Thursday, November 6, 2014

Everyone Should Adopt A Rsecue Dog / NOBODY Should Adopt A Rescue Dog

A new situation has shined a new light on our Nicki's inner thoughts. Her Dad was away on a business trip that lasted six days. At first she was totally fine. Dad hunts, so he's been away for a day or two before. This was different, and the certainty of her life became less solid. It showed.

When the Hubby is away, I use extra locks. For instance, I put the chain on the outer rear door. Of course the door can still be pulled open a bit, but it jerks to a stop with a loud noise and can't open any wider. Because I'm not used to using that chain that much, I tend to forget that it's hooked when I stumble to the door first thing in the morning. So, with only one eye open and Nicki clipped to her run lead, I pulled the door open. It abruptly stopped with a loud noise. Rather than scrambling away from the door, Nicki dropped to her belly and Marine-crawled her way through an opening that should have been too small for her! It didn't go smoothly. Nicki seemed desperate. She had to push her way through the barely-open door. I couldn't close the door to open it properly, because Nicki was wedged into the opening between the door and the frame. Eventually she squirmed through and ran off to the yard.

On the way back into the house, though, Nicki shoved herself past me and through a door I had only begun to open. Unlike the first time, this door wasn't stuck - but she pushed through anyway. Hmmm.

I forgot to unhook the chain one more time, and the same thing happened. It frightened me. The opening was so small - it looked like she could be hurting herself. Then I recognized this behavior for what it is: door-darting.

Nicki was a bit of a door-darter when she first came to us. Door darting is when a dog pushes past their humans to squeeze through a door as it's being opened. There are a ton of reasons for the behavior. Some dogs think it's a game. Some are over-excited to be outside. Some are actually trying to escape. I think Nicki's motivation is a combination of wanting to go outside in general and, in this instance, escape. The loud, jarring sound the door makes when yanked to a stop at the end of the door chain can be frightening to a reactive dog. Nicki has clearly been frightened in a number of ways - for a number of reasons. And, like many PTSD survivors, one trigger can send everything into reverse. That loud, jarring noise must have been a trigger for Nicki. She was in the area where the loud noise happened, and the only thought in her mind was to escape. Loud noises must have meant something really bad was about to happen, and she wanted no part of it.

So what do we do now? We start re-training against door darting. Nicki must sit with me between her and the door. Nicki must wait until the door is fully open. At each of those points, she gets a treat. Finally, when I give her the ok, she can go through the door. When she has done so, she gets another treat. While waiting for me to fully open the door, though, she cowers. She's uncertain about what's happening and why. I can't explain it to her. All I can do is patiently insist on the behaviors I need to see, and reward them when she complies.

That's why I say everybody/NOBODY should adopt a rescue dog. Having Nicki in our lives has taught me a huge amount about how dogs think and react, and how I must think and react in response. Raising a dog from puppyhood offers little of this insight. The dog grows up learning your languages; spoken, bodily, and otherwise. Little, if any, translation is needed. Every mindful dog lover would benefit from working with a rescued dog. The dogs have so much to teach us, and in so many ways.

Some dog owners, though, never really try to communicate with their dogs. These are the fools screaming "SHUT UP!" and "SIDDOWN!"at their hapless dogs. They haven't bothered to teach the dog anything, and yet they expect to command a behavior. They shouldn't adopt ANY dog - but they never recognize themselves. Instead they have tons of stories about their "stupid dog".

And finally, NOBODY should be able adopt a rescue dog, because in a perfect world, no dog would need rescue.

A Belated Anniversary Post

September 7th was Nicki's first anniversary with us, but we were too busy to write about it! Some people refer to their fur kids' adoption date as their "birthday", especially if they don't really know the real birthday. We don't. And we don't care. Life with Nicki began for us on September 7th, 2013, and no matter what we call it, it's a great day!

Nicki has made so much progress in this first year. We've learned so much about her, and from her. She's learned a great deal from us! This is one sharp little cookie. It always amazes me that she picked up on some things so quickly - almost automatically - without being formally taught. Two quick little hand claps means "time to get off Mom's lap/ Dad's lap/ the couch / the bed/ whatever." A light tap on the haunch means "please stop cleaning yourself so vigorously on the furniture!!" And Mom looking like she's about to sit down means "hurry up and jump before she actually lands!"

Recalls are, well, a work in progress. So is leash pulling. But we're working on those. The usuals (sit, lie down, wait, stay, off, stand) are down pat - but Nicki still needs to be in a cooperative mood. That happens more often these days.

But there are other, deeper, more wonderful signs of change. Nicki now allows most men to approach her, and even to pet her. When she first came to us, she was very fearful of men. The strength of her fearful reaction shocked and saddened me. She wasn't just hesitant; she was terrified. On many occasions, she'd pee submissively in fear. I've learned to stop myself from wondering what men had done to her before. There have been some signs (she's still fearful of loud, sudden noises, anything falling or being dropped in her vicinity, and feet being extended towards her in other than a normal walking step) but I don't really want to know. I can't go back, find these guys, and thrash the bejeezus out of them (although I'd love to) so I try to not allow myself to think about it. The best thing I can do for Nicki is to make her future so good that she eventually forgets her past completely.

Now, when I call to her and say "Nicki! Daddy's home!" she runs to the door to greet him! No more fearful pee, no more cowering. Many mornings, she'll crawl up in bed before the alarm goes off, kissing my husband's nose. And he loves it. He always thanks her for "such sweet kisses".

We go out in public without fear now. Nicki has learned to navigate the aisles at Bass Pro Shop, Runnings, and the new Field and Stream store. We usually spend 15 minutes when we first get in the door being greeted by every kid and dog lover in the place. And in those stores, there are plenty of both. Nicki takes it all in, sitting politely and enjoying the attention. It keeps happening as we move through the stores. She's always calm, stays close to me, and is neither fearful nor aggressive. If you want to know whether your dog is well socialized with people, hit up one of these stores! All will be revealed! And yes, I keep an eye on the kids. No sudden moves, thank them if they ask before petting, caution parents of tiny kids to keep the child in their arms. Nicki is smarter than a lot of parents we've met, that's for sure!

As far as socialization with other dogs, she's much less reactive. She's still not actually dog-friendly, but she no longer bark-warns other dogs for being too close for too long. That's at least partly due to me being more aware of her comfort zones in time and distance for contact. I know to help her keep distance and end the customary "checking of ID" before things get too close for comfort. Every time I get it right - which is most of the time now - Nicki comes away with a positive experience in meeting another dog.

It's amazing what a year of love, patience and consistency can do. That's the whole point of this blog. If you know of someone considering adopting a rescued dog, steer them here. I hope that reading our experiences will help to open a window on the adoption experience. Every situation is different, but some things are universal. Like how much ALL creatures need to be loved. Happy Anniversary, Nicki!