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Romanian and other street dogs

JudyN

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This article was written by a Romanian rescue group. I'm sure much of what it says will apply to street dogs from anywhere in the world, as well as dogs from other backgrounds.

Why Are Romanian Dogs Different from British Dogs?

Whatever their history, they are, for the most part, all hereditary 'street' dogs. As such they can have a different perspective of their environment and the experiences ..
1. They are more like 'real dogs'
2. . They are usually more finely tuned and specific with their communication skills both giving them to us and reading ours and those of other dogs. They mean what they say and take ours and other dogs communications very literally. They can struggle with head on approaches because in true Canine communication this kind of approach would be a challenging or threatening approach. They can struggle when they see another dog being walked on a lead because the movement of a dog on a lead is being restricted. This means that dog is not moving or communicating 'naturally', so the signals they are giving could be compromised or appear 'off.' to our finely tuned Romanian canines. They can struggle with people who stare at them because eye contact and especially prolonged eye contact is a threatening communication to dogs and can create anxiety or appear challenging.
3. They often have heightened senses. This means they can be affected more by things like smells, the weather, illness and sounds. Many Romanian dogs are sound sensitive and touch sensitive and these can take time and patience to work on.
4. They can have stronger natural instincts and stronger instinctive behaviours. This means it can take longer to work on any negative reactions they may have or develop.
5. They imprint quickly. This is something that keeps them alive as a street dog. This is why the first few weeks are so critical because one experience, positive or negative can lay a foundation for all future experiences. That being said this is a deep rooted instinct that will most likely remain with them for life. If something affects them or upsets them, they are like elephants... they don't forget it or where it happened!
6. They are often hyper-alert during their first few months and even longer. This can be especially true for those as an only dog with no canine companions for security. They may be very barky, very noise sensitive and find it hard to settle. All of these things can be worked on and improved but it's important to be patient and understanding and not just assume your dog is being 'naughty' or 'difficult.'
7. They startle easily. Again this is something that bodes well for a street dog. If they were slow to react to something they wouldn't survive long, hence why there are so many Romanian dogs that struggle with reactivity problems.
8. They react quickly - bark first think about it later - staying safe is their first thought always
9. The majority of them are quite literally street smart. The smarter and sharper a dog is the quicker they pick up on things and the quicker they can 'store' things mentally and emotionally. This can work both in a positive and negative way, meaning you can influence positive behaviours but unwanted behaviours can also be quickly learnt and embedded. This also means they benefit from plenty of mental stimulation (which is NOT the same as exercise) and activities that work with their particular characteristics and inherent natures. Some may be hounds, some may be guardians, some herding dogs and others terrier mixes. All of these have different characteristic traits and will settle better and have fewer problems if we set them up to be able to exhibit those intrinsic desires, but in a way that fits into their human world. For example, providing a digging pit for a digger, playing the herding game with a herder or doing scent games with a hound mix.
10. When totally overwhelmed they are equally as likely to shut down as react. As an example, a dog that is reactive to the odd person or dog on your daily walks may go to a busy location, like a training class, and be totally non reactive. This doesn't necessarily mean they are ok. It can also mean they are overwhelmed and feel they can't cope and therefore choose to make themselves 'invisible' both mentally and emotionally. It is essential that you can accurately read your dogs body language and communication signals so you are able to support them when necessary and relieve pressure for them if necessary. Remember, our dogs often have very little control over the situations we place them in so it is our duty to be able to recognise their 'language' so we can respond appropriately for them.
11. All dogs but in particular Romanian dogs live life by the rules of 'safe' or 'unsafe' They will quickly assess their familiar world and determine what is safe and what isn't. As they settle more and more, anything outside this familiar world will be deemed unsafe or to be cautious of until they have determined whether it is safe or not. This is why so many Romanian dogs can struggle with reactivity to unfamiliar people and dogs. They are designed to be wary of anything or anyone who is unfamiliar. Unfortunately, many people don't address this in a proactive way (because they're unaware of the problem) and often when the problem first arises, they handle it incorrectly and fail to address it quickly. This is also why many Romanian dogs need time to assess things. It's another survival instinct, a dog that quickly determines something safe without making sure would quite quickly be a dead dog.
12. They can be more aloof & independent. Many of the Romanian dogs will remain more aloof and independent until a stronger bond and trust has been established between you and them. This can be disconcerting for many new adopters who would love to snuggle and cuddle with their new friends. It's important to respect your dog if they are not the 'tactile' type, it may well come in time, but for now, just love them for who they are and take what you can get! I can tell you first hand it is incredibly rewarding when your aloof and independent Romanian dog chooses to come and lay next to you on the sofa, or physically asks you to continue stroking when you stop!
13. They can be needy & insecure - especially when they first arrive and many of them lack confidence or resilience. This in itself can create a more reactive dog because they are perpetually 'uncertain' in life. When a dog feels anxious or uncertain they can attach themselves to someone to satisfy their need to feel safe. It's important that we take care of this need but support them in developing more confidence at the same time. More on this in Section 2.
14. They can over attach to one person - especially when they first arrive. When they do this, they can tend to see anyone else as 'unsafe' and will react accordingly. They take time to trust and patience is key. More about how to work with this in Section 2.
15. . Even if you get a puppy that has never lived on the streets or even been in a shelter they are still descendants of street dogs and as such usually still have that street dog mentality & genetically inherited instinctive natures.
16. CHANGE can unsettle and affect Romanian dogs quite profoundly - Even if they come from a foster home in the UK, this is still a big change for them. New environment, new people, new dogs, new sounds, new smells, new noises. It will have taken them time to settle in their Foster home and now all that they thought was safe and secure for them is once again changed.
17. Many of them, especially those arriving directly from Romania will have little or no experience of being in a 'normal' home and all the general hustle and bustle that goes with it - even if they are with a fosterer in Romania they are generally kept outside. For these dogs everything may be alien to them. Allow them to investigate at their own pace
18. Romanian dogs can be more wary (sometimes fearful) by nature - it's what keeps a street dog alive - they err on the side of caution.
19. They can tend to be doggie dogs as most of them have spent a lot more time in the company of dogs than people. Some of them may struggle as an only dog without a canine companion for conversation and security.

THINGS THAT COULD HAVE SHAPED YOUR ROMANIAN RESCUE DOG

1. Genetics obviously plays a huge part but so does Epigenetics and this is where the big differences can come from between our Romanian Dogs & British Dogs. In simplified terms Epigenetics is the process by which an animal can influence the DNA they pass on to their offspring depending on that parents experiences of the world. For example, a female dog that encounters repeatedly unpleasant experiences with male humans (whether she is pregnant yet or not) can create 'add-on' DNA if you like that passes this information onto all of her offspring. This is how species adapt and survive. I believe this is a contributing factor in why so many Romanian dogs are wary or fearful of men in particular. It could also be part of the reason why Romanian dogs struggle with 'new' things. New people, new dogs, unfamiliar objects, change.
2. In addition to this, another little known contributing factor is the experiences a pregnant bitch may encounter can have a significant impact on her unborn pups. So if she is highly stressed, experiences abuse or a traumatic event during her pregnancy, this can be passed onto the unborn pups resulting in them being genetically disposed to be fearful or anxious dogs.
3. There is then of course the element of environmental influences and the experiences the pup or dog has itself. What happens to them during their first 12 weeks of life can shape the adult dog they develop into. How their behaviours are responded to by humans can impact heavily on the behaviours they develop. Environmental influences are of course also ongoing and always impacting on behaviour
 
Is the person who wrote this a qualified professional genetist and behaviourist ?

I've fostered & transported a fair few adult & puppy street from Romania & other countries.

The dog in my avatar is one of 5 puppies born to an 8 month street dog who was pulled from a kill shelter days before she was due to whelp. Sandrine Oprea from Save and Care rescue, took her into her own home & within days delivered 5 healthy puppies, probably from more than one male. Despite the abuse & starvation she had been through, neither her nor her puppies were anything like the dogs described in the article.
My boy, Coco, is a very chilled laid back dog, he loves dogs & people alike, he is close to me, but is also happy to be with other people. He is especially tolerant towards my Portuguese ex Street dog, who received his abuse at the hands of UK"adoptive"family over 5 days & 4 nights, he came to the UK a happy friendly boy & when I got him out of the abusers home, he was fearful of toddlers & men who smoke. His nose was rubbed raw & I subsequently discovered that he had been left outside on a night with no cover or bed. 7 years later he is still terrified of young children & men who smoke.
 
Is the person who wrote this a qualified professional genetist and behaviourist ?

I don't know about that, but understand they have a lot of experience of Romanian street dogs.

With any dog, from any background, I think it is vital to listen to all the advice and everything you've read, then to look at your dog, with an open mind, and ask just what is going on in their head and whether it lines up with what you have learnt to expect. And be prepared to adapt when the dog doesn't respond in the way you (or anyone else) expected.

So no, not everything in the article will apply to all Romanian (or other) street dogs, and some street dogs will adapt right away to their new life, realising that they have landed on their feet. But so often, new owners just aren't prepared for just how different their dog is to other dogs they've known, and make assumptions about what will work, and the timescales involved. And they have no idea of the possible effects of past trauma, thinking that love and treats will overcome all. That doesn't even work in humans, who can actually understand about the effects of their trauma and know that they are now safe.
 
Wow - totally spot on. Just joined on seeing this post quite at random on the Internet. Could not put it better myself; perfect description of many street dogs, Romanian and otherwise. The point regarding dogs who look okay but are in fact shut down is one that goes widely unrecognised.
 

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