Saturday, April 2, 2011


Every blog must begin with an Introduction, right?

On Memorial Day weekend my husband and I adopted Abby, a hound/terrier mix from the NHSPCA.  I will tell you that I had no intention of coming home with a dog that day, and my husband will tell you differently.  That very same week we had just moved into a new place that would allow for us to have a pet, and in short order I had our house virtually unpacked and settled.  He would tell you that was how he knew we were coming home with a dog.  In the months leading up to our move we spoke at length about the types of dogs we'd like.  Throughout each of our discussions there was a common theme:  no puppies.  I am not averse to puppies at all.  In my mind there is nothing cuter than puppy fur, puppy breath, and awkward paws that they haven't grown into.  In my husband's mind they require a level of patience he did not feel he was ready for.

So one Saturday morning we went for a ride to the NHSPCA.  We had previously been on their website and had several candidates that we were eager to meet and possibly welcome to our home.  Apparently everyone had dogs in mind that weekend, because the ones we had in mind were already adopted or had an adoption pending.  As we began looking at the other dogs, we noticed many were fearful of men and some just would not approach at all.  We made several passes past the kennels, and honestly there was not one that jumped out at me.  On what would be our final pass, there was one girl that had previously been out for a walk who was just put back in her kennel who came right up to us as we approached.  Her name was Baby, and she had these brown eyes that would just melt your heart.  The only problem was that she was a puppy, listed at 5 months old.  Part of me was secretly happy about that because I figured we would at least know that we could housebreak her our way as opposed to inheriting someone else's training methods that may or may not have been free of problems.  My husband and I went to the adoption desk to ask if we could take Baby out.  We may have even made a few "Nobody puts Baby in the corner" jokes along the way, and vowed that we would change her name if we adopted.  So out we went with Baby soon-to-be Abby, and we fell in love.  That first walk was so different than any walk I've had with her since.  Don't get me wrong, I still believe a connection was forming in that moment, but I believe it was more on our part than hers.  But in we went with her and started the process of bringing her home.  The whole thing went smoothly, and before long Abby was riding in the backseat of my Corolla while my husband drove the hour ride home.

I wish I could tell you things were seamless and that Abby's transition into our house was smooth sailing.  It wasn't.  Although Abby crashed on our floor the first day that we brought her home and slept for several hours, there was still a part of me that was realizing that this was the first dog I was raising in my adult life.  Sure I had dogs when I was growing up, but it is a very different thing when you're a child.  You get to do the fun stuff - you get to play with them, run around with them, and feed them all of the table scraps you can sneak while your parents aren't looking.  As an adult you're responsible for all of the discipline, training, housebreaking and rules that come along with responsible dog ownership.  It became clear we were in over our heads.  As a puppy she was completely reactive, and every walk left me more exhausted than the one before.  Abby would look at everything as if she was seeing it for the first time, and in some instances that really was true.  When she saw someone or something it became an exercise in navigating her for walks.  She would bark the entire time to try to get at it or get it to come closer to her, and the entire time she would be pulling to get to it and hopping up and down.  It was horrific.  When she wasn't actively barking at and hopping towards something, she was on the prowl for the next thing to repeat this behavior with.  Walks were challenging to say the least, particularly because once she saw something she would not go potty.  I inevitably began cursing every neighbor we had under my breath for simply living their lives because anything they did would start this cycle.

When we brought Abby for her first vet appointment the first weekend in June, they estimated her age to be at least 6 months because her adult canines were fully formed.  "An extra month!" I thought delightfully.  That meant we were one month closer to her adult years when hopefully this behavior will have worked itself out.  Our vet recommended puppy classes and said that their trainer offered all positive reinforcement based training.  It wasn't long after our first visit to the vet that we decided to call Jessica for puppy classes because we clearly were drowning.

In retrospect I wish I had taped Abby's first puppy class.  It was a nightmare.  She was suddenly in a place where there were a TON of other dogs, and this was the closest she had been in awhile to another dog.  You see, Abby already had a reputation in our small condo complex of being a reactive dog.  Since she was a puppy, and we were brand new to the complex, most people would not bring their dogs near Abby.  Unfortunately she just had so much energy, she definitely moved at a different speed than the older dogs.  Plus the bark didn't exactly encourage people to want to approach.  The first time someone did they asked if she was friendly with a good amount of trepidation in their voice.  So now Abby had at least 8 other dogs in one place to look at, bark at, and pull towards!  As we were being introduced to clicker training, I had no idea how this was going to help her.  The entire time I thought, "Well, it certainly can't hurt."

Each class with Abby was a disaster.  Sometimes she would want to work, but you never knew if she'd want to work for 5 minutes out of our class or 20.  You always hoped for 20, and relished if she offered 5.  It wasn't that she couldn't do the work or get the clicker training - she could.  She just simply became unfocused and remained relatively unhinged for most of the class.  Once home, I would be able to work with her on the things we learned that night and get them polished up for the next class, where again she may demonstrate some training we've worked on and largely ignore the rest of it.

It wasn't long after we got Abby that someone flipped a switch and Abby hated her crate.  We were crating her during the day when we were at work, and I'd stop by at lunch to take her out and relieve her bladder.  At night for bedtime we put her back in the crate simply because we didn't know if she would have an accident as she was still housetraining.  One night Abby was done.  She wanted no part of being in a different room from us.  So we moved the crate upstairs for bedtime.  This worked for a few days, and then just as instantly as it was working it stopped working.  I put her in one night and you would have thought I was killing her.  She instantly was barking, yelping and panicked.  She would paw furiously at the crate door while barking anxiously, and then throw her body from one side of the crate to the other.  Although I didn't want to reward her behavior and let her out while she was barking, it was also 11 at night and our neighbors were asleep.  We let her out and brought her bed upstairs, which is where she has slept every night since.

The crate aversion wasn't limited just to bedtime.  The morning after the incident it overflowed into not wanting to be crated while we were at work.  She didn't want to go to her crate, so I would pick her up and place her inside.  She then began barking from inside the crate.  One early summer afternoon I came home at lunch, and our neighbor across the street promptly came out of her house and made a bee line for me as I took Abby out.  I knew this wasn't going to be good.  She told me Abby had been barking for about 2 hours straight, and suggested I closed the windows so that she wouldn't hear it.  I did, and then I panicked.  I tried to gate off the kitchen and leave her in there thinking the extra freedom would help her.  When I came home after work I found that Abby had scaled the gate and had free reign of the house.  While she hadn't had an accident, I knew it was simply because she had too many things to check out on her own.  We talked with Jessica and started to work on trying to make the crate positive.

No matter what we did with that crate at first, our girl fought it the entire way.  If I put treats near it she would get them and run away.  Although she would inevitably get comfortable stepping near the crate to get treats, if I put them inside of the crate she would always have at least one paw outside of the crate so as not to get locked in.  And it wasn't getting better.  I had watched a DVD called "Crate Games" that I borrowed from Jessica, and I thought "These dogs are starting from a relaxed position in their crate.  There is no way I can start this game with Abby because she is petrified of her crate."  And it only got worse.  One day while walking with Abby the neighbor immediately beside us who shares the other side of our condo walls approached and asked if we could do anything about the barking.  I knew she was barking when I left for work in the morning, I heard it.  But what I didn't know, and could not have known, was that she didn't stop.  Our neighbor told us that Abby was barking literally all day, and only stopped at lunch time when someone came to let her out, and then she'd start right back up.  Again I panicked.  I left Abby out of her crate the next day and gave her the house.  She chewed the frame next to our front door.  The next day I thought she'd do OK and left her out again thinking that she couldn't chew it any more than she already had.  I was correct.  She chewed up the wall-to-wall carpet instead, straight down through the pad.  Did I mention we are renting?  My husband was less than pleased given the security deposit.

We started home visits with Jessica to work on her anxiety.  We also started her on Chlomicalm just to give her the ability to relax because clearly no matter what we did positive for her in that crate, there was something along the lines that made her so panicked she would never view that crate as positive because she physically couldn't.  The home visits were amazingly helpful.  We worked on teaching Abby that she could relax, something she wasn't able to do previously.  The goal was that if we could help her to relax day-to-day, we could move that into her crate and then make her crate positive.  It wasn't a change that happened overnight, but somewhere along the way there was a bit of a delay between when I put her in her crate and when she'd start barking.  Over time that delay grew, and inevitably vanished.  Months later I asked our neighbors about it and they said that whoever we brought Abby to was a miracle worker because they hadn't heard Abby at all.  I cried that night because of how much work we both had done.

Abby continued plugging away at puppy class and learning her basic obedience.  She still has a problem with Stay simply because she is my Velcro dog and always wants to be with me.  But there is always forward progress with her and I'm so proud.  As I took her on a long walk this morning I realized that she has come a long way from the girl that would pull me the entire time we walked, would hop around and bark at every single thing.  We took a nice stroll through the condo and when Abby saw things that were interesting she stopped walking and stared at them.  I know that I will always have a reactive girl.  She's curious and she is always interested in the world around her.  I cannot, and would not want to, change that.  But I can work with her to help shape her behavior for when she sees the world, and be proud of the work we've both done to get to that point.

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