A little more than a year into my relationship with ‘rescue dog’ Tommy the Wizard, the shih tzu I reluctantly took in and then fell in love with and fully adopted, I find myself once again fostering a dog who arrived with issues, uncertainly and no formal training. Roxy is a nearly 5 year old puggle (a cross between a pug and a beagle) whose owners found me agreeing to take custody of her for the express purpose of finding her a new and wonderful forever home during a narrow window of opportunity.
How did they do it? First success — I answered the phone and listened to the story. Second — per my request Roxy came to two DIP’s over the course of a week for me to evaluate her suitability in working into the pack in my home with the least amount of trouble. She passed my test which only had to do with her attitude towards other dogs and dog savvy / confident cats. She passed that with flying colors. Third, they were able to continue to care well enough for her until I could take her on.
Roxy arrived early in the afternoon on Feb. 21. Her owner tearfully handed her over both legally (relinquishing custody) and physically. Roxy watched her owner — since puppyhood — leave. She howled. I knew the day would be a long one! And I knew I had much to learn about Roxy.
Challenges (the (-) things I discovered about her early on:
1. She was not reliably house trained. Yikes! To be a four year old dog and not yet know definitely where to eliminate suggests there were other manners lacking. Gulp.
2.She’s a bit of a diva — whines when she doesn’t get exactly what she wants. Doesn’t like rain. Doesn’t like mud. Doesn’t like the crate. Found her standing on my dining room table without a whiff of remorse. To her credit, she was standing next to the bag of her things left by her owner looking mournful. But standing on the dining room table is not acceptable at Camp A Better Pet!
3.No reliable trained behaviors. Yes, she’d sit if food were in hand, but not on cold surfaces. She looked stymied if asked to stay. “STAY! What do you mean by this STAY?” Poor leash manners, little to no boundaries. Jumping up on people, at counter tops (too short to reach!), barking at people going by.
4. Came with a few stuffed animal squeaky toys but no desire to play.
Now, 10 days later, I can report the following:
1. She is house trained. Diligent management, frequent opportunity to eliminate (first in areas where she was comfortable with the surface — grassy lawn that wasn’t deeply muddy) and patiently making myself as boring as the mud until she finally went. Then high praise, great food treat and a 30 second butt scratch. I now can get her to go potty on cue so I can ensure her bladder and bowels are empty before I leave. I even got her to go pee in icy pouring rain. Go Roxy!
2. She is coming out of her shell and playing with toys, enjoying bullies and, gasp, playing with dogs!
3. She walks beautifully on a leash now. Bean, my go to dog trainer extraordinaire, trained her.
3. She comes when I call her, sits whenever and where ever I ask, and I’m going to teach her down.
4. She can watch things go by the window quietly.
5. She has earned bed privileges and does a great job of snuggling or being at the foot of my bed without a peep.
6. She trots happily into the crate and settles in quietly when I ask her to.
7. She adjusted to specific meals instead of a free feeding approach and has already slimmed down — as she loses some of her pudge she is also getting more active. (I actually told Roxy she’s a puggle, not a pudgel when we went through the feeding routine, challenging at first. Roxy is more of a couch potato than athletic competitor but if she continues to get the support and cheer leading she needs, she could become quite the athlete in between power naps!)
All told, Roxy has begun blossoming into an intelligent, sensitive and wonderfully easy and likeable dog. She’s ready for a new home where with some adjustment and maintenance of what has begun during her fostering, she’ll no doubt bring untold joy and wonderment wherever I help guide her landing.
But my point is not just in securing a great home for Roxy — I may have already found a perfect match for her; it is this. Dogs just like Roxy are adopted every day by well intended but clueless people who have a vague sense of the relationship to come. No doubt a new family might be mortified at the sort of bad habits Roxy arrived with — she might have gone through rescue recycling and never really settle. We all have baggage. To develop a truly, deeply madly wonderful relationship, takes time, patience, learning and love. For whatever length of time an animal shares your life – days, weeks, months or a lifetime, be mindful, aware of the present, hopes for the future, be fair and remain patient. The dog, no matter that baggage, like a diamond in the rough, will begin to shine and become the dog you want or need her to be. Roxy has now become the perfect foster dog and there is no urgency to her placement — but there will be a placement.
Regardless of the source of your dog, at whatever age, with whatever issues, it is absolutely critical to establish the role of benevolent leader to achieve the greatest success in the human/dog relationship. The Six Pillars Approach is a clear, fair and non negotiable program that, while possibly daunting at first, is guaranteed to speed dial you to success. It is how I have learned to live in such harmony with so many animals and how I impart what I have learned in the most useful form possible for my clients. Having a clear cut, logical and measurable method can turn any pet owner into a BENEVOLENT LEADER.