Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How to Build A Dog's Heart

When Nicki first came to us, she was extremely submissive and fearful. She had been with a neglectful and abusive person prior to rescue.  Although she'd been treated very well by her foster mom, she had to be moved to another foster home just a few days before transport, then she traveled for more than 24 hours to get to us. The end of that journey landed her in another foster home with a lot of other dogs who had also made the journey. The day we went to pick her up was the day she got off the transport that had brought her north from Kentucky. That's a lot for a dog to go through.

We walked with her foster mom and a few other dogs, and Nicki. Just a brief turn up and down a nearby dead end street so Nicki could spend a little time with us before being whisked away yet again. When we had completed our walk and stood in front of the foster home again, Nicki put her front legs up on my leg and wrapped her paws around as if to cling to me. Almost the way a toddler does when they want to be picked up. She went to my hubby and did the same thing.

 Then she came back to me.

And I did what mommas do; I picked her up
During the process of signing the paperwork she wanted to sit on my lap. She's small, but she's big enough that writing with her on my lap doesn't work. So she sat leaning against my leg. On the way home, we put her into her kennel in the back, with the door facing forward so she could see us. About halfway home, we stopped to move her to my lap, where she eventually relaxed and fell asleep.

During the weeks that followed, we got to really finally meet our Nicki. It was wonderful. It was heartbreaking. She couldn't be near my hubby without dropping to her belly and submissively peeing. Every. Single. Time. She rarely looked at us, and looked away if we looked in her direction. She stayed near me, but avoided my hubby. Whenever we approached her, Nicki would roll onto her back and display her belly. Dogs love belly rubs, but this was different. She slept in her crate in our room, even though she was invited to share the bed.

We stopped rubbing her belly when she rolled over. Instead, we'd rub her chest gently while she was sitting up. At first, we had to physically put her into a sitting position to do this. Even then, she always wanted to offer that submissive, vulnerable belly.

After awhile, she didn't roll over so compulsively, so we put belly rubs back into her day. We kept up the chest stroking. We added a caress under the chin and jowls, gently lifting her face. From that spot, I could also rub her ears a bit. She didn't know what to make of ear rubs at first. How was it that those adorable, goofy, fluffy ears never got a rub??

Early walks on leash were completely uneventful. Nicki walked obediently, not knowing what I wanted her to do other than walk. A passerby noted how beautifully she walked on leash and complimented us. Little did he know. Even walks appeared to be foreign to her. She had been tied in a yard. Hey - the dog's already outside. It doesn't need to be walked, right?

After a few months, we were able to give Nicki some really good pats and rubs. Not on the top of the head as people seem to do, but along her body and near her face to get her used to "good touch". She began to lift her face on her own. She began to look into my eyes. She began to open her heart.

Nicki stopped peeing whenever she saw my hubby. She accepted love and attention from him without cowering or rolling over in submission. She sleeps on our bed on and off during the night. She prefers being there with just me, though. Now, when "daddy" comes home, Nicki actually runs to the door to greet him - even if I don't.

Whenever she visits her friends at PetSmart (they always remember us!) and Boom Towne, they remark to me about how much her confidence has improved. She has become much more used to being noticed because it's almost unfailingly positive. 

If you read the previous entry, "A Brief Heart Attack", you know that Nicki is no longer very mannerly on leash. She would yank me down the street if I let her. Doubly so for the sake of chasing a squirrel! And whereas before she would walk with me and do nothing but, she now stops often for sniffing investigations, frequently followed by a little urine marking. The word is out. This is her place. Nicki is home.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Brief Heart Attack

One of the biggest dangers with rescued dogs is their propensity to run away, especially in the early days of their adoption. They don't yet know that they have found a permanent home. They may not have bonded with their family. There are lots of reasons for a rescued dog to want to take off. I don't use the word "escape" because it connotes the idea that they're being held against their will. To an extent, that's true. But in a world dominated by humans, having a human guardian to protect you in that world is a huge positive.

Nicki bucks. There's no other way to describe it. Sometimes when we head out the door, she flips and twirls at the end of the leash. There's no mistaking this. She's not just excited to go out, she wants to throw off the restraint and have a run. The funny thing is, when I take her to an enclosed area so she can run off leash - she doesn't. Not even with my encouragement. She kind of walks around, sniffing, munching grass, but she couldn't be less interested in running.

The first time she bucked at the end of the leash, I knew immediately what was going on and it scared me. She's very agile. Despite her small size, she's also really strong. I knew this could be trouble. Sure enough, she threw her collar at one point. I was sure it was correctly fitted. I was wrong.

I got harnesses for Nicki. I always preferred walking on harness anyway. Using only a collar and leash seemed kind of harsh to me. Sizing is tricky. Nicki is too large for most small harnesses, even when fully extended. She's almost too small for medium harnesses when fully contracted! I reasoned that a fully contracted medium harness would work for her because it went completely around the body and around both front legs. I wasn't exactly wrong, but also wasn't exactly right.

A few days ago, we headed out to run some errands. I turned toward the garage. Nicki had a different idea. She wanted to go for a walk. She bucked - and threw off her harness! She headed straight for the street, the direction which begins our walks. My heart stopped. I immediately dropped everything, including the empty leash, and ran down the driveway after her yelling "Nicki! Come!" I felt helpless. Nicki has no recall. It's been a deep snow winter, and she had been constrained by nature as well as her tie-out. There wasn't much space in which to practice recalls. I figured we'd start working on that again this spring.

But we needed a recall right now. Luckily, Nicki must have sensed the fear in my voice, and did what she had done that time she threw off her collar. She veered up onto the grass of the front yard, dropped down, and let me catch up to her. When I got to her, I scooped her up in my arms, grabbed the leash on the way into the house, and went directly inside.

There, I saw the problem. The harness had pulled loose - more on one side than the other. If you know me, you know I'm too OCD to adjust straps unevenly. Not only does Nicki buck, she pulls on the leash. If she sees a squirrel, the force she exerts is amazing! And no, I haven't practiced loose leash walking as I should. Honestly, as long as she doesn't drag me down the street, I don't mind the pulling. I'm more focussed on giving her a good experience and a break from being indoors. But all that pulling must have loosened the harness straps, and out she popped! I tightened the straps, pushed the sliders up to hold the straps more firmly in place, and tried again.

In the course of all this, I had a bizarrely comforting thought. If Nicki ever does actually run away, she'll wind up going to someone for help. She loves people. Not all men, but women and kids are her friends, and she goes to them without hesitation. I doubt that she'd stay out on her own for long. Of course I'd hope the people she goes to would have her chip scanned and bring her home to me - but knowing how fond she is of human attention is a comforting thought. 

I'm going to be checking that harness every time we go out. I'm going to be developing a recall. I'm going to be working on not pulling on leash. I'm going to thanks my stars that Nicki is still here with me.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

1 Step Forward, a Few Sashays to the Side ......

We've been having accidents again.

There's this one spot in the dining room. Luckily, it's a really cheap rug. If we have to, it can get tossed. Still, I'd rather keep the rug.

And we're DEFINITELY keeping the dog.

I used to mention the accidents to her rescuers as part of my general updates, but I stopped. They seemed to be a bit defensive about it. I think I get it. People actually do "give up" pets for such things. And by "give up" I mean abandon. Your pet isn't perfect, so you opt to not cope. That's abandonment. The Rescue (New Spirit 4 Aussies) didn't want me to abandon Nicki like she'd been abandoned before. They should have more faith in themselves. They picked me. I have no intention of letting Nicki, or NS4A down.

The Hubs and I spoke briefly this morning about the situation. The pee is intermittant. Sporadic. Our fur girl doesn't seem to like going outside to actually do her business all the time, but she's all gung-ho about going out to walk or play.

I looked for advice online. She's 3-5 years old, so we're not talking about house training a puppy. Of course, teh Interwebs is full of "advice" on the issue, including rubbing the dog's nose in it and swatting him with a rolled-up newspaper. Seriously?!? Still?!?

I found info on the ASPCA site. Ah - a credible source! And I may have found info that actually applies.

If you've been following Nicki's story, you know that prior to her rescue, Nicki had been left outside tied to a fence for a prolonged time. Long enough that all the spots had been sunburned off her nose. (They're coming back now. And they're adorable!) Since we don't have any real information, there are a few scenarios I can imagine that would lead up to the situation from which Nicki was rescued.

Scene 1: Nicki's cute. Someone got a cute dog, but never bothered to actually house train her. It takes more time and patience than some people anticipate. Add to that, if the dog is left home alone during working hours, there's nobody to continue the training through the day. On top of that, she's small. There is a physical reality about small dogs: small bladders. After coming home to puddles repeatedly, someone might resort to tying the dog out all the time. Obviously, that's not a good choice.

Scene 2: Nicki may not have always live with the household from which she was rescued. From her behavior and manners, I'd guess that at another time in her life, Miss Nicki was someone's pampered pet. Much as she is now. She craves attention, and doesn't like being separated from her people, especially me.

On the last few occasions I had to be away from her briefly, she pulled a silk scarf out of my yoga bag. She did no damage whatsoever. I think she cuddled with it. Another time, she got my leather gloves off the kitchen table. The Hubs found them in her bed. The only marks on them were very light ones from when she carried them to her bed, again, I suspect, to cuddle with my scent. I worked three full days in a row last week. That's unusual. The first day went well with no problems. The second day, we got a poop on the rug. The third day, we got a piddle puddle. So, the net result of all these stories is: Nicki gets separation anxiety. She mostly handles it well, but she does still experience it.

Which brings us back to Scene 2. If the guy who kept her tied out was not her original family, she may have been experiencing separation anxiety. An impatient person might decide the "dumb dog" can't be house trained, and exile them from the house. Although she's one of the least destructive dogs I've ever known, that anxiety has to find an outlet, and for Nicki, that can be "inappropriate" elimination.

I use quotes because there's very little that dogs consider inappropriate!!

So what's the point of writing all this? To encourage newer adopters not to give up. Don't be discouraged. And DOUBLE DOWN. We're going to be going back to basic training. Nicki's pretty good about going to the door when she needs to go out. As long as she can't get to that spot on the rug, she'll wait. So - we're going to make sure that dining room door stays closed. Hopefully at some point we'll be able to leave it open (we have to go through that room to get through the house), but for now, it stays closed.

Another thing we need to alter is our approach to treating appropriate elimination. I realized this morning that we give Nicky a treat every time she does her business outside - but we actually give the treat when she comes IN. I'm going to try staying out in the yard with her and giving the treat outside immediately after elimination.

And - I just realized that I'm writing about accidents AGAIN. Well, it's a genuine problem. And the point of writing this is to encourage adopters to keep on keeping on.

The conversation between the Hubs and myself this morning was short. It consisted of us telling each other that we hoped the accidents would eventually truly stop - but that every morning with Nicki was such a joyfest (The DH's term) that we really don't care that much. Life with Nicki is so much nicer that an excessively clean rug is not a deal-breaker. There will be no "return to sender" on this pup. Absolutely not.