Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Building Confidence through Curiosity

Once Darlin’ was living upstairs she became more curious about her surroundings and I began to notice her behavior changing. She started showing some interest in living as one of the pack and seemed to be enjoying her new location.

At first I’d have to carry her out to the deck after putting my dogs away. I wanted her to get comfortable going out in the yard from the upstairs and I hoped she would follow me without the fear of another dog in her way. She did it! She had not used the bathroom for 11 hours because of storms so she didn’t hesitate getting down to the yard. Since she took those steps with ease, I continued working with her, spending lots of time encouraging her with words to “go potty, that’s my good girl, and you’re doing great!” Usually I go down first and as soon as I start back up the stairs I hear her collar because she’s running right behind me. I’m hoping she’ll get comfortable walking down with the other dogs so that I won’t always have to lead her out to the yard.

Darlin’ was afraid of the dogs and they were a little too eager to meet her so that didn’t help her anxiety. I kept them all separated from her the first three weeks, after that I gradually allowed them all a little time in the yard under my strict supervision. Her tail was always down tight between her legs, she would freeze when one approached her, and most times if she could get away she tucked herself tightly in a corner. She is more comforable now, but still not acting like one of the dogs.

First introductions

Living as a pack member, not real comfortable with the dogs.

I loved to see her relax enough to roll and scratch her back.

In the daytime no one was home except myself and the animals so getting Darlin’ to go out wasn’t hard too do, but when my family came home she would stay in her bed because she’s still fearful of new people…or anything for that matter.

In the evenings I had to carry her out back. She ran down the stairs, but getting her back inside took a lot of encouragement or I had to carry her upstairs. There have been many times she would make it to the top step, but as soon as she saw me in the doorway calling her in she ran back down. I’ve have to be patient with Darlin’, but I have to admit it can get frustrating. I started trying the leash again on the nights she wouldn’t come when I called her, although most of the time I was standing in the yard with her. She doesn’t let me out of her sight for very long and follows behind, but she’s so careful about coming back inside. She’ll be walking around the yard and freeze because she heard something in the kitchen, at that point she goes on high alert.

When she does come in she runs to a dog bed by the couch, that’s her first stop. That’s also where I started giving her treats that she will now eat in front of me. For her to lean over for food within seconds after I lay it there is truly a miraculous thing for Darlin’. She went from not eating for three days, to eating late at night, to eating when I offer her food while I’m still present. I’ll take it! I believe she will be taking food from me within the next month. Paws crossed!

One mistake I have made is thinking (or expecting) that she’ll make progress everyday when in fact it takes a few days for her to try something new, which isn’t bad at all. During her sixth week home when she was doing so well living in the dining room, she discovered the shed out back. This girl has gotten herself stuck in some tight spots when she was scared so I don’t know why I was surprised that she could crawl under the shed. She went under and came back out twice one afternoon! And she came when I called her to go get her treat.

My daughter and her boyfriend walked out on the deck just about the time that Darlin’ made it to the top. She saw them and ran back down and went straight for that shed! And she was still under there 8 hours later!

I was pretty upset, I didn’t want her hiding out all night, and yes, I knew she would come out eventually; it just seemed like a setback for her. I took the dogs out late and could see her muzzle under there so I started calling her, but she moved further back. I started throwing Frisbee for my JRT and spent a little time just standing around the yard with them.

Once we were finished playing I called all the dogs to go get their treats, a word I know that Darlin’ has learned, and I called for Darlin’ to go “eat”, another word I know that she understands. She had also missed her dinner so I hoped she was hungry. I went upstairs to the kitchen and called each dog by name and started passing out treats, over and over with the back door wide open. Then I heard Darlin’s collar from when she shook herself in the yard. I kept calling out names and passing out treats and within a few minutes, guess who goes running to her bed in the dining room? I closed the door and went to praise her, when I reached for her head she sniffed my hand. I had been passing out Beggin Strips and that hand sniff meant a lot coming from her, it was a dog thing and I don’t get to see much natural dog behavior from her. She got her Beggin Strip and dinner followed, which she didn’t waste any time eating that night. The next morning my husband nailed boards across the bottom, now no one gets under there.

That weekend she had been outside and on her way in the house when she ran into my son, so she took a detour and ended up in my office. She found an empty space under my desk and laid there and napped. I figured that was the best place for her since I’m in my office a lot. Well, she spent the next two days under there and it became her new safe place. She hasn’t been back to the dining room!

It's nice to be trusted.

I gave her a bigger bed

Darlin’ made great strides last week in feeling more secure. There were many times when it was work getting her out from under my desk, sometimes having to carry her out, but she made several successful attempts to come out on her own. During the day I took time out of my usual online schedule, closed my office door and spent time watching television. I knew she would want to be where I was so she laid in her bed in the living room. One afternoon she even slept on the couch with her head against my leg! When my daughter walked in from school she scooted and hid behind me, but she did keep looking back at my daughter which is a good thing.

I went to check email and lost my spot on the couch.

At night I would sit with her on the couch, then I leave her there and she has slept there all night for a week. The nights when we had thunderstorms I did leave my office open so she could hide under my desk if she needed to. In the mornings my husband would open my office so she had a safe place to go if she feels nervous. She usually disappears when he’s not looking.

She walked through the kitchen a few times when I called the dogs for treats. She’s more curious now, but since she doesn’t take food from me she doesn’t stay long. Just seeing her in the kitchen really warmed my heart and gives me hope about what kind of dog she’ll be in the near future.

"Darlin', come get your treat."

There she is.

She didn't stay, but she showed up!

I have reminded my family that it took five to six weeks for Darlin’ to bond with me and we are still working on our relationship; therefore we should expect it to take as long for her to get comfortable with my family.

She’s doing fine around the dogs these days. There are occasions where the pack gets over excited for whatever reason, and she may freeze up, or may run to my office, but most times she seems to understand what’s going on with them.

I make a big deal out of everything I do with my other dogs, from playtime to treat time. I call everyone by name in front of her, they have to sit for food which she sees, and I praise like crazy. If she runs in from outside to her bed, then I pet her head and tell her, “Good sit” just like I do the others. If she has to learn basic commands by association, that works for me right now. Since she doesn’t play, is still fearful and cautious, and isn’t food motivated, it’s the best I could hope for in less than two months time. And more than I ever expected after researching fearful dogs.

I’m doing better these days. After bringing Darlin’ home it didn’t take much for me to get emotional. There were times I couldn’t talk about her before I went to tears. It wasn’t easy having a dog that was shut down and trembling in fear, a dog that was so frightened of everything that she wouldn’t eat. It made me angry that someone dumped her or abandoned her and left her out there to fend for herself…for who knows how long before I met her. Once I saw in her eyes that she was learning to trust me, each day brings me a renewed sense of hope for Darlin’ in the months ahead.

I take a lot of pictures. One day I took 140 of the dogs! I’m ending this post with some of my recent favorites. Keep in mind that Darlin’ appears like a normal happy dog in these pictures. I don’t take pictures of her looking afraid, I see that often enough. She has a long way to go before she has adapted to her new home and family and feels safe around everyone. She has gone from a feral dog to more skittish now, but a skittish dog is a fearful dog.


  1. Thank you for rescuing this dog! Dogs give us so much unconditional love and even health benefits:

    And we as a society tend to give them so little. Thanks again!

  2. What a powerful testimony to the diligence and will of ONE person in their quest to extend love and compassion to a dog who has been betrayed in countless ways by our society. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You're doing great! Keep up the good work. What progress you have made. The power of love.

  3. Wonderful, I know it is hard and progress can seem soooo slow.

    It takes a good six months just for a dog like Darlin to really start to trust. But the reward...ah just wait. This will turn into one of the best relationships you've ever had.

  4. I love this story about Darlin , I to have a rescue dog, who has spend her last 2 months in a kennel She is now 8 months old, & has been with us for about 5 weeks now, She also has problems with trust, & does not know how to play like most pups her age, I have started to take her to Obedience Classes she is on her second week & is very clinging to me, I want her to relax with other people & other dogs,
    Her name Is TESS, she is a mixed of Jack Russell & some other terrier , she acts like the JRT but looks like a Wheaten , I adopted her when I saw her picture on the Paws to Paws sight, Her transport was a 19 hours ride in a truck packed with crates of other dogs that were adopted, I held her in my arms after she was removed from the truck & pictures were taken, Once I got her home she hid & would not eat or drink, for a couple days, I brought her water in her hiding place behind my chair, & wet her nose with my fingers dripping of the water, then she started to lap my fingers, then one short kiss to the side of my face, & I knew things would work out,

  5. I am the one who adopted Tess, & I have put my e-mail address here, Tess's second class was not as good as the first class, The trainer took her as a show & tell on how to treat a fearful dog, I told the trainer that Tess was a rescue dog, she asked me to move away while she took the leash and tried to get Tess to come to her, Tess pulled away from her, & would not budge from the pulling even when offered a bite of a hot dog,
    So she asked me to take back the leash & try to get Tess to go to her bed next to where I was sitting , she would not take the hot dog & hid under the folding chair I was sitting on,
    At home I can get her to sit lay down & come when I call her 9 out of 10 times that is. It's that 10th call that worries me, Now she seems to have a separation problem when I leave her, I take her with me each time we go to the store, My husband stays in the car with her, He told me that all Tess does when I am out of her sight is to whine & goes to both sides of the car's windows,
    Tess will not lay down in the back seat when I am driving she stands with her front paws on the console & keeps an eye on the windshield,
    She seems to like the car rides But will not lay down while I am driving, I think she has been crated to long, I do not want to crate her, But I do want her to relax while I am driving, & when I have to leave her to go into a store, I am not sure on how to get her use to staying in the car alone for a short time (in good weather) I am afraid what she may do to the car if left alone , Or left alone at home for an hour or so at a time.

  6. Hi Mary. Thank you for recscuing Tess! Did you get her from a shelter or a rescue group? If from a group, she wasn't ready for adoption. No telling what she had been through, but the world has been a scary place for her. She feels safe with you now and has bonded, unfortunately it sounds like she has some separation anxiety. Darlin has a little separation anxiety, but she doesn't tear up anything or cry when I'm gone. The best thing you can do for Tess it teach her commands and limit the spoiling. I know it's hard, especially when they are so small and depend on us. You are welcome to email me. I did not get your address. And I'm happy to help if I can. We could speak over the phone. were 4 dogs AT gmail.com no spaces and use the @ symbol.