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.

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