Saturday, April 18, 2009

Learning to Trust

We were now into the second week and I was spending a lot of time sitting in a chair looking out my office window with my camera ready. Darlin’ would only come out of her house during the day if she thought no one was around, and it was for one purpose only, to relieve herself. She didn’t waste any time, if she went potty, she checked out the grounds and was back in her house within a minute or two. In the pictures she looks like she was smiling, but she was panting because she was so nervous about her new surroundings.

She would tremble in fear when I approached her dog house. She wouldn’t look at me at all, she kept her head turned and her cheek pressed against the inside wall of her dog house. When the weather was good I would go outside and take the top off of her house so she would have to see and hear what was happening around her. I have four other dogs and she was frightened by them too. It didn’t help that they would get overly excited (barking and scratching at the fence) because there was a dog that they couldn’t get to and that wouldn’t come out to greet them.

I did more research on feral dogs, fearful dogs, stray dogs, and canine behavior. I discovered and ordered the ebook. This is a great site for dog owners that have dogs with any type of behavioral issues due to fear or trust. It helped me to understand more about the length of time that it could take for Darlin’ to come out of her shell and to see what’s possible for a dog that hides and cowers. The site was created because of Sunny, a fearful border collie that was saved from a hoarding situation.

I also bought the book, The Cautious Canine by Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D. (29 pages). It turned out to be another training book using food or clicker training. I read about Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas. These signals help dog owners understand the communication between dogs. I think a lot of people would benefit from understanding what a dog is communicating through its body language.

I knew what Darlin’ was saying when I sat next to her and she trembled in fear. I already understood that the smacking of her lips when I reached into her dog house to give her a treat. She was uncomfortable by my presence and I was too close. It wasn’t hard to figure out that she was scared to death of people. Now that she was home with me I knew why she kept her distance when I put food out for her all those months; she didn’t trust people, either because she had a bad experience, or she had no contact with people for a very long time.

Everything that I found on fearful, nervous, or unsocialized dogs consisted of food motivation and clicker training. Training isn’t what I needed, food and treats do not motivate Darlin’, and we are so far from clicker training or any training for that matter.

In my research I stumbled upon Randy Grim of Stray Rescue of St. Louis. Randy Grim is the author of three books; this man has saved over 5000 homeless street dogs in East St. Louis. I’ve driven through that area many times, in fact we pulled over in an alley when my JRT got car sick during our last relocation. When I watched his videos (recommended viewing) I knew I had to reach out to him and ask for advice or help with Darlin’. She was as scared as some of the dogs he trapped, the difference was Randy was trapping starving dogs in daylight, while Darlin’ had been fed by me for six months. I wrote Randy and he was kind and generous in his response to my plea for help with her.

Hi- I am working with a feral now at my house- it is so important that you get your well adjusted dogs involved. Use them as your way to show her that life with people can be great.

Do not force attention on her; let her come around at her on speed. When you show affection to your dogs, make sure she sees it.

It is a long road but my little guy now is letting me pet and loves being around the other dogs. I purposely do nothing to force myself on him. Here is a link to some info and here is a chapter from my upcoming book that could help. Hang in there, her spirit will back.

He said the same thing my dad told me and what several Petfinder members suggested. It was going to take time and to allow her to go at her own speed. For her to except and trust me I was going to have to move slowly and watch for small signs that she was in fact making progress.

In the meantime everything I did for her was going to help her associate me with good things in her life. There were people that suggested I withhold her food until she would allow me to hand feed her. I couldn’t do it; I don’t care what the experts say. There was no way I could allow her to stop eating because she would stop until she was starving. I didn’t withhold food from my children that didn’t like something and I wasn’t going to do it with Darlin’, my new friend. Darlin’ never ate in front of me, she went her first three days at home without eating and I left food inside of her house. Her treats laid there for hours until no one was around before she ate them and she wouldn’t even eat with a dog in the yard. I was going to show her that I was a great hunter, by offering a hard to resist food and then sitting it down next to her until she was ready to lean over for it. Right or wrong, it was my choice. If she learned to love my hunting skills, she could learn to love and trust me.

She was in her dog pen nine days when I thought I saw her head looking out at the dogs one morning. The next day I let them out and ran to my window with the camera. What a glorious sight it was for me to see her watching the dogs early in the morning!

That same morning I went out to take her top off and she didn’t jump back in the lid! I didn’t speak to her; I just refilled her water bowl and sat down on the ground sideways next to her. Now she could make herself comfortable and watch what was going on in the yard. That morning filled me with hope!

Now that she was just lying in her house, I began spending more time in the yard with my own dogs, throwing the Frisbee for my Jacks, giving tummy rubs to my cattle dog, and sitting with my Eskie in my lap. I looked over my shoulder and could see her looking in our direction, but if she caught a glimpse of me looking at her she turned her head away. For her to show signs of curiosity, this was a big step in the right direction.

She would still tremble in fear as I approached her in the evenings to put the top back on her house, but she seemed very comfortable lying there all day in the sun. If I went out she cowered down, but when I caught a glimpse of her alone she appeared to be happy there. She also started looking at me as I approached her, making momentary eye contact with me, another good sign.

One afternoon I heard my dogs barking at my window. We had rain that day so I had the top on Darlin’s house and the plastic flap which was the door. My dogs were making such a commotion so I looked out of my office and she was outside! She looked so beautiful! I was talking to her from my window and her face was so lit up, but when I saw her panting I became more aware that she was nervous. She started running in circles around the house looking confused in her excited state - when I realized she didn't know how to get back inside!

I went down to show her the way back inside and she shook like a leaf in the corner of the dog pen. I took the top off and showed her by patting the bed that she could jump in. She hesitated unsure so I picked her up, stroked her head, and put the top back on. That was the first time I had picked her up!

The next morning I woke to the sound of thunder cracking at 5 am. The first thing I did was run look out the window and Darlin’ was outside! She had no trouble finding that doggy door! I watched and could see her looking out panting. I let two of my dogs out and my JRT went straight to the dog kennel. Darlin’ comes out and met her face to face, then I saw her circling around the yard inside her kennel, she was very nervous. I finally got my JRT to come up because the wind was blowing like crazy and the rain was getting heavy, then I watched Darlin with my binoculars. She would come out, run to each corner of the pen as though she was looking for a way out, she'd go back inside of her house, and then come out again. She was so scared!

I couldn’t handle seeing her like that so I got dressed and went to get her while my husband carried the dog house inside. I wrapped her in a blanket and carried her into the garage...gosh she was heavy! I didn’t want to cause her any more anxiety, but she was already such a wreck from the storms. I just couldn't leave her out in a thunderstorm as she ran around the kennel looking for a way out. I wouldn't do that to my Eskie who’s afraid of storms or even leave my dogs out in the rain. As soon as I put her down in the garage she crawled under some duct work behind the air conditioner and wedged herself in tight. She had defecated which worried me further. We put her house nearby in case she came out.

I waited a couple of hours and each time I went to check on her I tried to pull and coax her out. I ended up having to take the pump off of the AC, I grabbed a hold of her hips and started pulling her gently. I said to myself, "I'm expecting a miracle" and she relaxed! She relaxed enough which allowed me to pull her out! She was even looking back in my direction as I pulled her back and brought her straight into my lap. I held her, pet her head, and told her it was okay...famous last words from me everyday, "It's okay Darlin, it's okay." She was in just the right position in my lap that I moved her tail and looked at her tummy and was sure for the first time that she was in fact a girl! My ACD/heeler is submissive and never lifts his leg so I had no way of knowing for sure!!

So it was 15 days before I actually handled her. Thank goodness for thunderstorms! This was also a big breakthrough for each of us learning to trust the other. I helped her to safety during the storm and she responded well to my handling of her.

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