Saturday, May 2, 2009

Response to Love

My friend emailed me a few days after I trapped Darlin'. She said that she had read a recent study where research showed that all animals (except snakes) respond to love. Kathleen has opened her heart and home to several cats that were abandoned or dumped at her farm. They were cats that most people would consider feral and unadoptable, yet she was able to domesticate them. I needed to read that email because I had been feeling blue that night thinking about Darlin being so fearful and how long it could take to rehabilitate her. Lots of love and a good home was what I hoped she would thrive on.

Darlin’ was here a little less a month when I moved her indoors to the garage kennel permanently. It would become her new living quarters. The first few days she would get fidgety when I approached her. I sat with her and continued with the same feeding schedule; bringing her treats twice a day and dinner in the evening. She still wouldn’t eat anything in front of me, but she began giving me more eye contact and started sitting up a little as I approached her gate. She looked more like she was trying to get comfortable, but it was her way of raising her head and chest up. Within a few days she was not looking away unless I offered her food. That week she showed me another side of herself, her gentle nature and her ability to respond my love for her.

She was happy there in the garage. I carried her outside to go potty and she would go limp in my arms when I carried her. I knew she was attached to her kennel so I started leaving all the doors open hoping that she would follow me back inside. She was heavy and I was exhausted having to lift her and carry her through our downstairs den to the backyard. My plan worked! It took a lot of encouragement from me to get her to walk back inside the house, but she did it!! And she mastered coming back inside within a day or two. It was scary though, she had to pass a TV and her eyes would get huge, she turned the corner at the couch so fast her feet slid out from under her, and when I put a rug there, she turned so fast that the rug slid too. She showed me how smart she was one morning by stopping at the corner of the couch, jumping up on the couch, then she jumped over the arm so that she made it just inside the garage before she ran to her kennel!

Even though I knew she felt safe in the garage, she was spending too much time alone and she didn’t want to spend anytime outside anymore. Considering that I spend most of my time in my office, I was at the furthest point away from her in our home. I needed to move her upstairs, at least a few hours a day. It was time for her to get use to the noise and people in our home. My husband built a gate for our formal dining room and I set up an area for her there. I remember thinking, “An antique glass collector moves fearful dog into her dining room.” Oh boy! I didn’t know what I was getting into, but this way she would have a place away from everyone, but see what was going on around her. She was still afraid of the dogs and would hide in the corner of the yard when I had them out together. At least upstairs she could get familiar with everyone’s routine, including the dogs.

That Sunday I was gone all day, transporting a Jack Russell to her rescue home. I felt bad about having to leave Darlin’ in the garage, but we had severe weather alerts in the area. She was alone 10 hrs that day. This dog has a ten gallon bladder and even though her kennel has puppy pads on the floor at the other end, she will not make a mess in there. She never has messed on the floor indoors.

Not only was she spending too much time alone, she was inside too much and needed to be outside watching the other dogs. I was told by a few Pet Finder members that one day I would walk outside and her tail would be wagging, just like it did when I use to drive up to feed her. That’s exactly what happened on 4/20/2009, just 5 ½ weeks after bringing her home!

I had put her in the outdoor kennel and let my other dogs out. I walked out on the back deck and she ran to the gate, but quickly ran back to her house. I went down to talk to her and she ran to the gate with her tail wagging! I was overcome with joy! I also realized she did not want to be outside! She gave me a play bow and dropped to the ground so I went inside and gave her a tummy rub. I had just witnessed behavior in her I had never seen before! She wanted to go inside and thought I was coming to get her! I did leave her there because we have had so much rain I wanted her to have some sunshine. She was so sweet, but when I walked away she had the saddest expression on her face.

And she spent more time out of her house that day than she ever had, including when the dogs were in the yard. She may have thought they would let her out!

Darlin’ was home six weeks when I started introducing her to the upstairs…where we live and spend most of our time. At first she spent a few hours in the dining room in her bed, but I took her to the garage to eat and sleep. Since she wasn’t comfortable eating around anyone so I wanted her to feel secure and relaxed during dinner. Carrying her up and down the stairs was no easy task either. After a couple of days I decided it was time for her to live upstairs permanently, although I was dreading having to take her outside. The only way to the backyard is to walk down fifteen deck steps - just something else to add to my already aching knees.

Those first few days upstairs were easy. She wanted nothing more than to lie in her bed, eat in her bed, and watched me pass by her. That weekend was more challenging for Darlin’ because my husband and children were home and she was exposed to new scents and sounds. I have to admit, I did, and still do, ask my family to consider that there is a fearful dog in the room. Right or wrong, I don’t want loud music or voices to scare her into a setback. There wouldn’t be a day go by around here where everyone is tip-toeing around anyway.

The dogs weren’t sure about having a dog in the dining room that they couldn’t sniff. I kept them away from the gate so they wouldn’t get overly excited. They ate their dinner, while she let hers sit until no one was around, so the smell of her food attracted them to her gate as well. She acted like she had never been around dogs before and still showed no interest in socializing with them. I was concerned about introducing a fearful dog to five dogs too. I have never brought a dog home that wasn’t introduced to them right away. And I have a dominant female JRT (Bonnie) that is quick to move forward in an introduction. I knew I was going to have to watch her body language closely. I had introduced all of the dogs to her out in the yard, as a group and one on one, but I kept the two females on leashes.

That Sunday night we had another round of thunderstorms come through around midnight. To my surprise she was out of her bed behind the gate; she was panting and uneasy, just like she had been during other storms. I opened the gate and brought her to the couch with me and she managed to settle down, but she continued to pant and breathe heavily. Darlin’ obviously has a noise phobia due to thunderstorms, but she hasn’t lived with me long enough to determined whether she has Neophobia (fear of the unknown) or other phobias. Yes, she has fear of the unknown with me now because she was living in the wild for a long time. She may not have had human contact for years and may have ever been inside a home before. It’s too soon for me to determine or predict her behavior as she is still being introduced to new surroundings and I have no prior history on her.

I have a small Eskimo Spitz that has fear of thunderstorms and I do not comfort or console her when she becomes anxious. Well, I have pet her if she’s in the bathroom when I use it, but I don’t seek her out to nurture her during a storm. I had an Australian Shepherd for 10 years that was also fearful of storms and I learned early on with Daisy that there was no amount of comfort or ignoring her behavior that could change her fear of thunder. She was six years old when I adopted her so her fear of thunder was already well established. If you have a food or toy motivated dog, you may be able to distract them, but once you stop they are likely to show a fear response again. Darlin’ is fearful of everything right now, so much so she didn’t touch the bacon I gave her and I threw it away two days later. Can you imagine a dog not eating bacon?

Canine Behavioral Experts recommend that you NOT comfort or pet a dog during any type of fearful situation. They tell us by doing so we nurture the behavior and condition the dog to continue to respond anxiously. Or that we are telling the dog through positive reinforcement that there is something to be afraid of. In my opinion this may be true depending on the dog and the dog owner, and whether or not the dog owner comforts the dog during every fearful situation.

I did take advantage of Darlin’s fear that night by petting her until the storms passed. I sat quietly and calmly on the couch watching television with one arm draped over her neck while I scratched her behind the ear. She moved closer to me on the couch and at one point she laid her chin against my leg. That night was another turning point for Darlin’ as she seemed so much more relaxed in my presence now - at least during a thunderstorm!

Since she spent time on the couch that evening, I left her there and went to bed. She was in her bed the next morning, but she sat up as though she wanted to come out on her own. Seeing her front feet on the floor made me feel like she was greeting me! I started encouraging her to go outside with the dogs, but it was obviously hard work for her getting her body to move forward and in sync with her mind. She did walk outside, with her tail tucked tight between her legs, moving as quickly as she could through the kitchen, with her head and body low to the floor. She began to trust more and I was so excited by her progress! I started leaving her gate wide open and removed yet another one of her protective layers. Toby, the broken coat Jack Russell, wanted to make friends with her right away.

1 comment:

  1. man, this is an amazing story. i can't believe what you did. and you're so thoughtful about your approach, too.