Wednesday, November 2, 2011

roxy is not the dog i adopted.

Two and a half years ago, I fell in love with a rescue dog outside of a Petco in Ledgewood, NJ.  We named her Roxy.  That day, we went shopping at the pet store, where she proceeded to panic when walking down the aisles.  In our backyard, an unpredictable noise and movement in a bush resulted in her avoiding the bush for months.  Roxy would run from most people and occasionally sniff others with all of her weight on her hind legs, prepared to run at any moment.  She would not allow strangers to pet her, and if they reached out, she ducked and ran away.  She jumped and ran from loud noises and any objects that were unfamiliar to her.  She growled and barked at the garbage can in the backyard when I moved it from one location to another.

Two years ago, Roxy would have looked like the saddest dog on the planet.  Her face was constant worry and she was always on the lookout for scary things.  When people were visiting our house, Roxy was literally depressed.  She'd go to the bedroom and lay there, unlikely to venture out and explore. She wanted nothing to do with strangers.

Now, I could go on here about Roxy's behavior. I could literally talk for hours about her fearful and shy behavior from 2 years ago...but I won't.  This post isn't about the dog I adopted over 2 years ago.

This post is about the Roxy I have now... about the Roxy that greets new people and solicits petting from strangers.  The Roxy that doesn't simply look for treats from strangers, but actually solicits attention from them.  The Roxy that bolts out the back door, runs directly to the no-longer-evil bush to check for fuzzy creatures.  This post is about the Roxy that drags me down the aisles at the pet store, enthusiastically sniffing everything, and occasionally turning back to me, smiling and wagging her tail.  This post is about the Roxy that shows off her play skills when strangers come over, by promptly play bowing to Buster, and chasing him around the house.

Just a few weeks ago, Roxy made a completely ridiculous spectacle of herself trying to play with Buster while there were people in the house.  I was sitting on the couch with my best friend, and Roxy ran into the living room and dove under the coffee table towards Buster.  She play bowed from her under-the-table vantage point, and demand barked at him to play with her.  She wanted to play, and she wanted to play NOW.  It didn't matter that someone else was in the house, and it didn't matter that the someone else was sitting right near where she wanted to play.  A little later in the night, George walked into the house while I was on the couch, and Roxy ran to the door and eagerly greeted him.  Now, this was a man that Roxy had previously ran and hid from.  It is the same man who, two years ago, stopped by to let Roxy out one night, and Roxy refused to come back inside the house without a line of treats for encouragement, and him not in sight.  So, on this night a few weeks ago, he walked into the house on his own, and Roxy greeted him with tail wags and she was asking for attention -- there was no barking, no running away, no ducking away from his hand, none of it.  Just happiness, excitement, and tail wags.

Blurry tail = happy dog!

And just this week, our foster dog Sugar, had a meet and greet at our house.  I had Roxy and Buster in another room initially, so the couple could meet Sugar independently.  But Sugar was pretty preoccupied with sniffing the door where her buddies were, and eventually just sat by the door (that's what I get for teaching her to "ask" to open doors!).  I asked the couple if I could let Roxy and Buster come out, and they said sure, they are dog people and the more dogs, the merrier.  I cautioned them to simply ignore Roxy, as she would likely sniff them but prefer to explore without being pet initially and they were completely comfortable with that.  Roxy and Buster ran to greet the strangers, and Buster was his happy-go-lucky self.  Roxy ran out with Buster to greet the couple, and eagerly sniffed them. She sniffed them while they pet and interacted with Buster and Sugar, and then playfully skipped away and picked up a Nylabone to chew.

Then something amazing happened.  Roxy looked up from her bone and saw the other dogs getting some loving.  She tilted her head to the side, then got up and walked over to greet these "strangers."  The male stranger was squatting down and petting Buster, and Roxy walked right up to him and turned into him, between his legs, effectively positioning herself between the "stranger" and Buster.

My Roxy, who used to cautiously sniff strangers and always positioned herself with an escape route, was soliciting attention from a strange man, and there were no treats in sight.  I had not asked her to "go say hi," and she was not greeting him and running back to me, expecting treats.  She approached and solicited prolonged attention from someone who was, in fact, a stranger.  She then walked away from the no-longer-strange-man and approached the stranger-woman and nudged her hand with her head.  She was asking for attention, and specifically soliciting petting on top of her head, rather than ducking away from a hand.

Not only did Roxy solicit attention from these "strangers," Roxy also made a fool of herself... she was throwing her front paws on the ground with zest, and inviting Buster and Sugar to play with a tail wag and a play growl.  She was excited and happy, and relaxed enough to let herself go in play, despite "strangers" being present.

Now, we still have some things to work on, don't get me wrong.  I'd like to get to the point where she is greeting strangers with tail wags because they predict awesome things are about to happen, but this is huge progress for a dog like her, and I couldn't be happier to see her growing, learning, and changing.  The simple fact that she is able to relax enough to play while strangers are present is huge, and I am thrilled that she is able to leave some of her past behind, and keep moving towards happier times.

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