Sunday, August 9, 2009

Breaking through fear related issues

Darlin’ is making a tremendous amount of progress. While she would still prefer that no one else lived in the house except me, she’s doing really well trying to adjust to my family and overcoming some fear based issues.

In the living room one evening, but still fearful. See how her tail is low.

click on all images to enlarge, then click the BACK button.

Sometimes it’s obvious that her body doesn’t work in sync with what she’s trying to achieve. She wants to be in the same room while other family members are there, but she trembles so bad most people just couldn’t imagine. She sits at my feet in the kitchen frequently and hides behind my legs. If my husband or children walk in for a drink or to speak to me, she won’t run away like she use to. She does tremble and will scoot closer to me, but the key here is that she stays put and her feet aren’t sliding out from under her trying to get away.

I use to reach down and rub her ears during times like that, or I would tell her she was fine and doing great. I’ve realized it’s time to stop comforting her when she shows any anxiety whatsoever. She trusts me completely now, which I needed her to do. I truly believe it has been love and affection that got her this far in almost 5 months. I’m ignoring all signs of stress and anxiety that I see in her, but when she is in a relaxed calm state of mind I give her affection and praise.

I no longer have to put a leash on her to get her out of my office. She will come out, sometimes hesitant or slow to react, but she will pass through the living room to get to the back door. Even when someone else is on the couch or in the kitchen. That’s a huge step for her!

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that Darlin’ displayed some separation anxiety since we’ve bonded. She still whimpers when I come home and she still looks out the glass at the front door. I managed to get a picture one day of what I see when I come up the steps. She even stands up looking in the back door if I leave her out too long. I need to correct that also, but I’m careful right now. There have been a few times that I corrected her where she acted fearful of me. She doesn’t do it constantly and she’s certainly not hurting anything looking in the door standing on her back feet.

Darlin’ has become more confident and assertive. Sometimes she’ll low growl or low bark at my family when they step outside and she’s in the yard. It’s happened a few times when she’s sitting next to my feet in the kitchen. It’s more like a bark through her cheeks, like a warning or an alert that she is there. She’s being a little protective and territorial, but I correct her and tell her firmly, “No” and she stops. No one seems to mind her growling, but my family will be her caregivers at times and I want her to enjoy everyone. Besides, I won’t allow her to growl at anyone unless it’s a stranger entering the house or yard without my knowledge. She’s harmless, but she has finally found her voice.

She acts a little camera shy, always turning her head away when I start taking pictures.

Last week I went out of town. I hate leaving Darlin’ because I know how she shuts down when I’m not around. She went potty at 4:30 am because I left at 5 am. I called my son a few hours later to ask him to let Darlin out to potty. He said he heard her feet on the woods floors a lot that morning. She kept walking back and forth between my office and our bedroom. I think she was probably looking for me or maybe just felt unsettled. This house is Darlin’s safe haven; I can see that by how she is constantly focused on the back door. My son left the back door open, but she wouldn’t go outside so I asked my daughter to carry her out. My thinking was if they carry her to the deck, and then take a few steps behind her, she would run down, mostly out of fear, but the intent was to get her to the yard. Once in the yard she would potty and if they left the door open she would run back inside.

Well it seems they tried to pick her up from her bed in my bedroom. She jumped out and cowered between the nightstand and the wall so they left her to calm down. Later when they tried again she ran down to the landing in the house so they opened the downstairs door and followed her that way. At that point she had not used the bathroom in 10 hours. My daughter said she trickled and dropped a little mess on her way. That was the first time she ever pottied in the house, although it wasn’t intentional on her part. I know it was from fear. I was afraid she would loose control of her bowels if they picked her up. She did relieve herself and ran back inside. I was told that she actually came back up the stairs only a few feet behind my daughter’s boyfriend. I returned home around 8 pm and immediately called Darlin to go outside. She whimpered and was excited to see me, ran downstairs to the yard, and immediately had a bowel movement right after her feet hit the grass. Poor dog!

We spent time together on the couch before bed.

I have to admit I had concerns about housebreaking a mature dog that has lived outside on her own. The strangest thing happened; I never had housebreaking issues with her! My friend, Sandra, may have hit the nail on the head as to why Darlin won’t mess in the house. She said that maybe it’s because Darlin had always used the bathroom outside so to her it’s natural to go in the yard. I can’t think of any other reason myself. It’s been a real blessing not having to deal with her relieving herself indoors because training a fearful dog is not easy. Heck, living with a fearful dog is a challenge in itself. I do know since living with Darlin’ that she never bonded with a family or lived indoors, nor did she have any social skills with other dogs.

Speaking of socializing: She ran after Bonnie (JRT) when Bonnie chased the Frisbee the other day! It was exciting to see! Bonnie turned around and looked at her as surprised as I was! She usually whimpers wanting to play, but the dogs don’t pay her any attention, probably because the whimpering suggests some kind of instability. She’ll learn because she has come a long way already.

One day Darlin’ was walking through the living room and picked up a toy on her way through. Later I found that she took it to her mat under my desk. It was so cute to see her show interest in a toy and it was such a pleasure to see her with a toy in her mouth. I try to throw balls for her or offer her toys, but she doesn’t know what to do with them. The balls usually scare her so she’ll run away.

Guess who sits for her treats? I started asking her to sit for her treat while holding it above her nose so that she would have to back up. At first she acted like I was teasing her and eventually turned or walked away. Then I used more tempting treats, like boiled chicken, cheese, and salami. Ha! That worked, but she turned ever so slightly to the side and sat. That was enough for me because she was sitting. Now she comes in the kitchen with the other dogs and she’ll sit before I tell her. Last night I did tell her to sit because she had her eyes on my husband in the dining room, but she sat so pretty.

Two nights ago I took the dogs out back. I almost always go out with them because if I don’t Darlin will stand at the back door waiting for me. You’ve heard of moms with a baby attached to their hip, well I’m one with a dog attached to mine. Two dogs actually, Toby, my broken coat JRT rescue, is the other. So I went down with the dogs, then I peeked my head in the downstairs door and let my daughter and her boyfriend know I was there and for them to come out. If they had been outside already, Darlin’ wouldn’t have gone potty. I let her do her business and then we could sit and visit. Previously if anyone else was outside, Darlin’ would run to the back corner of the yard and wait for me to get up to go back in the house. Once I started back up the stairs she would run across the yard and up the steps following just a few steps behind me. She still has the best pack manners and always allows me to lead the way.

Thursday night she sat next to my feet trembling as we all sat around the patio table talking. She was just 4-6 feet away from my daughter and her boyfriend! A few minutes later she crawled under my chair and stayed there until we went back inside. That was a huge step for her in learning to trust and be near my children. These children I speak of are young adults themselves, not little kids running around the yard.

She’s always watching the doors, even when she's sitting at my feet.

Darlin loves her house and yard so much. She’s so happy when she lets down her guard, although she remains fixated on the back door most everyday. She’s been prancing around with her tail so high, she really is a beautiful sight. Just a week ago she would come in the back door so fearful that she would slide through the living room trying to make her getaway to the spot under my desk in my office. If I could coax her to the couch, I would sit next to her and ask my husband to close the door for me. She would scoot in closer to me while hiding from him, she still does that today. I remember one night last week sitting outside watching her scratch her back in the grass and thinking that if I didn’t go outside with Darlin’, she would never stretch her legs. She would lie under my desk all day long, holding her bladder of necessary. I’m sure I’m repeating myself from previous posts, and if I am, well some things haven’t changed yet. I’m watching for signs that she’ll want to go out on her own, either to be outside or because she needs to use the bathroom.

I don’t have many pictures of her that look like this.

I need to keep my camera beside my bed because I would love for readers to see how happy she is in the mornings. She prances around the bedroom when I get up or if I lay there for a minute she comes over to my side and greets me in the morning. Most times she will not get out of her bed until my feet touch the floor, but occasionally she stretches out in the floor on my side after she hears my husband leave for work. She won’t go out with the other dogs when my husband lets them out first thing in the morning. Our dogs get a treat when they come back inside. Since she never gets out of bed until I do, my husband lays a treat down for her. This morning I heard her crunching after he left the room. Just the sound of her eating a treat that he left makes me happy for her. This dog wouldn’t eat anything while I was in the same room for weeks and before that she wouldn’t eat until after dark when the house was quiet.

Normally I wouldn’t tell this to just anyone, but I want to share my joy with you. One morning last week I woke up and went to the bathroom. Darlin sometimes runs in, smells my husband’s clothes in the laundry basket, and runs back out. She’s happy, she knows I’m up, and that we’re about to go outside. Sniffing his scent on the laundry is a good thing too. So there I sit watching her run in and out of the bathroom. I called her to me, “Come here you sweet thing, give Mommy a kiss.” She runs up to me, bows her head, I kiss her on the forehead, and she turns around and prances back out of the bathroom. She was precious!!

I started giving Darlin’ fish oil caps in her dinner because her shedding continues and the hair on her back is so coarse. After about a week I began noticing the difference in her coat. You can actually feel the moisture in her hair and it’s softened up a lot. She is still shedding, but it has slowed a lot. I inherited a Border Collie years ago after my customer died. Seriously! He had a terrible time with excess shedding and inflamed skin due to grass allergies. The Vet put him on fish oil, nothing else, and it cleared up right away so I knew it worked. Since Darlin’ was a stray her diet may have contributed to the condition of her coat as well. She probably had vitamin deficiencies; after all she was skin and bones when we met.

Her coat has dramatically changed since she’s shed so much of it. If you look up at the banner image, taken just a few weeks after trapping her, and you look at the pictures I’m posting today, you’ll notice she has lost all of the extra hair on her backside and quite a bit all over, including around her neck. I don’t know if her coat will grow back the way it was or if it will remain thinner now. The reason I wonder is because last year she lived outside all winter and this year she will be a house dog. I would think that a dog’s winter coat could change depending on their environment, but I haven’t done any research on the subject.

My dad came to visit and finally got to meet Darlin’. I carried her outside because she wouldn’t come out on her own. He was surprised by her size because he thought she was bigger. True, she has a bigger dog look to her, but she is what most people would consider as a medium sized dog. She stands as tall as our Blue Heeler and maybe a little longer, but she weighs between 35-40 lbs. She’s tall and long legged, with a deep chest.

Darlin has eaten in the kitchen every night for at least two weeks now! I have called her from my office, but most days she hears me open the cans of food and knows what I’m doing. So I now have 5 dogs waiting for dinner, all are calm and patient, except my hyper Eskimo Spitz that talks the entire time. I’m usually preparing the bowls when Darlin runs in from my office and scoots in tight next to my feet. Sam (blue heeler) gets his bowl first, then Chloe (Eskie) eats closer to Sam. Then Darlin gets hers on the rug in front of the stove, and Bonnie and Toby. Toby and Bonnie, my Jack Russell’s, don’t eat much at all. They eat the chicken on top of their food and lick the chicken broth I pour over it. Darlin’ is still very hesitant and not completely comfortable eating. I stand with my back against the sink and watch. If she stops eating I tell her to “eat” and she will. She takes a bite of food, and then looks up to make sure the coast is clear before having another bite. Very similar to how she ate when I fed her at the tree before trapping her. Sometimes when she has her head up looking around, Toby will go over and start licking the broth out of her bowl. She doesn’t care at all, she’ll stick her nose back in the bowl right next to his and eat some more. He’s taking advantage because Darlin’ is protective of him and treats him like her puppy sometimes. Darlin’ shows weakness when she exhibits insecure behavior which makes it easier for any dog to take advantage. It has happened, but I’m not allowing Toby to continue the behavior. I don’t want him to intrude while she’s eating and he has learn to respect her too.

Toby leaning up against Darlin.

Cesar Millan had a show on recently spotlighting Baby Girl, a Doberman Pincher, possibly mixed with greyhound. She was fearful of thunderstorms, fearful of the kitchen cabinets being open, fearful of a lot of things. She lost a lot of weight when he had her at his Dog Psychology Center and he tried everything to get her to eat. Darlin’s fear issues are/was worse than Baby Girl. No camera man could ever walk in this house and film Darlin, she’s just too fearful of people to come out. I did see many similarities in Darlin and Baby Girl, but I also saw in Baby Girl things I have not witnessed in Darlin’. I would be terrified myself that if Cesar took Darlin to his dog psychology center that it would set her back. My comments have nothing to do with trusting Cesar’s ability to help a fearful dog; it’s that I know my Darlin. Cesar always says he’d rather work with an aggressive dog or red zone case than a fearful dog. I know exactly where he’s coming from. Fearful dogs need a lot of time to come around on their own. I can’t believe it’s been 5 months since I brought her home. It may seem like a long time, but the months have flown by. In addition, I have read many stories of fearful dogs, some took years to rehabilitate. Five months is a drop in the bucket.

I’d like to interject about my comments regarding Cesar Millan. I watch a lot of dog shows, not just dog training shows. I agree with many of the techniques that Cesar uses to train dogs, but I also disagree with other methods. I've often wondered how Cesar would handle a dog like Darlin’, then I think about some of the methods he’s used to push a dog past their limitations and I realize Darlin’ is in the best place for her rehabilitation. Rules, Boundaries, and Limitations are keys to avoiding problems and building a relationship with your dog. Mastering the walk may be essential to your dog’s health and happiness. Although I know from my own experience with dogs in my life that there are a lot of dogs that don’t need a routine walk to be good dogs and family pets.

Darlin’ crossed a major threshold this weekend. This is the first weekend that she has ever walked around the house passing family members. She may take a detour through the kitchen or behind the couch, but she has surprised us all. She does not like to be alone. I know this because I’m with her when no one else is in the house. She’s such a normal dog when we are alone now. Every time I leave a room, she is right beside me. This weekend her behavior is very similar to those times. Today I stood in the dining room next to my husband while he showed me something on his computer. When I left the room we realized Darlin’ had been sitting directly behind my husband’s chair the entire time! We are all extremely proud of her!

I can’t comprehend why someone would dump or abandon this dog, or any dog for that matter. There is something special about her spirit and something in her eyes that makes me want to comfort her. She actually licked my foot when we were sitting on the couch last week and she has licked my hand a couple of times. I’m not much into kissing and licking dogs, I’d rather be the one that kisses, but what she did meant a lot to me. I actually hope she licks me in the face by surprise someday. Darlin’ is respectful of the other dogs and looks up to her canine leader (me). I have put my hand under her muzzle, lifting her head high, as I kiss her on her head, the top of her nose, or the side of her face. I have never had the slightest concern that she would bite. She is the gentlest dog with so much love to give. I see that when she smiles outside as she runs over to me like a small child happy to meet with her parent’s approval for something she’s done. I can’t help but love Darlin’, she makes it so easy. I tell her often that I’m happy she’s here and that she’ll always have a loving family.

Over the last month I’ve worked with rescues, one long distance rescue that took a lot of me time-wise and emotionally, but there was a happy ending. I worked at my business and my own computer was down. This month I hope to do better. I have a feeling Darlin’ will be making quite a few changes to her lifestyle over the next few months. I can see it coming by the way she’s stepping out showing more trust and confidence this weekend.

Whatcha got Mom?


  1. Wow, I've been waiting a long time for your new post. Not complaining! It was worth the wait. Few people would have the patience needed to work with Darlin'. You're a rare one! Good luck! Looking forward to the next update!

  2. One more thing: I love Toby's hair in the last photo. Cute!

  3. Thank you, Lynn! My posts are lengthy when I stay away so long. Thanks for checking back. Toby, gosh he is something! Spoiled rotten, such a baby, no where near what you would expect in a dog. If I wasn't afraid he'd forget how to walk, I could carry him all day and he would be happy. He had a bath and I didn't comb him out, that's why his hair was so curly on his head. Check out the one with Darlin and the other animals on the couch, he looked so cute! Click on image to enlarge, then hit your back button.

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  5. Scrooge says: I knows all about trembling - I does that too, whenever I thinks He & She might going to be leaving me.

  6. Hi read about Darlin. Yeah I know it must have been a real challenge for you to make her progress in her new found life. I want to congratulate you and Darlin for the same.

    I have a similar story to share.. though I rescued quiet a few animals here and there many times in my life... but one such rescue ended up being a life time of a relationship. The kitten that I had brought home is now 6 years old and we are both enjoying each others company :)

    I am very glad for Darlin and the other dogs you have. Is aw the video too...she's is adorable :)

    Thank you for your lovely work for animals !!