Saturday, December 18, 2010


Meet Bobby.  He's a year + old pit bull at my local rescue organization.  I fostered him back in March for about 2 weeks.  He was adopted very, very quickly, especially for a Pit Bull.  This dog is such a love, it's unbelievable.  The family that adopted him had 2 kids, and Bobby was kid-tested and approved.  The guy was used to having Rottweilers, so he seemed to understand the importance of taking extra care of a dog whose breed is stigmatized.  I spent a lot of time with this family to make sure it was the right fit.  And the family loved this dog, or so it seemed.

Three months after he was adopted, the guy called me and said they needed to return Bobby.  I was dumbfounded because I hadn't heard from them in 3 months despite giving the guy my phone number and telling him to call me with ANY issues, that I could get him in touch with people that could help if I couldn't.  He told me that Bobby was too dog aggressive and he was scared for his family, despite him showing NO aggression towards any people.  He refused to understand the difference between dog aggression and people aggression, which are vastly different things.  Anyway, I offered to come down to his house 1x a week until they were back on track with him, but he told me no way, that he'd tried everything.

Anyway, it turns out that they had been tying Bobby up outside for long periods of time.  And Bobby has a lot of barrier frustration issues, so this only exacerbated the problem.  So eventually, Bobby broke off of his tie-out and attacked a small dog, injuring it badly.  The small dog's owner took the family to court, and Bobby was deemed a dangerous dog (supposedly) and required to be walked on a muzzle and a prong collar. This, I know, is a lie.  The law does not dictate that a dog must be walked on a prong collar.

So the guy tells me that Bobby is too dog aggressive for him to handle anymore, and he needs to return him.  He tells me he tried the muzzle and prong collar, but he couldn't walk him because Bobby was so reactive and aggressive.  So he just stopped walking him.  Then he complained that Bobby was trying to jump through windows to get out of the house. Well yea, DUH... the dog needed exercise.

Whatever.  It's better he was returned to us, obviously that guy had no idea what he was doing.  So Bobby has been back with us now for 6 months or so.  I've been working with him a lot on his barrier frustration issues, self-control issues, and manners, but because he doesn't get exercised daily, which is what he needs, it's been a struggle, to say the least.  But I love this dog, and no one else takes him out of his run except for me.  The kennel frustrates him, a lot.  It's can be a very anxiety-causing place for a dog, especially a high-energy dog who doesn't have an outlet for that energy. But the moment we get away from the kennel, he is a totally different dog.

Interesting to me is that, since he's been back, he's shown very little, if any, dog-aggression.  He may be selective, and he can get over the top during play but that's because he doesn't get regular exercise. After he's been exercised to a normal degree, he can be around other dogs without a problem.  In October I had him at a Halloween parade for dogs, and he was walking amongst hundreds of other dogs, large and small, and he was an angel. Yet another reason I know this adopter just plain failed at life.

I've told Rob that, if we move and Bobby is still not adopted, we will need to try to integrate him into our home and take him.  I won't leave him behind. I sure hope he's not still there when we move, though... we won't be leaving for at least a year and a half. It will break my heart if Bobby is still there then.

Friday, December 3, 2010


I got a recommendation for a dog-sitter that will come and stay at our house while we're away in the beginning of the year.  We've brought Roxy to other people's houses in the past, but it seems to be very stressful for her when we do that, so I'm hoping this works out better.

She's someone who volunteers in rescue, is recommended to me by a volunteer that I know and trust, and she's very inexpensive.  She also said she likes to come over several times before we leave to meet the dogs and make sure the dogs are comfortable with her.  That part is very important to me and Roxy because of Roxy's issues.  I need to know Roxy is comfortable with this person before I can leave her.  She's come over once so far, and Roxy did great for a first meeting.  We still have 2 more meetings (at least) before we leave, which I'm pretty hopeful for.  We'll be gone for 10 days, with no way to check in, so it's really important to me that I know my dogs will be comfortable.  I'm less worried about Buster, seeing as when she came over to meet them, he was best friends with her in about half a second.

She understands rescue dogs that have special needs like Roxy, and she understands that Roxy has special training and she has agreed not to have Roxy meet any people on walks while I'm not there.  Perfect.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

another training session

Yesterday was our 3rd session with Erica.  I crated Roxy and Buster, like usual, when she was expected to arrive.  When she came inside, Roxy was in her crate barking, but once she saw who it was, she was wiggling her little wiggle butt to see Erica!! We let her out and she ran to Erica... she was so excited to see her, it was pretty amazing to see such a huge change in her.

We tried to go for a walk but Roxy was struggling, a lot, with the walking piece of it.  She was dragging me down the road.  I think she was just excited to show Erica how good she was doing.  Erica also said Roxy was a totally different dog than she met a few months back.  So, I'm glad to say I've done something right with her.  We still have work to do; in fact, I think we'll always be working, but I'm so proud of her.

Anyway... we wound up coming back to the house and I was explaining to her the trouble I was having with Buster, how he'd become a little bit more reactive and we brought him out and did some work with him also, and she pretty much said I should work on the same things with him that I've been working on with Roxy. So, I have more work to do!

Roxy is a true testament to what humane, positive training methods can do and how amazingly they work when applied correctly and consistently.  I'm seriously so happy with how far she has come already, and it's only been 4 months!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


With all of Roxy's progress, I started taking her to the weekly walk-in agility class at Pawsitive experience in Rockaway.  This is the training facility that my local rescue uses.  Honestly, I'd never take a dog there to do any sort of actual training.  Although they have banned prong collars from use inside their facility, they still do a lot of correction based training (read: non-humane training) and I will not do that type of training with my dogs, or any dogs I foster or work with at the kennel.  But this place is 5 minutes away from home and has literally done wonders for Roxy's training.  Now that it's getting colder, there are fewer people to encounter on walks, and fewer dogs to practice ignoring, and fewer stimuli in general.  So this once a week course has been great.  Plus, I think it's important to mention that the instructor realizes Roxy's issues, respects what I choose to do to train her, and doesn't suggest that I give her a leash correction for barking.  She gets it, and we have a mutual respect for one another, despite the fact that I think their ways of training are, well... outdated and can be pretty barbaric.

We started a couple of weeks back and Roxy was pretty reactive the first couple of weeks.  The instructor said it's pretty normal for a new dog to act that way, because there is a lot going on, new smells, new dogs, lots of movement of said new dogs, new people, etc.

Anyway, this has become a great place to practice Roxy's self-control and do a lot of focus work.  Plus, she really seems to like agility.  The instructor was very impressed with Roxy's first class, especially being a fearful dog.  She struggled with the tunnel and the chute the first class, but did everything else without a problem.  At the second class, she was going through both the chute and the tunnel with ease.

The other great thing about this class is it's a "no-touch" class for the dogs.  No dogs are off-leash and no dogs are wandering around or getting in Roxy's face.  But I get the opportunity to mark and pay Roxy for calm behavior while there is a lot of stuff going on.  And there are tons of people there that think Roxy is just beautiful, so we get the opportunity to meet lots of dog-savvy people who ask before they give her treats and ask before they attempt to pet her.  We've been going through our "go say hi" protocol and it's been working great.  There are some people she likes almost immediately, and others it takes a little longer, but overall she's doing really, really well and I am so proud of her.

Friday, October 15, 2010

training: "go say hi"

"Go say hi" is Roxy's new protocol for meeting new people.  It's been working really, really well.

First, we taught her "touch" where she targets the palm of my hand with her muzzle.  Then, I taught her to target other peoples hands with her muzzle (just like she'd do a "touch") and come back to me for treats.  We started with people she already knew putting their palm out for a touch without giving the cue, and when she was reliably running up to their palms, I introduced the cue "Go say hi!" until she got to the point where she learned that "Go say hi" means to go give the other person a touch.

I've essentially made it a game for her and she loves it, and it helps her love people.  The "game" sort of developed over time, and to be honest, the more I think about it, the more I think maybe she invented the game and she's been playing me for a while.

In the beginning I started marking and paying her for any positive interaction, including simply sniffing new people.  She started playing the game and winning, a lot...  It's progressed now to the point where I can have other people ask her for a "touch" and she goes right to them, touches the palm of their hand, and then comes back to me for treats.  And, after she's done this a few times, she's a lot more comfortable around that person.

It's great to see her willingly and excitedly approaching new people. I couldn't be happier!!

Friday, October 1, 2010

busy with training

We've been busy. VERY busy. Which is awesome.

Roxy's making huge progress, as far as I can tell.  We switched from the sensation harness to the halti head collar.  I wasn't having success with the sensation harness, Roxy seemed to just start pulling on an angle instead of like a freight train moving forward.  It's probably user error... but I don't have the patience to deal with that while I'm trying to work on other things.  I'll take a leash puller over a reactive dog any day, so I'll work on the reactivity first, and leash-walking later.

We've been going to public places with her to do some work.  We've been to the pet store a lot, and used the strip mall attached for some desensitization and counterconditioning exercises.  The pet store during adoption events is great for when we want to do dog-dog work, but when I want to do dog-people work, I need to be out of hearing range because the dogs are definitely more interesting to her than the people.

So we sit on a bench outside of Pier 1 and wait for people to pass by. And Roxy eats. And eats. And eats.  Freshpet Vital makes a grain-free fish formula.... it stinks something awful but it's been a great high value treat.  It's dog food, so I don't feel guilty giving Roxy tons of it, and we can just skip a meal if she gets enough during training.

Today we were outside and a nice family stopped by with teenage kids.  Teenage kids are great because they're typically bigger and are more predictable than small kids.  We went through our "go say hi" exercise and she gave all 3 people touches and then even butt-bumped the teenage boy for butt scratches.  This is HUGE for her. HUGE. The guy was a total stranger and she invited him to pet her.

The family loves pit bulls, too... so I think Roxy knew they were good people :)

Friday, September 24, 2010

the long road ahead.

Roxy has been making progress, that's for sure.  I'm making progress, too.  I can recognize situations that will make her anxious before they do it. I'm more in tune to things in the environment that might set her off. I now at least have an idea of how to combat some of the things we're dealing with.  These are all great things.

But she's still Roxy.  My special, fearful little girl. Who loves me and Rob to pieces but still isn't too sure about other people.  We met with Erica again for our follow up appointment a few weeks back.  Roxy seemed to remember her and knew she had treats, which was good because that meant she wanted to work.  We did some dog-dog work on the walk, and what was cool was we were in Erica's neighborhood where she knows where all the dogs are and how they will react to passerby's, so we can anticipate what we happen and plan for it. Good stuff.

But last weekend we were at our friend's house and there was an infant, a newborn there.... Roxy seemed like any other dog in her curiosity, nose in the air, smelling and trying to figure out what the new-baby-smell was... but once the baby cried, holy crap.  She was freaking out trying to get to the baby.  She wasn't being aggressive by any means, but she was obviously stressed by the noise of the cries.  All she wanted to do was get to that baby.  So stressed that, even after the baby stopped crying and she turned around, she noticed there was a cat behind her that she wasn't expecting, and she snapped at it.  And she's good with cats.  But she was so on-edge, it was ridiculous, and it seemed like nothing could console her. I felt so bad for her.  I mean, yea, lesson learned.... crying babies stress Roxy out, but still.  It made me realize how much further we still need to go.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

buster's ball

Buster, my mostly 3-legged dog, loves nothing more than to play ball.  He will chase that ball until he collapses.

And once he does, he'll just lay there with the ball in his mouth squeaking it until there is so much slobber stuck in the squeaker that it just sort of makes a mush noise, instead of a squeak...

This dog is truly one in a million.  It hurts me to think that he had a family before and we have really no idea what happened to him.  He's a velco dog, he won't leave our side.  And he was house-trained since we brought him home from being at the kennel for 3+ months.  He didn't have a single accident.  He has manners (mostly).  His only flaw is that he thinks if it's on the counter, it's acceptable for him to get it. But we love him, and he loves us.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


We finally did it.  We adopted our foster boy, Buster.  He's some sort of lab mix, we're guessing.  But him and Roxy are such a pair, and Buster is truly an amazing dog.  We just couldn't let him go.

You see, Buster has 4 legs. But his front left leg was injured some time ago.  He was found as a stray and the injury was already there, so we really don't know what happened to him.  He's seen multiple veterinarians, including an orthopedic vet who previously fixed a dog with a similarly broken leg, but they said there was nothing they could do to fix his leg because there was too much nerve damage.  But, they said he's in no pain, and we began fostering him a few months ago to help determine if amputation might be necessary.  After a few days, we could see there was no way they could take Buster's leg.  He uses it so much, for balance, to play, to climb into your lap, to bring his ball closer to him, to hold toys, and, when he runs, he still balances on that elbow. Taking his leg would probably be more detrimental... 

So anyway, we initially had no intention of keeping a second dog.  And we had gotten a few applications on him, and only one was worthy of such a great dog, but things changed on the potential adopter's end so they were going to have to wait on getting a second dog.   We actually had one family say they wanted him because he only walks on 3 legs and they figured it was okay to not exercise him and he could be left alone, outside, in an unfenced yard because he can't run away.

Buster is such a great addition to our family.... him and Roxy are great little buddies, he's so cognizant of her moodiness, and because he loves everyone, he takes a lot of pressure off of her when we have people come over.  Everyone is busy loving on him while Roxy gets to sneak in her sniffs while they're not paying attention.  He gives her confidence, and the chance to explore for herself, which is a pretty big deal.  Plus, Buster is the only dog that Roxy has ever let cuddle with her. It was meant to be.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

training: progress!

Roxy seems to be getting better at "look," "touch," and "leave it."  She's also starting to see people and check in with me, which is really awesome.  She doesn't do it all the time without me asking, but she's done it SOME of the time without me asking, which is huge.

We're struggling with leash walking still, but I think I'm seeing a little bit of difference.  The biggest thing I've noticed with the leash walking so far is that when she's walking well on leash, and something makes her nervous or anxious, she immediately starts pulling again. So at least I can start to anticipate those things and work on keeping her focus before that.

Overall her reactivity seems to be slowing down a bit also.  She's getting less nervous with cars passing by, she's less nervous when she sees people approaching, and seems to be doing better with other dogs.  If the other dog is ignoring her, quiet, or around 10 feet away, she seems to do fine.  She still perks up and wants to check them out, but overall seems more relaxed with their presence.  She does seem to do the best, so far, if we stop and do some obedience drills or focus work, as opposed to us trying to keep walking.

There are a few dogs on our street that do seem to cause problems though.... Although, it's more the owners that are problematic.  One is the black lab who is super dog-aggressive.... he's often off-leash in his front yard with the family's children, who aren't quite large enough or mature enough to understand what could happen if he gets close to Roxy barking like that... Or, the psycho little puggle who, Roxy met and played with months ago, but now all of a sudden is chasing and lunging at us on a retractable leash. And the puggle's human? Oh, she doesn't seem to see the importance of stopping the dog from lunging at us... Those are the worst incidents.... they typically happen in the middle of a great training walk, and they totally screw up Roxy's focus and raise her anxiety levels.

I think I need to start looking for other places to train. Our street is becoming repetitive and we don't have enough new people to expose her to. I think we'll start with the strip mall by the Rockaway Mall in the next couple of weeks.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

our first training session

Yesterday was our first day of training with Erica. I think I'm a bit overwhelmed, but I guess that's expected. And sort of a good thing. We have LOTS of work to do, but I'm pretty psyched to get to work.  Roxy seemed to pick up on things pretty quickly. And she definitely wants to work, which I think makes the process easier. I mean, who am I kidding, if you've got treats in your pocket, she'll learn just about anything.

And we did a training walk this morning... we definitely need to practice this stuff at home and in the yard before we will get better with it on walks.

I'm really looking forward to the desensitization and counter-conditioning part of this though.  Erica said I probably won't see much of a difference in Roxy for at least several months since I'm trying to change 2+ years of behavior. Which makes sense.... but I'm a little disappointed.  I understand why it will take that long, but damn, I can't wait to see her more relaxed and at ease.

Here we go, Roxy.... I hope you're ready for this!!  

Sunday, July 18, 2010

certified and humane

So I contacted a trainer this weekend.

I wound up going with a trainer who I "know" from the Pit Bull rescue forum I've been on for the last year.  I'd been following a lot of her advice already, and she is the "no bull-shit" type of person I was looking for.  She's certified, experienced with fearful dogs, experienced with Pit Bull and Pit Bull mixes, and I already have a certain level of respect and trust for her based on advice I've already gotten.

She's listed on .... a website of trainers committed to dog-friendly methods of training. i.e. Humane training. Training designed for dog to be an active participant in his learning. Training where you teach the dog to something specific, rather than teach it nothing and hurt it for not doing what you expected.  Training that teaches the dog to choose the behavior you have asked it to do, because it's a more rewarding choice.

Friday, June 18, 2010

that don't impress me much....

I went to that training class last night.... pretty much exactly as I expected it would be.  Ironic because, before the class, someone told me I should bring Roxy there because it would teach me how to control her (as in, she's fearful, so she's out of control? I don't know, really, what that meant).

Let me recap what I observed last night at this "training class":
  1. I saw a panicked German Shepherd get hung by his leash while he spun in circles trying to get away from the instructor.  The instructor was explaining to the class that "this is what he's used to doing in order to get out of it. He knows exactly what he's doing, and it's because he knows how to get what he wants."
  2. I saw a well-behaved Pit Bull get repeated leash corrections because, "He needs to learn not to pull on the leash."
  3. I saw a tall, lean hound mix get repeated leash corrections for barking. I saw dogs forced into the sit position, and then get leash corrections for standing up. They were then forced back into the sit position, thoroughly confused.
  4. And, I saw a medium sized mixed breed dog with her tail between her legs. The instructor was holding her in place and petting the top of her head, while explaining that he had to do that in order to get her more comfortable with being handled.  The poor dog had her tail tucked, face turned away, her ears were back and her eyes were wide.  He was forcing a fearful dog to be petted, even though she was trying her darnedest to get away....
I knew that wasn't going to work for me or for Roxy. Or any other dog I ever owned.

Because I don't want to control my dog. I want to teach her to control herself.  Of course I know that, being a fearful dog, Roxy will always need some level of management, and I'm okay with that...

But if only I can just learn how to help her control herself, help her feel more comfortable in her world, so she behaves because she doesn't feel afraid, as opposed to behaving because she is afraid of what I might do to her if she doesn't.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

not sure about this

So, my rescue works pretty closely with a training center 5 minutes from my house.  The owners often donate extra space in their classes to the rescue... From what I know, they do a lot of correction-based training.  I'm not into that type of "training," but I got offered the chance to go and watch a couple of our dogs go, so I'm going to go and watch to get a better idea of it.  I'm pretty sure all it will do it reinforce the fact that I won't ever "train" my dog that way.

It's funny because I had people suggest I bring Roxy there, because he's helped a lot of the fearful dogs at our kennel. Quite honestly, I'm not impressed with someone who can teach a fear-biting dog to sit by pushing it's butt to the ground.  I'm more interested in helping teach a fearful dog to have less fear, overall.

We'll see how this goes.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

people = kryptonite

At the time of adoption, Roxy's fear encompassed a variety of things, as described in my previous post. And although she is still a bit skittish when unexpected things happen, she does recover from those events much faster now than she did a year ago.  And I can see a definite comfort in her even when scary things happen or things change quickly, but her fear of people and reactivity towards other dogs and people on walks has gotten worse.

And, although I've seen some progress in her, it's not enough.  People and strangers are still her kryptonite.  I've found the problem to be primarily people that don't listen and don't ignore her, but she's also afraid of children and she's not exactly eager to approach new people, even if they do ignore her.  We tried having people give her treats, but most people can't simply toss the treat and ignore her, they feel the need to coax her over with the treat, and then attempt to pet her after she gets the food.  As expected, this only makes things worse and Roxy has learned that approaching some people for the treat just isn't worth it because she knows they will inevitably try to pet her. People that continuously try to pet her often wonder why she literally runs from them, and people that have chased her around with their arms out can't figure out why Roxy will walk a giant circle around them, if she'll even come that close at all.  But, even the people that ignore Roxy aren't necessarily considered "safe" until she has spent a good amount of time with them.

For example, Rob's Mom had come over and Roxy seemed okay with her, but then his Mom stopped by during the day to drop something off for us (we weren't home), and Roxy growled at her, and ran to hide in the basement.  Another friend, George, had come by a few times and Roxy would take treats from him and overall she did okay with him.  We were out of town for a night, and we asked him to stop by once to let her out.  He called us an hour after he was supposed to be there, to let us know that Roxy went outside okay, but that she refused to come back in the house. He wound up creating a line of treats from the backyard up the walkway onto the deck and in the door and walk away for her to come back inside... and she took her sweet time careful observing the treat pathway, just in case he was nearby.  She had gone out into the yard okay, and did her business, but wouldn't come back inside -- and she had never done that before, so the issue was definitely him, not the house.  After both incidents, it took months to get Roxy comfortable with these two people.  Even now, Roxy isn't so sure about George.  We have been having people give her treats, but only if they actually listen to us and not try to pet her, and it's helping, but there is some definite discomfort there.

Another of Rob's friends, Mike, was over the house and he kept insisting that he wanted Roxy to know that he wasn't going to hurt her.  He is an animal lover and just kept repeating that he didn't understand why she was afraid, and that he wanted to show her that he was just going to be nice to her. Despite my objections, he followed her into one of the rooms where she had gone to avoid him and his petting attempts, and I found her laying on a dog bed with him sitting there petting her.  Although she stayed for the petting, she was obviously uncomfortable.  After that, she pretty much avoided him at all costs, and he became more willing to listen when I said to ignore her.  She moved on from purposely avoiding him to just ignoring him completely, but it did take some time.  In fact, there was a time, that she was vacuuming the kitchen floor while a handful of us ate some BBQ, and she was behaving normally and sniffing each person that was in the crumb pathway.  She actually sniffed everyone in the kitchen, then the floor around them, and kept moving -- until she got to him. She sniffed him and literally booked it in the other direction away from him. The behavior was such an obvious avoidance, and although we laughed at the time, it was still a bit unnerving to see her so uncomfortable by one specific person.

She is pretty much afraid of all other people, as well, but these specific incidents are the ones that stick out in my mind from the last year.  Overall, she avoids people altogether or sniffs with caution, and almost always avoids being petted.  If people attempt to pet her, she ducks away and then only tries to sniff again when she thinks the people aren't looking at her.  If they look down while she's mid-sniff, she'll walk away immediately.

So even with all of this information, Roxy's behavior has plateaued. People ignore her, and then eventually some are able to feed her treats.  She got better with some people, but worse with others.  I've been reading a lot of information at the Fearful Dogs website and their associated yahoo group, and although I feel like I have a good handle on the information, I'm not quite sure how to put it into practice.  So now, here I am, with a fearful, reactive dog on my hands and I think it might be time to ask for help.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

roxy's fear

The first few days with Roxy were a little tough, but nothing that we didn't expect.  She cried in her crate. She wouldn't eat unless I sat with her. She didn't go to the bathroom for the first 72 hours (seriously). But she warmed up to Rob and I within hours.  She knew we were her family and she didn't want to be apart from us.  But she seemed to understand that we leave to go to work in the morning and come back at night. She was always happy to see us. She didn't give Rob or I any indication that we had a special needs dog on our hands.

Until the incident with the apple tree and the evil bush.

She was smelling one of the bushes in the backyard. Maybe she was finally looking for a place to pee?  I guess we'll never know. Suddenly, the apple tree dumped an apple on the bush, scaring the crap out of Roxy, although all she knew was the bush scared her. Which means the bush was evil. I'd never seen a dog jump so high and so far away as quickly as she did.  She ran to the other side of the yard and cautiously sniffed around.  She refused to go near that bush; it was dangerous. This sort of posed a problem, as you can see from the diagram:

You see, the evil bush is at the top of the stairs, so Roxy would have to pass right by it to go up or down the stairs, every day, multiple times a day.

So, as any fearful dog would do, she spent the next month avoiding the evil bush altogether by jumping up and down the retaining wall to get to the backyard.  One time she accidentally walked by the evil bush, and when she turned and saw how close it was, she stopped dead in her tracks with all her weight on her hind legs, and cautiously sniffed towards it. This went on for a while, until I finally coaxed her over to the evil bush with a yummy treat. Over time, the fear faded and now, almost a year later, it doesn't even appear to be a memory of a fear to her.

We began describing her as shy to our friends. She didn't like people other than Rob or myself touching her. She wanted to sniff them, but she didn't want to trade her sniff for their petting and scratches. We told our friends to ignore her. Some listened, some didn't. I tried to explain to the ones that didn't listen that it was like a first date, you don't go to first or second base on the first date, right? Right. Some people said she was fine, it's better that she doesn't like everyone. Other people would ask me what was wrong with my dog, or more often, "Why doesn't your dog like me? All dogs like me!"

At one point, soon after we had gotten her and way before we were used to a 4-legged opportunist in the house, Rob walked away from a sandwich on the coffee table in the living room, and came back to his sandwich on the floor, Roxy happily licking away at it.  He raised his voice "No, bad dog!" Roxy ran as fast as possible into the kitchen and hid behind my legs, tail tucked and cowering.  He walked towards her to let her know, "It's okay" because he felt terrible that she was so scared.  She inched further behind me.  He coaxed her out with a treat, she cautiously approached for the treat, head down, tail tucked.  She flinched when he pet her again, in that moment, but only until she realized he was just petting her, and nothing else. I cried. It was pathetic, but all I could think was, "My poor baby... did she really think someone was going to hurt her?"

Over time, we saw her true fearfulness come out.  She would aggressively bark at the garbage can when we moved it from one part of the yard to another.  She was terrified of objects that she didn't recognize -- a large kitchen bowl, a water bottle, the broom, a pitcher of water.  The vacuum was evil, so was the blender, the hand mixer, the coffee maker, and the house's big ventilation fan. And I'm not talking "stay away cause the noise is strange" evil. I'm talking RUN! HIDE! THE MONSTER IS HERE! evil. Sudden movements made her panic, falling objects made her run and hide. If she was sniffing under your feet in the kitchen, and you moved, she'd jump 3 feet back and freeze.

So, here I was, with a dog who was fearful of various objects, as well as unexpected noises and changes.  I thought she would adjust to most of these things, and went with the assumption that we could work with her on the certain things that she was particularly fearful of.  But I was soon to learn that objects and unexpected noises and changes were not the only things that Roxy was afraid of.... In fact, the hardest thing to understand was yet to come.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

a little bit of background on our adoption

We decided we wanted a dog.  Well, I decided I wanted a dog. My boyfriend wanted a cat. But seeing as I'm highly allergic to cats, a dog it was, as long as he got to choose the breed.  He wanted a German Shepherd; it didn't matter to me. I wanted a fuzzy, 4-legged companion.  We inquired about a shepherd mix at a local rescue... but got a call that she had a pretty severe bite history, so we nixed that one.  But they were having an adoption event that weekend and my boyfriend insisted we go to meet some dogs. I was only mildly interested in going, I was pretty sure they wouldn't have any other German Shepherds available.

We drove to the pet store event, and as we passed the store, the dogs were outside. I wish someone had gotten a video of me.... I had both hands pressed against the window, one on either side of my face, mouth wide open, pressed against the glass. There was a beautiful brindle dog laying on the sidewalk. I wanted her. I knew from that instant that I wanted her.  My boyfriend parked the car and I jumped out and ran across the lot before the car was even off.  I approached the dog head-on, pet her head and face, and she shut her eyes and just enjoyed every second of it. This dog was meant for me. This was MY dog.

The volunteer told me her name was Bonnie. And she never acts like that, she's just a little shy but will warm up in no time.... Something that, at the time, I assumed was a sales tactic. "She's shy, but she already loves you! It's meant to be, take her home!"  We spent about an hour with her that day... they told me she was a Plott Hound mix, she came from a family in Georgia who had to give her up because they lost their home.  She lived with a nice family with two kids, she loved everyone, but she was a little shy.

We picked her up the next day.  It was June 28th, 2009.

We went to the pet store, where she followed me up the down the aisles as I looked for toys and food and treats.  We tried to go down the aisle with all the rawhides and dog goodies and about 1/3 of the way down the aisle, her eyes got wide and she panicked.  Her legs were moving as fast as possible, but she was getting nowhere.... until her paws got tangled in her leash and she fell flat on her face.  She stood back up without skipping a beat and dragged me down the aisle to get away.... After that, she downright refused to walk down any of the other aisles so we had to ever-so-cautiously meander along the wall to approach an opening, where she would safely walk.  Now, I didn't think much of it; it had been a very stressful day for her, finding her forever home and all. But that should have been my first clue that I was dealing with something a bit bigger than I thought.

I named her Roxy. I took my first picture of her, and sent it to my friends.  One told me she looked like a Pit Bull.  I said her paperwork said Plott Mix, but I didn't care, she was mine and I loved her.

The first few days were wonderful.  She loved me, and warmed up to my boyfriend fairly quickly.  Looking back, I regret not documenting her progress from day 1, but at the time, I was not aware that when the girl doing our adoption told us she was "shy," that they really meant she's "fearful" and that means she's a special needs dog.  I've come to notice there IS a difference between shy and fearful, at least by my definition.  A shy dog just needs a little bit of time to warm up, and then loves everyone. A shy dog needs to get the first sniff when meeting people.  A fearful dog needs a lot of time to warm up, and loves some people. And a fearful dog may get spooked by unexpected noises or movements, or falling tree branches, dropped kitchen utensils, babies crying, objects that are not in their normal places.... a fearful dog needs training, and knowledge of learning theory. Things that, at the time, I had minimal knowledge of.

I started noticing that she seemed shy of strangers, nervous around children, iffy with some other dogs, and overall, she spooked easily, but it didn't click until later on that I needed help with her. I had no clue what I was doing, and quite honestly, I'm still confused how the rescue I got her from thought telling me she was "shy" was enough of a description of her behavior in order for me to understand her issues.

I found out later that she had been at the kennel, rather than in a foster home, so I sort of assumed no one really knew about her behavior.  But, after spending time at the rescue's kennel as a volunteer, and talking to more and more volunteers, I learned that people were aware of her fear issues.  Someone told me she would jump back and hide from falling leaves while on walks.  She would crouch and hide at the back of her kennel when people were around.  She never approached people.  There were a few people that got close to her and would spend time with her, but not many.  Because she was fearful. And she looked like a Pit Bull.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

my introduction

I adopted my first dog, Roxy, last year in June, and I've been fostering dogs for that same rescue Roxy is from since December of 2009. Before I adopted Roxy, I had minimal knowledge of this thing called "dog rescue" and even less knowledge of training dogs.  I mean, I had a dog growing up, sure.... a beagle we adopted from a shelter.  We picked her because she was this small little scared dog tucked away in the cat room at the shelter because she was cold and nervous around all the other crazy barking dogs.  Aside from "no, bad dog!" when she peed in the house and "want a treat?" when she did something good, I truly had no clue what I was doing. I'm sure I thought it was that simple at the time we adopted Roxy.... but boy was I wrong.

I guess I'll have to backtrack a little, since it's been a year.  But basically, I adopted Roxy not knowing she had fear issues.  We went to get a dog, and didn't really do much research beforehand. Typical clueless adopter.  I wanted a dog, I fell in love with this dog, and that was it.  We noticed she was shy right away, but I don't think we understood the full picture.  She loved Rob and I immediately, so we figured she was just unsure of what was going on.

The first few months, we noticed a bunch of silly things she'd do, that we just sort of described as shy, or that she was easily spooked (more on this stuff later).  We thought maybe having another more well-adjusted dog around would help settle her in, so we started fostering dogs in December, 6 months after we got Roxy.  Roxy didn't seem to like all dogs, so we pretty much would let her pick which dogs we would bring home to foster. It made the most sense to us, so she wouldn't be stressed in her own home.

So we've been fostering dogs for 6 months now, and I'm really happy it's something I wound up doing.  I feel like this has been the one activity, hobby, whatever you want to call it, that I've found that I truly enjoy.  I realized there were lots of dogs in rescue that had issues, and since I was fostering dogs, I realized I had a lot to learn.

So I began reading. I read Jean Donaldson's "The Culture Clash." I read Fearful Dogs by Debbie Jacobs. I read Dog Star Daily. I read, and I read, and I read.  I joined a rescue-related forum full of dog and Pit Bull lovers.  I learned more about rescue there than I did anywhere else. I learned about dog training there, as well.  There were trainers on the forum, and people who'd used trainers, and people who had been rescuing dogs for years and years and could give advice to someone who was just starting out.

So that brings me to now. I have one fearful dog, and I'm fostering another dog right now who seems relatively normal.  The only thing I wish I had done differently, is that I wish I started this blog earlier, to better detail Roxy's fear issues. But, like I said, I had no clue what I was doing when I adopted her, so I'll have to backtrack a bit in order to get everything on paper.