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.

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