matilda’s Dog Mom, Erika, is a good friend of mine and she has three dogs: Josephine, Millicent, and Matilda.  Juggling three dogs can be tough, but this Dog Mom works hard to keep her pups happy and healthy.  The most challenging of the three is Matilda, who is deaf, has limited sight, and some behavioral issues.  We’re going to talk about this pup today because she has come a long, long way!


Such a pretty pup!

Name: Matilda

Age: 5 years old

Breed: Double Merle Australian Shepard

Gender: Female

Coloring: White with red and black Merle markings

Background: Matilda was just a tiny pup when she and her litter-mates were surrendered to the local Humane Society.  Matilda’s physical issues are due to being a double merle and most likely being the runt of the litter.  With some key developmental weeks spent in turmoil, Matilda had an unstable and scary start to life.  When Erika adopted her at 9 weeks old, Matilda was already anxious and fearful.  Matilda found an awesome family and they try to make Matilda’s world better for her.

Hard Puppy Times

A lot of things contribute to the personality of a dog.  Breeders that are legitimate and professional take care to make sure that healthy, stable dogs are being bred. They provide a safe place for the puppies in their first weeks and they take the time to socialize them, handle them, let them be with litter-mates and so on.  This gives a pup a solid foundation.  Unfortunately, when some puppies miss out on this crucial time, they are not set up for success.

Matilda has the right idea!

Matilda’s first weeks at home revealed that she was loving and curious like any puppy, but she was also anxious, reactive, started showing signs of resource guarding the very first day at home.  It was pretty clear that Matilda was scared of a lot of things in her environment. In situations like Matilda’s, it’s hard not to think about the Nature vs. Nurture argument. Are her issues due to genetics or those first weeks of her life where she was not set up for success?

Low Points

Matilda’s issues were piling: she was starting dog fights and sometimes at a surprising frequency, she was reactive to her surroundings, resource guarding food, and so on.  Any reasonable person who has adopted a difficult dog is going to have some serious questions.  For Erika, she really had to think about Matilda’s quality of life.  Was Matilda ever going to be happy?  Was she ever going to be comfortable?  Was she ever going to get better? These were just some of the questions that ran through her mind.

Hard Work and Love

Despite all the issues Matilda has, Erika sees her capacity for love.  Matilda has a few favorite people, including Erika and her husband, and their connection is strong and special.

Model status anyone?

Erika was determined to give this pup the best life possible, so from the start, she has worked hard every day.  Erika began by going to training seminars, working with trainers, reading books, and watching videos.  Now, Matilda is busy running in the backyard with her ball and fur sisters, as well as playing nose games to keep her body and mind active.  Even with Matilda’s physical disabilities, she had learned many behaviors through creative training.

She then addressed the physical side by working with vets.  Through trial and error they worked through medications and landed on an herbal regime that has helped with Matilda’s anxiety.  They also worked on her diet and started feeding raw.  They even use essential oils to give her an extra boost. Just like a puzzle, these pieces have been fitting together and improving Matilda’s life!

The Lightbulb

Erika has had two breakthrough moments that have helped keep the peace in her home.  The first was when Erika attended dog trainer, Sarah Kalnajs’ seminar where she proposed teaching your dog the “What Else?” cue.  This cue allows dogs to redirect to a different activity.  After a bit of learning, Matilda now goes to pick up a toy and bring it to someone when she was feeling anxious and reacting.  This has helped Matilda cope and soothe herself!

Happy girl!

The next was when Erika realized that the counter conditioning and trying to make positive associations with her surroundings using food, was not working.  Erika would provide Matilda with high value treats when scary things were present to help change the emotional response.  The issue is that Matilda has pretty serious resource guarding when it comes to food.  Erika realized that while feeding those treats to Matilda in the presence of her surroundings, she was trying to protect her food!  Negative associations were more likely being built, so Erika changed tactics and put a much better plan in place!

A Good Life

Erika has seen so much improvement in Matilda.  Of course there are bad days, but with a better understanding of Matilda’s needs, a solid routine, herbal medications and essential oil support, training, brain games, physical activities, having fun, and just some love, Erika has created a safe and happy life for Matilda.

Such a sweet family

Having a dog with reactivity, behavior challenges, and physical limitations is definitely not easy, but taking the time to educate yourself, determination, and accepting the beautiful soul that found you, can make all the difference.  And for Matilda, she gets to be the receiver of the Most Improved Dog Award!

Find Erika and Matilda on Instagram: @joey.milli.matilda3

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