Friday, April 24, 2009

Manifesting change

When Darlin’ lived on her own, there were many times that it rained or stormed and I wondered where she was hiding out. She would show up to eat if it was drizzling, I knew because I left food covered and when I went back later it was gone. I fed her out of Styrofoam bowls and would put a bowl on top like a lid, then I placed a small stick there to hold it down, but a dog could easily move it with its nose. One time my daughter took a video of her on her camera phone at 1:30 am. I didn’t see her that night so she went by to check the food on her way home and Darlin’ was out there at the tree eating. Now that I had her home and recognized how fearful she was of thunder, it explained why I didn’t see her those times. It must have caused her a great deal of anxiety to be alone out there in the woods somewhere hiding. It felt so bad for her that while I thought she was just hiding out, she was actually hiding and panicked.

I wasn’t sure when I should try a collar and a leash on Darlin’. Many of the experts and dog trainers do it right away, but Darlin’ was no ordinary dog; she was fearful and shut down. In my opinion there isn’t a text book that can help you to know when to move forward with a fearful dog. I think it takes good instincts and allowing the dog to come out of their shell at their own pace. Additionally, if you make any progress and you push for more when the dog isn’t ready, you could set the dog back. The best advice I received and that I can give today, is to earn the dogs trust and give it all the time it needs to reciprocate. If you’re not careful you could add to its stress and the dog will become more fearful of you.

You may wonder how to earn a dogs trust. I thought a lot about the subject myself. You spend time with him/her, allowing the dog to get use to your presence. Darlin’ knew me, she already knew my scent after months feeding her, but that didn’t change the fact that she was afraid of me. I sat on the ground and tossed her hot dogs out there by that feeding tree. She didn’t eat them until I got back in my car. I called to her “come eat” many times, but I had to get in my car or give her lot’s of room for her to move forward. What I had done wasn’t enough for her to feel comfortable with me. In addition, I had no clue as to how Darlin’ came to be a stray dog. If she suffered any abuse at the hands of a human (as many strays have) it was going to take a lot of time and patience from me for her to get comfortable with me.

I spent a lot of time just sitting near her. She would shake like a leaf, whether I spoke or not. It didn’t matter if I was carrying a bowl of fresh cooked meat, I was the boogey man and she was scared to death of me. I was advised to put a shirt of mine near her so that she would get used to me. Instead I bought a stuffed bunny and had it inside of my shirt all day and then slept with it before giving it to her. I’m not sure it helped. A week later I did put a dirty shirt at the entrance of her house, just inside the door. I placed her dinner on the ground just outside and when I checked on her the next morning she hadn’t touch it. That made me wonder if the shirt became a barrier for her. Like I had suggested that beyond this shirt belongs to me, that’s my food, don’t touch it. I’m quick to analyze every situation! Needless to say, I removed the shirt!

That afternoon that Darlin’ was in the garage during the thunderstorm seemed like a good time to try the collar. I thought that if I put the leash on her then perhaps she would walk back outside. I was also curious how she would react, thinking she may have had a leash on her in the past. We had a break in the rain and the sun came out so I put a collar on her. She didn’t mind, but when I clipped the leash on she trembled in fear. Not that she was comfortable when I put her collar on, she was not, but the leash intensified her anxiety.

She never acted out aggressively, but I do know that some dogs show fear aggression so I was cautious. That collar seemed to finalize that she was my dog now, I even told her as I put it on, “You’re mine now.” Given that she was so afraid of the leash, I decided to pick her up and carry her back to her dog house. She cowered in the corner at the fence when I put her down, so fearful, trembling like she was coming to a boil and would explode. It’s hard to watch a dog in such a state of anxiety!

I took the top off of her house for her and snapped a few quick pictures before she jumped back inside. All of my pictures of her were with her behind the fence, mostly taken from my office window. This time I was inside with her and the fence was in the background. One of my favorite pictures of her was taken that day and is at the side bar on this blog.

Over the next week I would take her top off of the dog house every morning. She would lay out there all day watching the birds fly by and observing dogs out in the yard. I was actually concerned that she wasn’t getting enough exercise. She would lie as low as she could when I came down the stairs and I could see her anxiety before I ever reached the kennel gate. I did put Frontline flea control on her as well. I just moved her hair, put it on, and walked away. Later that afternoon she jumped back in her lid to get away from me. I think she was still upset that I touched her earlier putting on the flea control.

I started talking to her more and reaching in her house and scratching her behind the ears. I had read not to touch, no eye contact, and that I shouldn’t speak, but it seemed time to let her know that the hands that feed her would not harm her. She began giving me more eye contact and I could see her watching me from our back deck. I knew then she was starting to trust me.

We built an indoor kennel for her because Alabama has its share of tornadoes in the Spring, anytime for that matter. Besides the weather, I am not comfortable with my dog living outdoors. It’s also inconvenient for me as a caregiver, having to go down to feed and spend time with her, I do have four other dogs. Once I had her indoors, she would never spend another night in the rain, nor would she ever have to suffer outside alone through another storm. Since I had carried her inside during that first storm, and I had picked her up to put her back in her dog house when she cowered inside the lid, the pattern would continue until she was ready to walk on her own.

When my dogs were in the house I would leave the gate open to the dog pen hoping she would want to explore the yard. She just laid there comfortable in her house and showed no interest in leaving. I would pick her up and carry her to the yard, most times she was too scared and ran back to her house, but one afternoon she did venture out and quickly found a safe corner by the fence.

I did this a few more times that week; most times she cowered and trembled in the corner at the fence as I approached her. I picked her up and carried her back to the dog pen when it was time to allow my own dogs out again. There was a time or two that she ran from me as I went to get her. Her behavior concerned me because she looked like a wild dog running wild in the yard. The last thing I needed was to be trying to catch her in my own yard. Additionally, I have a Jack Russell that has a mind of her own and doesn’t come when I call her if she's out hunting or checking her holes in the yard. I did not need another stubborn dog!

So I decided to try the leash again, but she wouldn’t budge. I ordered a 30ft. leash hoping the distance would encourage her to walk because she could get further away from me. Each time I clipped the leash she froze, trembled, but became more submissive. That was when the tummy rubs started! I couldn’t get her to walk, but I was touching and giving tummy rubs, so she was telling me that I’m in control and she was trying to trust me!

We had more rain and storms on the way. I decided to bring her indoors to the garage the night they were supposed to start. This way I wouldn’t have to rush out in the night to get her. She was scared, but made herself comfortable in her bed. I would go down to the garage and sit quietly with her, offering her treats, and I even brought toys that my stir her curiosity. I rolled a red ball down the length of the kennel and it hit the wall and rolled back. She showed no interest whatsoever.

I carried her outside to go potty; she did her business quickly and always ran to the corner of the fence. She actually began to find comfort in my arms. There were several times that I carried her outside when she raised her paws up for me as I reached for the door handle! I would rub her behind the ears on our way out and kiss the top of her head. Outdoors, I would walk over and get her and carry her back inside.

After a few days the weather cleared and it was time to move her back outside. I watched her from my office window and noticed she kept staring at the back door! I went outside and opened her gate, but she didn’t do anything. I went back upstairs and stood on the deck and she ran to the back door. I was amazed that she wanted inside so I ran down to open the door and she wasn’t there, she was behind the hot tub! It took a few minutes of coaxing to get her to move forward. Actually I persuaded her with the broom to her bottom, just enough that I was touching her. Once she was within reach I pulled her out and took her to the garage. She quickly made herself comfortable and that was the end of her attachment to her dog house. It was actually just a few days shy of one month here when she moved indoors to the garage kennel permanently. Once I realized she was happy inside, I felt a renewed sense of hope about her making great progress.


  1. It's so nice to know there are people like you out there. I can't read or watch anything having to do with animals because I get too emotional. I've rescued a few dogs and cats along the way and its really wonderful.

  2. Thank you, I know exactly how you feel. And with so many abandoned and abused animals, it is hard on the heart. Bless you for giving the helpless homes.

    I have to tell you, I cracked up reading over your blog! I read that in the canine world there is only canine language. Your body language helps them understand what you want. I was calling Darlin in Spanish thinking she might have been owned by a Mexican. I'll try anything once, twice most times because I'm stubborn.