Willow is a shy golden mix learns to warm up to the world.
I was delighted to hear from a returning client that she had adopted a rescue and wanted to schedule regular dog walks. I met Willow, an adult Golden Retriever mix, in December. Little is known about her past. She was raised as a farm dog, owners lost the farm, and she ended up in a rescue. She is an adult dog with good house manners. She likes food, brushing, cats, and her new owner. She dislikes car rides, noise, and nail trims. She is anxious around strangers. The only one she will go for a walk with is her owner. She has a lot of boundaries and won’t cross them unless she wants to.
At first, she remained in the closet on my visits. I lured her out with food – mostly string cheese. She would eat kibble in her bowl and retreat to the closet immediately after. A walk was not happening. This was our routine for about one month. Then I started distributing her kibble and a few treats around the house instead of in her bowl. At least she would have to sniff and move to eat. I started getting creative and placing food at different levels, surfaces, and hiding places. She’s a good hunter and sought out every morsel. Still no walk, but she would let me attach her leash. If I tried to get her to walk with me, she sat and put on the brakes.
She was getting used to me and would sit next to me for petting and brushing after her hunting expedition instead of retreating to her quiet spot. I always held back something yummy so she would associate me with things she liked. She didn’t mind dragging the leash around, but still sat when I picked up my end. Not going to walk outside for me yet. By now I am visiting Willow four times a week for four months. Our progress is measured in baby steps and wanes from time to time. I decided it was time for her to meet one of my employees. David is kind and gentle with animals and was able to entice Willow into the backyard first. Little breakthroughs finally led to a big win.
I’m glad that Willow has a wonderful home with a doting owner. Willow has come a long way from our first meeting. We still dream of taking her for a walk, but we will let her decide when that will happen. For now, we take pleasure that has accepted us enough to venture out of the closet to spend time with us and will go outside for a midday potty break. Our patience and kindness paid off.
A charming pup is convinced the world is against him! It takes patience and positive training to teach him how to relax.
This February, my friend, Thressa, asked if I could help her dog, Loki, a ten-year-old Portuguese Water Dog who is extremely well trained at all the basic commands but has been plagued by lifelong anxieties. He is fiercely afraid of other dogs and hypervigilant about anything coming near him, his humans, home, or car, reacting with loud barking, growling, and lunging at the perceived danger. None of their three previous trainers had been able to help Loki be more comfortable in the world. Thressa wanted Loki to enjoy walks around their neighborhood and hikes through parks with her, not pulling at his leash, scrambling to return to the safety of his home or car. She also had plans to meet up with friends, family, and their dogs later this summer but was anxious herself about how that could even be possible. After reading my newsletters and other socials, she became hopeful that I might be the missing link in their training. I immediately recognized that Loki is a “reactive dog,” and I agreed to offer my advice to help lower his anxiety.
We got together once or twice a week for two months. We made some seemingly minor adjustments to Loki’s world, such as not feeding him in a bowl and preventing his access to a window view, that had major positive effects. We identified his triggers and then modified his reactive behavior by using fun focus games, lots of Loki’s favorite treats, and calming activities, building positive associations with all of Loki’s triggers and teaching him how to relax. This process not only helped Loki but gave Thressa the tools to feel more in control of situations at home and out on walks. She reframed her mindset from “Oh no, here comes a dog!” to “Oh good! Here’s an opportunity for Loki to reframe his mindset.” We kept track of Loki and Thressa’s “wins” and “areas that weren’t quite there yet” and narrowed the gap between them every week. By the end of two months, we had changed threats into challenges and then successes, counting daily wins instead of disappointments.
Working with Thressa and Loki turned into a power-up experience for all of us. I was delighted when Thressa said, “Working with you has been the best thing that ever happened to me and Loki!”
Due to quarantine, many people felt it was the perfect time to get a puppy. Now that things are opening up, the pups need to adjust.
Some of my professional pet sitter colleagues have been seeing more aggression, separation anxiety, and fearfulness than ever before with young dogs. We believe the rise in these issues is because people have not been able to properly train or socialize their new pets during the pandemic.
These young dogs are going to be coming out of their quarantine just like we are. But unlike us, they don’t have memories of what it used to be like and are forming their impressions day by day. That can be overwhelming and it’s no wonder they may be insecure or uncomfortable. It’s important for them to be introduced safely to the new experiences.
Here are some examples that I have encountered. There is a dog that I watch named Willow whose world was turned upside down when her owners lost their farm and they couldn’t keep her. She is sweet, but mistrustful. She went from knowing one home to being placed in foster care and then being adopted by my client – all in a few months.
That was a lot to take in. At first, Willow stayed in the closet during my visits. She wasn’t scared of me – but was more at ease watching rather than engaging. I earned her trust with hand feeding, brushing, and playing games. She now joins me in the living room, sits next to me for petting, enjoys being brushed, and even lets me trim her nails without any fuss. We continue to make steady progress.
My sister, who lives out of town, adopted a Beagle puppy when he was almost four months old. Sammy has separation anxiety. He follows her from room to room rarely leaving her side. When my sister goes out (even for a few minutes) the dog is overly stressed. Lucky for Sammy, he has my sister who is patient and doesn’t hesitate to follow my advice. Sammy is learning to cope and is becoming more independent – one small step at a time.
Your dog must be handled with patience, kindness, and praise through this sensitive adjustment period. This is where our knowledge and experience can lead to a smooth transition for you and your pet. We will devise a plan using our training and Fear Free techniques to build your dog’s confidence to calmly face the world as it opens up. We will introduce him to people, places, and things that may be perceived as threats and turn them into challenges and wins. Our approach includes games that are fun and build confidence resulting in a dog that is more comfortable in the real world.
A blind rescue dog brings special challenges but more than enough love and personality to make a perfect match.
What made you decide to adopt a blind/deaf dog? We never really decided. It just happened. We did foster him for close to a year, and only started thinking about adding him to our pack about 9 months in
Where did you find him? A very good friend of ours started her own 501c3 special needs rescue. Chato was one of the many visually and/or hearing-impaired dogs in her group. We met him for the first time at a rescue event.
What are the challenges, and how did you deal with them? The challenges of bringing a blind/deaf dog into a home with dogs and cats that can see and hear are very real. A dog that cannot see or hear relies on his other senses. He knew immediately we had other dogs in the house and wanted to try and find them. Three out of our four at the time were okay with an introduction, one was not. It took a very long time to make that introduction. We had a very alpha female in the house, and she was jealous of the attention the new dog was getting. Once we got past the helicopter parent stage, things got much easier for Chato, our other dogs, and for us as well. The biggest challenge was getting past the fact he was born with no vision and ability to hear and wanting to coddle him and protect him. It was a human challenge, not a canine challenge.
How does the dog fit in with other pets? Chato adjusted quite well once he figured out how many other pets were in the house and could identify them by their smell. He took to our Golden Retriever Leo immediately. Chato and Leo are still best buds. We always take Leo with us when we take Chato on an outing. I think it gives Chato a sense of comfort knowing his big brother Leo is there. Chato does well with all his current canine and feline siblings.
What advice would you give to others who may be contemplating a deaf and blind dog? My advice would be to fully understand the commitment you are making to this dog. Understand there will be a period of adjustment for the dog, any other pets and humans in the house. I would suggest any pet parent of a blind/deaf dog take a pet first aid and CPR class. My first aid training has paid off quite well with Chato and his little scratches and occasional run in with another dog’s mouth. Be prepared to give this dog a safe space to claim as his or her own, whether a bed, crate, or another room in the house.
How do you communicate with a dog that is deaf and blind? Training tips? The answer to both questions is patience. Chato responds very well to touch. I have found touching him near his shoulder blades gets his attention. Once I have his attention, I run my hand down his spine to get him in a sitting position. Once he is sitting, I rub him under his chin to reward him and give a treat if we are in training mode. Just like a dog that can see and hear consistency is critical.
What accommodations have you made for his special needs? We have not moved any furniture since he came to us. He knows how to find his way around the house quite well. We feed him in the same place twice a day. We have a few dog beds scattered throughout our house and he knows where each once is, especially after the last potty break before bed. He knows he gets a night-night treat. Who trained who?
Did you choose him, or did he choose you? I think it was mutual. It was love at first sight for me, and love at first sniff for him.
To see Chato in action, he has his own Facebook page The Adventures of Chatopotomus, @chatopotomus.
I have owned more than a handful of dogs and have prepared many foster dogs for adoption. Along the way, I have met some interesting and challenging canines. One such dog was Duke, The Found Hound. I was buying groceries at the Food Lion in Bridgeton. Every time the door opened, this large, bony tick-ridden hound walked in sweeping his tail from side to side. He entered the store three times and each time he was forced back outside. After the third time, the store employees were ready to call Animal Control. It was Thanksgiving week, and I figured the fate of this dog in the hands of Animal Control would not have a good outcome.
In the parking lot, the dog was going up to everyone in the same friendly manner that he showed as he entered the Food Lion. Everyone brushed him off –that is, everyone but me. I saw something in him that I liked. No one knew anything about this dog so I considered him abandoned. It was clear by looking at him that he hadn’t been well cared for. He was severely underweight and his coat was in poor condition.
I asked some people to help me get him into the backseat of my car. They asked me what I was going to do with him, and I said I’d adopt him out or keep him. They looked at me like I was crazy. My intentions were to get him fully vetted, neutered, trained in some basic obedience, and then adopt him out through the humane society. After I got home, I named him Duke, and started his rehabilitation. He impressed me with his intelligence, athleticism, and willingness to learn. I worked on calming his reactiveness to other dogs, eliminating his food aggressive issues, and taught him basic skills and house manners. When he was ready, I took him to an adoptathon. To my dismay, he was ignored because he was too big. Everyone passed us to view the little dogs. I decided that no one would ever do that to him again and took him “home.” He was mine!
This dog that no one wanted went on to receive a Canine Good Citizenship certificate, had a blast learning agility, and excelled at obedience. He remained my faithful companion for eight years. To this day, he holds the title of being the most frustrating and challenging dog I’ve owned. But he also taught me the most and took me to places I never would have gone. For that, I am forever grateful.
If you have a dog that is a challenge, we may be able to help. We’d love to improve the outcome of your story. Contact us so we can all hear it.