Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Dog Shrink Cometh

The dog shrink came to our house last Friday, to visit the dog formerly known as Noelle. She was with us from 2 in the afternoon until 5:30, and charged us $50. Diagnosis- Depression, lack of socialization and anxiety.

I was not surprised that Bonnie, the Dog Shrink, found Juniper (what we now call the Dog formerly known as Noelle) to be depressed; after all, she has spent more than half her life living in a 4 by 5 cell at the local animal shelter. Brought in with her litter mates as a 6 month old puppy, she lived in the shelter for about 6 months, when she was adopted. Sadly, her adopted family had to return her to the shelter 9 months later, where she spent the next nine months waiting to be adopted. If that were my history, I'd be depressed, too. But my biggest concern, and the reason I called The Shrink, is Juniper's fear of Chuck. She is terrified, running from him, slinking out of the room when he comes in, refusing to come out of her crate when he opens it, backing away or collapsing into a pitiful heap when he tried to put the leash on her. I hated to see her so fearful.

Oddly, once the leash is on, Juniper is happy to walk with Chuck, and she will take treats from him when he is sitting down. We were doing all the things we knew how to do to make her more comfortable, and I thought we were making progress. But after five weeks, she still woke every morning a blank slate, losing all progress we had made the day before. When she started "rumbling" around Chuck, I knew we had to call for help. It wasn't quite a growl; no raised hackles or baring of teeth, but it wasn't a friendly noise, and she made it while backing away from him. I know a fearful dog can quickly become a biting dog, so a quick call was definitely in order.

Bonnie spent about 45 minutes talking with us about Juniper, her diet, her behaviors, our behaviors, and our expectations, before meeting the Dog. I told her my greatest hope for Juniper was for her to be able to pass the Canine Good Citizen test. I told her I didn't care so much if we actually got a certificate, but I wanted a dog who could meet the 10 behavioral expectations. Our last dog had a number of personality tics that made dealing with him difficult, and ultimately limited the life he led. When he died, I wanted a dog who would be able to go more places and do more things.

After talking, we brought Juniper out, and worked with her on some basic obedience. She already knew some commands, and we reinforced them, while adding some new ones to her repertoire. Bonnie told us that working with Juniper on basic obedience would help her see us as the alpha members of the pack. This would build her confidence and allow her to live her life with less anxiety, knowing that the alpha pack members were in charge so she didn't have to be. It was a long session, and we were all tired out at the end of it, but Bonnie told us she was very encouraged by our progress. Juniper had responded to Chuck, had worked well with the commands he was giving her, and had actually approached him to sit beside him and be petted. We were left with homework assignments to complete before our next meeting, suggestions for a change in dog food, and lots of handouts.

On Saturday I had to work all day. Chuck and Juniper were at home, and he said they worked quite a bit on the commands we had gone over the day before, with great success.

On Sunday, I took my turn and attempted to work with Juniper on our homework. Right away, we hit a big brick wall. If Chuck was in the house, Juniper was so worried about where he was, what he might be doing and if he would be coming into the room that she was unable to give me her attention. If we were working in the living room while he was downstairs in the family room, she had to continually go to the top of the stairs and check to see if he was coming up. If Juniper and I were in the kitchen and he was in the living room, she had to watch him from the doorway.

It was a dismal failure, she was unable to do anything I asked.

On Monday, when I got home from work, I let Juniper out of her crate. She checked every room in the house, looking for Chuck. When she established that he wasn't in the house, she returned and sat down beside me, as if to say "OK, now what."

I decided to try working with the three things we had trouble with over the weekend. To my great surprise she did each and everyone with very little practice! Apparently she knew what I wanted but her fear of Chuck was so great that she couldn't concentrate.

So it appears that we continue on, being consistent, being alpha, giving her enough time to realize that Chuck is not going to hurt her. She's a good dog, and a smart dog. I am glad we were able to give her a home, even if it will be a long row to hoe helping her become more confident. And that $50? Money well spent, I think.


Tracey said...

Sounds like Juniper will do quite well given the time and guidance you're willing to offer! I'm a big fan of Cesar Romero (spelling?) Love watching his show on National Geographic. Was glad to see your doggie shrink was offering 'pack' advice instead of telling you to treat Juniper like a child =)

PALocalvore said...

My older son, who has 2 English Mastiff puppies, is a big fan of Cesar, too, (so am I) and frequently our conversations start out "Well, Cesar says..." Unfortunately, Cesar's biggest dog control tip is to go for a 4 hour walk every morning! Yikes! We walk, but not for 4 hours!

Thanks for stopping by- next time, bring me a piglet!