Thursday, September 29, 2011

sugar's story

I went to the kennel with Roxy and Buster to bring home another foster dog.  We tried one male pitty who Roxy absolutely adored, Thunder.  Roxy and Thunder were play bowing and wrestling in no time, and I thought we were sold on bringing him home.  Then, I brought Buster out to meet Thunder, and, unfortunately, Buster had no desire to interact with Thunder at all.  Buster would growl whenever he came near.  We tried parallel walking and slow introductions, but Buster just wasn't having it. So, we opted to try another dog -- a female -- and hope that worked better for Buster.

Tammy, the foster coordinator and one of the only people I trust to help me introduce Roxy and Buster to dogs at the kennel, came out with a dog named Sugar, a white dog with red freckles and spots who had the most pathetic look on her face.  It was obvious that she had multiple litters of puppies in her life, and she was listed as only 3 years old. I was told she was friendly, and had been surrendered to a shelter without her puppies. The puppies had come in a few days later, but they were all adopted.  Sugar was recently treated for heartworm, and was to be kept calm for the next 4 weeks.

Buster was a much bigger fan of Sugar... his body language was so much more relaxed, he wasn't avoiding looking at her, and he was even sniffing and wagging his tail.  His whale eye was gone, and there were no growls of disapproval.  Roxy tried to play with Sugar, and Sugar just stood there, looking completely lost.... so we took her home for foster.

She spent the first several days asleep on the couch right next to me.  If I got up to go in the kitchen, she followed.  If the other dogs began playing, she would lift her head and watch for a few moments, before putting her head back down with a heavy sigh.

Her body was in rough shape.  She was practically molting, she had intense diarrhea, and her teeth were beyond yellow -- they were actually becoming orange in some spots.  We offered lots of bully sticks and chews, gave her a bath, and brushed her often and her body began to heal.

Slowly, but surely, Sugar showed that she was genuinely a loving dog, who's mission in life is cuddles, snuggles, and kisses.  She started to figure out our routine, and began running into her crate at meal times, and hanging by the backdoor when she had to go out.  She began zooming around and smiling, and was pretty much content to be loved all day long.

We started working on training, and Sugar was thoroughly confused.  She knew how to sit, but not on cue, and it was almost as if she offered a sit when she didn't know what to do, or when she thought she was in trouble.  But she seemed to have no idea that there were things she could do that would be rewarded, that she could alter her behavior to earn treats and other rewards, so I spent a lot of time working on that with her, and you could see she started to understanding that sit = reward.

Then, after a couple of weeks and she had settled in, Sugar started digging holes in the yard.   I approached her to redirect to a toy, and when I reached down for her collar, she literally cowered.  She flinched, sat, and rolled half-way on her back to expose her belly to me.  I felt terrible, knowing that someone had likely mistreated her... so as she rolled over, I rubbed her belly and she wiggled her little tail nub at me while staring in disbelief.  We did this a lot, I "practiced" approaching her and just loving her to pieces and after about a week of that, she stopped cowering and rolling on her back, unless she just plain wanted a belly rub.

Next, I wanted to teach her to target my hand... I called her name and she ran over to me and sat at my feet. I lifted my right hand up, about a foot in front of her face, and Sugar flinched.  Again, here is this literally perfect dog, and she was expecting someone to hit her.  So we worked on that, too. 

Sugar settled in very quickly, and her and Buster became fast friends.  Roxy was a little less tolerant of Sugar's play attempts, but all-in-all, Roxy liked her.  We had gotten very lucky with this dog that no one knew much about aside from being "friendly."  And, in the mornings when we get up and get ready for work, I would often find all three dogs, snuggled up on the bed together.

Sugar accompanied me on a trip to upstate New York, where I met with some of my rescue friends and volunteers from Rescue-a-Bull.  She met many dogs, and plenty of people, and she was fabulous.  By the end of the weekend, she was tired and bit less interested in making friends with the other dogs, but she had behaved ever-so-wonderfully.

I've been taking Sugar to adoption events, but we haven't gotten a lot of interest in her, despite her loving personality and adorable wiggles.  I've been updating her pictures, and posting about her frequently, to keep her fresh in everyone's minds.  And, we've been getting more inquiries for the last week or so, so I am beginning to get hopeful that she may be going home soon.  And although I'm hopeful, I'm a bit sad, because Sugar is literally a perfect dog.  Roxy and Buster both like her, her energy level matches theirs, and so does her intensity.  She adores Rob, she is funny, and snuggly, and just a completely lovable dog in all possible ways.  She is going to make someone very happy, that is for sure.  And the difference in her, from the day she came home and pouted while sitting on my deck for our adoption pictures, and now, is pretty amazing:

Monday, September 12, 2011

remembering to celebrate little victories

With all the time and effort I spend working on Roxy's existing fears, I sometimes forget about her old fears.  The fears we've overcome and tucked away in blog posts, hoping they're gone for good.  But I think it's important to sometimes be reminded of those fears and recognize progress based on them.

The other day, Roxy and I were visiting someone we hadn't seen in a while.  We were in a neighborhood that we occasionally visit, but not often enough to say it's a familiar area.  We were walking down the street and a woman we know was dragging a trash can down the road, from one house to another.  When she saw us, I waved, and her initial response was, "Well, here comes Roxy, she's going to be afraid of the trash can..."

Well, we stopped to chat, and Roxy didn't flinch at the trash can.  She didn't look at it while it was moving towards us or while it was making noise.

Two years ago, Roxy would have avoided the dragging trash can, putting her body on the side of me that was furthest from it.  About 1.5 years ago, she would have barked at the trash can.  One year ago, she would very cautiously explore the trash can with some encouragement, making sure to leave all her weight on her hind legs while she slowly leaned in to sniff.  If the can moved during that time, the can would have been "scary" and required some major desensitization and counter-conditioning work.  But just a few weeks ago, Roxy completely ignored the trash can.  She ignored it upon approach, and she ignored it while I chatted with the woman.  In fact, while we chatted, Roxy was more interested in saying hi to her friend than anything else.  Oh, and she ignored the trash can when we started walking in the same direction as the woman, with trash can in-tow, rumbling and scraping on the pavement directly behind her. Two years ago, if something was behind her making that much noise, she would have been panicked, looking over her shoulder and attempting to get away from it.  Even a year ago, she would have struggled with that scary noise.  But a few days back, Roxy wasn't even curious about it.  She was relaxed and enjoying her walk as if there was nothing different going on.

Now, this may not seem like a huge deal, but remember, Roxy avoided the evil bush for over a month, after just one unpredictable incident.   Her other behaviors consisted of cautiously investigating falling leaves (occasionally barking at them), barking at the trash can in the back yard when it was in a different place than normal, running from the sound of the dishwasher turning on, avoiding the house's attic fan, and backing away and cowering when strangers moved in her general direction....

Obviously her behavior has progressed since we've had her, and even more so since we've been working specifically on her fear issues, but sometimes I am so focused on working on her current fear issues, in the here and now, that I forget that she has come as far as she has. But this little encounter with the garbage can was a wonderful reminder of just how far she has come, and has reminded me of a variety of other little victories that I have since forgotten.