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.