Thursday, June 4, 2009

Steady Progress

Darlin is making steady progress learning to live as a family pet. Knowing her like I do now, I truly believe she didn’t have any human contact for a very long time. And I’m certain she hasn’t ever lived in a home because she is afraid of every sound and afraid to pass through a doorway. Little noises frighten her; like the time I dropped a pill bottle and she took off running like the house was on fire. One night I dropped the remote three times and she ran to hide. I even get mad at my clumsiness because I try and do everything I can to help her feel more secure.

She was owned by someone in her life. She was not born in the wild. The vet shaved her tummy the day she came over and gave her shots and the heartworm test. She has a small faint scar, but there is no way of knowing for sure unless she goes in heat. I had hoped she had an ultrasound in her van, but for now we’ll just assume she is spayed. She hasn’t gotten pregnant since I’ve known her so that’s another good sign that she has been altered. Her stomach is much softer than my other female dogs and the skin sags a little so I think she’s had puppies in her life.

In February I rescued two Jack Russell’s that were urgent at a pound in Tennessee. In order for me to send them to rescue, they had to be altered before I could pick them up because I was taking them out of state. Animal Control took them to their Vet and I picked them up from there the morning after surgery. The Vet told me that the female Jack Russell had a scar, but there was no way of knowing for certain if she was spayed or if it was from something else so they opened her up and found out she had been. Quite honestly I was shocked when I heard that. After that happened to that poor little girl, there is no way I want Darlin’ cut on if it’s not necessary. If she is in fact spayed, she’s obviously had human contact, but considering how fearful she is of everything, she must have been neglected by a previous owner and later abandoned. And she may have had some bad experiences while living as a stray. I just can’t imagine her having many positive experiences in her life. That really hurts too because she is such a gentle spirit. She deserved so much better than what she endured living in the woods, looking for shelter and food.

Darlin’ has spent seven weeks living upstairs. She hasn’t adjusted as well as I hoped to my family, but she’s getting there. My husband continues to offer her bites of Swiss cheese (her favorite) in the evenings when he’s fixing his lunch for the following day. I’m referring to him these days as the “Stinky Cheese Man”. She’s at the point where she will look up at him, but he has to leave it on her foot and walk away. She’ll wait until he leaves the room before she eats it. She likes to be scratched behind the ears, something she enjoys from me, so my husband lays the cheese down, scratches her behind the ear and walks away.

She is catching on to dinnertime and our routine. Since bringing her upstairs I have been the one to feed all the dogs because I add boiled chicken and broth to their food. I continue to offer Darlin’ special foods so that she will associate good things with me and her new home. Surely just getting fed is enough, but I spoil her because she’s special. And naturally I wouldn’t offer her something special without treating my other four dogs equally. My dogs gather in the kitchen when I prepare dinner because that chicken smells good and two of them are highly food motivated. If no one is around Darlin’ passes through the kitchen several times when I’m filling the bowls. When I’m finished she usually runs to her bed because she has been eating wherever she sleeps. A couple of weeks ago she hung around as I called each dog and placed their dish in front of them so I called her and put her food down too. I was so surprised that she stood there and ate some dinner before she thought about what she was doing and went back to her bed. It only happened once, but I can see now that the prospects are good for feeding her with all the dogs in the near future. My husband was out of town which helped her feel more comfortable that evening. Since he’s home she eats dinner most nights in my office.

She is starting to take treats from my hands! She took one a few weeks ago, but I could tell by the look of confusion on her face that it was an accident. When she took one last week she didn’t have that look like she had thought about it. I was passing them out in the kitchen after the dogs came inside. I call each dog by name, and then they step forward and sit for me. Since Darlin’ has eaten at her bed, she would run to the bedroom and sit in her dog bed. I followed her, handed her the treat, and she took it. Then she ran back to the doorway to meet me there with the next one. She took several in bed and several standing at the doorway! I was so excited by her progress that I kept calling out names, passing out treats, and taking Darlin’ hers.

Since last week she’s been coming to the kitchen doorway for her treats during the day while no one is home. She’d take her treat, then run back to the bedroom and peek her head out of the door. Instead of following her, I call her back to me. If she doesn’t come she misses out, but most times she will come now. If I keep taking the treats to her I will condition her to think all treats will be given to her in the bedroom so I’m trying to change things up. It will be nice when she waits for her treats in the kitchen like the rest of the dogs.

Something else that surprised me that week happened when I went downstairs to watch TV with my husband (not something I do very often). My other dogs always follow me down so Darlin’ was left upstairs. A little while later my Jack Russell starting barking at something under the table. I thought it might have been a cat we have that growls when the dogs are around. I reached over and it was Darlin’! We had storms in the area and she was frightened so she came looking for me! I stroked her back and she made herself comfortable beside my chair and stayed there until I got up to go upstairs. She was panicked, but she was with me.

I can’t tell you how good it feels to take a fearful dog into your home and later learn that the dog finds comfort next to you. On the other hand, it’s been a test of my patience, endurance, and dog training abilities having her here. Well, forget the dog training part. You can’t train a fearful dog until they trust you completely and are comfortable in their environment. Right now I’m working more at helping her learn by association.

I don’t have to carry her to the yard any longer, but I do have to carry her out of my office to the back door if anyone is home - regardless if they are in another room. She stays close to me most times in the yard, however if I sit in a chair and give her a chance she’ll explore more of the yard. And she’s going potty all over now, something I wish she didn’t do. She was using the bathroom towards the back of the yard where the other dogs go, now she will go a few feet from the patio.

If anyone is home and she is out back, she can’t take her eyes off the back door. I have 100+ picture of her looking at that back door. It’s her way back inside and probably causes her some anxiety wondering how she’ll get back in the house with my husband or children in there. It’s sad really, seeing her stare at the door when she could be enjoying her time outside.

She’s always anxious to go back up too, as soon as I start walking towards the steps she comes running. Once she reaches the top step she stops and stares at the door, then I begin calling her inside. It use to take a lot of encouraging words to get her to walk back in the door. The last few days she comes inside without too much hesitation, but she’s fast and runs right to a bed by the couch.

I do see some “wild” behavior in her, or behavior a dog that’s lived outside without the care of a human would do. Last week I dumped one of the pools and water collected in a hole that my JRT dug. Instead of Darlin drinking from the fresh pool water, she drank muddy water from the hole in the ground. In fact, all of the water she drinks comes from the pools or water I give her. I will take a bowl to her when she’s sitting on the couch with me because she’ll smack her lips and I suddenly realize that she must be thirsty. Since she does not explore the house at all, she has never had a drink of water from the dog’s water bowl in the kitchen. Little things most people would never think about.

I had Darlin’s DNA tested from Canine Heritage. I was so impatient that I checked the status of her test almost everyday online. Then when it shipped I found out I couldn’t get the results online after all! Her results were “In the Mix” suggesting she was a mixed breed with many breeds, but she had markers for Golden Retriever and English Coonhound. I’ve never owned either breed so I don’t know much about them, but after looking through Google images I could see both breeds in her. I had already thought about Golden Retriever and many Petfinder friends were thinking she’s part Beagle, probably because of the coonhound. She may still have Beagle in her somewhere too. The DNA test didn’t identify the breed that blows its coat because she was blowing her coat like my cattle dog - she still is. I think she is a beauty! She’s so graceful; sometimes she looks like she’s prancing when she runs across the yard.

I see coonhound in her.

Her favorite place is lying under my desk which is fine because I spend a lot of time in my office. At night I usually have to carry her out to a dog bed in the living room. Otherwise she will stand in the doorway and watch my son’s door because she hears him and his music or TV, usually both. She won’t always come out from under my desk on her own. Most of the time I pull her bed out so that I can pick her up.

Recently Toby started running for her spot.

Darlin’ enjoys the affection I give her. I kiss her more times in a day than I can count and I stroke her head and ears whenever I am near her. She is the sweetest, quietest, and gentlest dog I’ve ever owned. Her behavior may change as she becomes more comfortable around here, but for now she just wants a safe place and affection. I still haven’t heard her bark; not since that one time when we approached the trap. My dogs run across the yard barking when they hear other dogs nearby. Darlin’ will just stop and observe the other dogs. If they get too rowdy running and barking she’ll usually run to a corner in the yard.

She is doing something I’m still unsure about, it’s happened several times. When she approaches one of my female dogs outside she will whimper. They don’t pay her any mind at all. They’ll continue sniffing the ground or pass right by her. She whimpers, her tail and ears go up, and she looks like she wants to play.

She has whimpered several times for me. Once I left her in my office with her dinner and closed the door. I close the door because she doesn’t always eat right away and I don’t want another dog eating her food, especially after they just had their own. She is not food aggressive and will lie there while they eat her food. I fixed dinner and cleaned the kitchen, then I realized she had been in there alone over two hours. I opened the office door and she was standing there. When I spoke to her she gently wagged her tail and whimpered. I think she was lonesome.

There have been a few times when I came home that she’s been standing in the office doorway when I come in the front door. My dogs greet me, one will jump wanting me to pick him up, “pick me, Mom, pick me.” He’s a recent rescue (foster failure). They are all happy to see me, then I hear her standing there whimpering – “pick me, Mom, pick me.” You bet I do! Once she was standing there with them, but I was so surprised that I think my excitement scared her so she ran to the bedroom.

She’s learning to live as a pack member. They make sure she feels right at home too. If she is on a large enough dog bed or on the couch with me and there is room for one of them, they’ll lay right next to her. I’m sure they sense her gentle nature and know that she is no threat to them.

Living with four other dogs, you're bond to lose your favorite spot on occasion.

Darlin seems to be doing well since her heartworm injections. Sometimes I wonder if she’s actually feeling better because the worms are dying off. Since her treatment she runs a little outside and just seems to feel better. It could be due to the fact that she’s had two more weeks here and time is on our side, but the treatment possibly affecting her behavior has crossed my mind. She still has labored breathing, which is especially noticeable when she’s relaxed or sleeping. I have no idea why, the Vet said her heart sounded good before the injections. Perhaps she will always breathe deeply.

She sleeps in her dog bed on my side of the bed at night. When I moved her upstairs she slept in the dining room, then I moved her to the couch and left her there. After a few days I carried her to bed with me, her dog bed is on my side. Last week I carried two sleeping Jack Russell’s to bed one night - one in each arm. I decided to call Darlin to follow me and she did! She walked to her own bed three nights in a row, but it does take a lot of encouragement for her to do so. Last night I left them all sleeping in the living room, allowing them to come to bed whenever they were ready. When I woke this morning she was sleeping in her bed next to me. Sometimes I feel like I have another normal house dog. Sometimes I wonder how much longer she will be fearful.

Darlin’ has so many firsts in her future.

1. Eating dinner every night with my other dogs.
2. Drinking water from the main water dish in the house.
3. Not running or hiding when someone comes in the room.
4. Learning to walk on a leash without going stiff or submitting.
5. Coming when I call her name.
6. Playing with a toy - any toy. She has no interest at this point.
7. Running after the dogs, or playing with them.
8. Riding in a car – we’ll move one day and she’ll have to.
9. Going to the Vet.
10. Wagging her tail at other family members.
11. Overcoming fears – like the sound of a remote hitting the floor.

I will be marking these milestones and many others off as she continues to make progress.

Darlin started her new life her living in the dog pen outside because I didn’t know if she was aggressive or how she would react around my dogs. I also had to consider the health of my own dogs. This week I took the tarp covering off of the pen and stored her dog house. I told my husband I would leave the pen up in case I found another stray dog and needed it. Gosh, you should have seen the look on his face! I meant until I found the dogs owner! lol


  1. man, this is so excellent to read.

    riley is part coonhound, too. he runs right up the sides of trees.

    how did darlin' take to toby taking her spot?

  2. With shy dogs it is very hard to tell what her personality will be like. Once she really accepts your home as her home that is when she will really display her personality, so get ready for it!