Monday, November 10, 2008

The Old Daisy

I was reminded again this weekend that despite her progress, Daisy is still a rescue dog, who comes from a puppy mill, and who still reacts to new experiences with fear and uncertainty. 

While marveling at her progress this past year, I forgot to acknowledge that the old, fearful and uncertain Daisy has been lurking just beneath the surface. You see this vibrant, energetic, and curious "new" Daisy is so much more present than the old one. She interacts with strangers at the dog park, even placing her head on a stranger's laps for a long pet. She often leaves my side to explore new places and smells. She is even confident walking into a pet store, as long as no one looms over her too much. This "new" Daisy sometimes makes it easy to forget that I need to go slow, and introduce her to new situations with care. 

A new toy (a stuffed wiener dog with squeaker sounds in it), a towel draping her body (to dry off the wet snow melting into her fur), a strange new environment, new people (young kids), new doggie friends - all seemed to have the potential to cause fear this weekend. System overload? I'm not sure, but it all seemed to start with that small toy and only escalate from there. Her behavior this weekend reminded me of what Daisy was like when I first adopted her.

When I first brought Daisy home, one of the things we had to work on was coming inside the house. The first step required entering the garage, which is the only way to get from the backyard to the house, and then following a series of rituals that would take us from the garage to the house .

Daisy was more likely to enter the garage if she was following Aspen (her doggie guide), but only if I met her specific guidelines, which of course, were only known to her. Direct eye contact, sudden movements, even holding some unfamiliar object in my hands, would frequently send her skittering away from the door and back out into the backyard. Often when this happened, Aspen and I would have to start the whole process over again. This meant going back outside (frequently in the middle of winter) so we could all come in the door again - the correct way. I would enter the garage door first, followed by Aspen, and then Daisy - if I wasn't too close to the door or looking at her as she entered the door. 

However, this wasn't the end of the process. Once I had Daisy in the garage, I then had to convince her to enter the house. Wood floors were a problem because she was afraid of the surface - something that is quite common with dogs who have not been socialized to live in a home. Unfortunately, the first thing Daisy encountered when entering the house were (yep, you guessed it) - wood floors. If Aspen led the way, Daisy would follow, reluctantly. But again, everything depended on where I was standing, whether I was facing her when she came in, or if I was far enough away from the door to allow her to enter in a way that she felt was safe. 

More often than not, we played a game of chase in the garage. Daisy would run in circles around the car, sometimes in fear, but often in some sort of  pacing pattern (very similar to what you see when a zoo animal is confined to a small enclosure). I would sometimes go slowly towards her from the opposite direction so I could attach a leash and lead her inside, but that only worked if she froze in fear. I always felt awful in that situation because it only seemed reinforce the fear, and it did nothing to help me build trust with Daisy. Other techniques included opening the car door and letting Daisy jump into the car so I could attach a leash and lead her inside, using treats to get her to approach me so I could attach the leash, and/or using Aspen to lead her inside. 

All of these techniques could be, and often were, hampered by Daisy pulling her head out of her collar - something she did quite often. In those cases, Daisy would begin to circle the car again and I would need to open the car door so she could jump in thus allowing me  to put her collar back on without her running away. After awhile, I resorted to putting her into an Easy Walk harness while in the garage. This allowed me to safely lead her inside using a leash, and it short-circuited the pacing behavior that seemed to border on obsessive.

Why do I share all of this with you? Because this weekend I was reminded again that while much of this old behavior has gone away (as Daisy has begun to trust me), it still exists just beneath the surface. A new toy, a new situation or a new experience, can send Daisy back to this behavior. This weekend, I actually had to use the leash to lead her back inside the house - several times. Her fear caused her to revert back to behavior she hasn't demonstrated in some time. I guess trust is a hard thing to come by when you've been mistreated most of your life. 

So, we will begin again, my Daisy and I, slowly building trust, using positive reinforcement and slowly, with patience, building her confidence. Daisy's story continues.... stay tuned.

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