Two sister pups, fairly good sized, about 5 months old, finally strong enough to have left their stay at the vet after being rescued and were now in our home with us to make them normal (at the time it was stressful, frustrating, and bewildering but reading this slightly over a year later, made me LOL!) One is a blonde dog with slight reddish highlights, the other is black and tan. Both were and still are very beautiful.
I will skip probably 50 gigs of lengthy details and simply tell you they were extremely terrified of people, life, the wind, of any noise, of toys, birds, a faint dog bark in the distance, you name it. They would go in a frenzy seeking places to hide in, under, or behind at the least little nothing and jump at a faint noise made from the wind gently moving through the leaves of a tree. I had no idea their fairly large bodies could even scurry under such tiny, low cubbyhole places for hiding….or that they even could locate such a place quickly, like little doggie ninjas.
We just did our best to make sure they knew they were safe, LOVED, and we felt so sorry for the poor little beautiful doggies. We really did. Good human beings are compassionate, patient, and loving. Well, these are dogs, so using people psychology on dogs wasn’t the way to tackle our issues, for a laundry list of logical reasons which never dawned on us at the time, but this was our first time dealing with doggies who had serious mental problems. I’m just going to admit it; at the time, those dogs were Koo Koo for Cocoa Puffs and we were clueless thinking love and feeling sorry for them were all they needed to blossom.That limited way of thinking was only a very small part of important techniques required to help the dogs be normal—-the real sense of “normal”, for a dog.
After watching Cesar Millan’s repeats of his “Dog Whisperer” series, perhaps by the time I began paying attention to Mr. Millan’s wisdom, already at the point of being mentally exhausted and feeling hopeless, but, one day I guess it all began to click in my brain. I must have actually been so interested in watching his show that I had forgotten how truly depressed life was becoming due to the dogs and their mental problems. Regardless, while watching an episode the light bulb went on! It finally dawned on me and I finally absorbed what Mr. Millan has been saying time and time again, one way or the other, about how we cannot keep living in the past of what our dogs have PREVIOUSLY gone through. We need to STOP hanging on to past abuse, disturbing as it is to even be aware of. We have to stop bringing up, thinking about, and living in THEIR past. The dog or dogs have moved on. They are now safe and in a better place. Yes, some dogs will need longer than others to go forward but how can any dog go forward and begin to re-learn about trust, emotional security, and being a stable dog if we, the new owners, cannot move past it or keep pointing that out and bringing it up as a reason for why WE THINK the dog cannot begin a new thought process?
As humans, we often seem to be the ones dealing with THEIR past issues far more than they will. We keep feeling so sorry for them for the past they endured. We keep letting their past live, thrive, remain in the present because we keep thinking about it and using it to reason why we will or will not use more helpful methods as to allow the dog or dogs to move forward. Does that make sense? That was us, at any rate.
We think just because the dog poops everywhere in fear, makes a cute or seemingly sad doggy noise, whines, looks sad, looks scared, tries to hide, or throws a fit of some sort that, “OK, YOU WIN! WE WILL LEAVE YOU ALONE!!! POOR THING! YOU’VE BEEN THROUGH SO MUCH IN YOUR PAST!! GOD KNOWS TRYING TO HELP YOU BE NORMAL IS JUST TOO MUCH FOR YOU!!! IT’S OK!!! WE LOVE YOU!!”
We wish we had known about the helpful and effective way to compassionately love these dogs from the start. No look, no talk, no touch would have likely sped up the process but a few days into it we all realized whatever we do, make sure the dogs never catch us looking directly at them. That was the seventh deadly cardinal sin! The ultimate no-no! AND THEY WILL WATCH YOU TO MAKE SURE YOU DON’T LOOK AT THEM! It terrified them and made them flee. We figured out the “no look” part on our own, but not the other two parts, or much of anything helpful for a number of months.
We began coming up with creative ways to TRY to interact with them and feed them to where they wouldn’t be too afraid to eat. As long as none of us were seen, made the slightest of noises, or moved while they were eating, all was well. As long as we never went within 25 feet of them, all was well. As long as none of us spoke to them, all was well. As long as we could help them feel like they were the leaders, all was well. We felt so sorry for these beautiful little creatures that had a horrible beginning. We would give them time to begin feeling safe at their own pace. In reality, all we were doing was making them worse and delaying their proper socialization. We kept seeing their beautiful little faces (when they wouldn’t catch us doing it) and feeling sorry for them. We didn’t realize it in the beginning but months later it was obvious that we were so lost, yet, with the best of intentions.
We were so busy wanting to absolutely, positively make sure they KNEW they were loved and FELT SO SORRY FOR THEM that we failed to do what would actually allow them to become normal, be stable, and actually FEEL emotionally secure.
We had no idea that love, compassion, and waiting for them to choose the time on their own to be normal wasn’t the way they needed to be loved and helped. We had a lot of doggie-hands-on experience with “normal” dogs. Since these were not, at all, “normal” dogs, treating them as such didn’t apply to them.
Just because they were not vicious and just because they did not have moments where they would try to rip a person’s face off or attack another animal didn’t mean they were somewhat OK. They were still our little mental cases. The complete extreme opposite of “unpredictable vicious killer”. The faaaaaaar extreme opposite end of that behavior. In fact, their level of fear would have them injuring themselves from trying to go outside by running at full speed into a door before it would be opened or opened wider than an inch. Their level of fear would have them toppling over chairs, end tables, coffee tables, slamming into various pieces of furniture, walls, doors, etc., even if they so much as SUSPECTED one of us might go semi near to where one of them happened to be. Even if, from afar, we so much as moved, stood up, reached for something, laughed, you name it. They always seemed to sleep with one eye open…..just in case, and they always assessed ANY area, any location for an exit—for multiple exits, if possible, and where to simply go-for-it if no exit existed. They would have rather died slamming into something, smashing through a window, or strangling themselves trying to escape anything they considered a danger to them. The same applied to any leash, collar, or harness when first attempting to teach them about walks (a story within itself).
Through it all, their ever reliable signature move when we tried to use the most compassionate, gentle approach in helping them or working with them was the forever reliable pooping everywhere from fear. They seemed to always keep enough of a reserve supply in them for every occasion. Since just about everything spooked them, in or out of the home, well, you can figure that one out. All of us were eventually Dog Crap Cleaning Technicians. It simply came with the territory.
I want it made very clear, through every step of the way, the dogs were never, smacked, hit, harmed, further terrorized, screamed at, yelled at, or punished if they had an accident, damaged something, or did their fear-pooping-palooza. We also have never needed to hit or scare any dog we have ever owned in order for it to learn and know better behavior–or at all. We don’t roll up newspapers or magazines to hit them with it if they have an accident or chew something up. Most dogs do that, at least from our experience, while in a puppy phase or from a lack of being able to properly burn off energy.
Doing laundry, mopping, and cleaning were things that became an event sometimes performed several times a day.
At first, during the night hours and if nobody was home with them, they ate one of our sofas, coffee table books, an entire collection of shoes, refashioned a section of carpeting, part of the wall, part of the molding and learned how to unlock & open one of our patio doors. Go figure. We took it one day at a time.
What? Put them in a large crate at night or if we leave? Maybe even cover it? That did not go well, at all. They body slammed the huge doggy cage crate thing, complete with a padded comfy bottom liner. When we first put them in it they puked and crapped in it, after the blonde dog kept trying to bust out of it repeatedly. That whole scene was lot more dramatic than it sounds. The blonde dog went into a huge frenzy.
After the dramatics involved to simply catch them, it was emotionally and physically exhausting just to take them to the vet for shots and to get spayed. Even the people at the vet didn’t realize the extent of their severe fear issues and found out about the not so fun game of rodeo round up. Sheesh, we could HEAR stuff being knocked around, metal cage banging noises all the way in the front lobby, BEFORE their doggie sedation meds wore off when we went to pick them up. The staff was super nice about it and explained if they had been lucky enough to get one dog in the large crate cage, it darted out when they went to put the second dog in it. The dogs were also not fully grown at the time. Both fit very comfortably in the one large dog cage. Marmaduke would have fit comfortably in it.
The vet gave us extra meds to help keep them calm while they healed from being “fixed”. We thought it might actually help. It did make them calmer but by day two, they were seemingly fighting it. So, doggie meds for anxiety, after witnessing that act of willful stubbornness, was ruled out. We felt it served no purpose to give them enough of a dosage to be effective, which would only allow them to be practically knocked out and lay there drooling with their tongues hanging out of the sides of their mouths. As it was, they worked very hard at still wanting to flight and flee on doggie sedatives, constantly trying to get up, wobbling, shaking, and falling. So, meds for crazy fearful dogs had been ruled out. Besides, to us, that was NOT a fix or a real solution to the actual problem. What was the point of owning any dog or trying to rehabilitate it only to keep it drugged up?
Some days we felt defeated and trapped, other days we tried new ideas. Some days one of us inspired the other not to lose hope. At one point, had I known of ANYONE who would have properly taken the time to help them and keep them together, I would have very seriously contemplated giving the dogs to that person.
After about 6 months, and before watching Cesar’s reruns of “Dog Whisperer”, I began secretly feeling the waters for friends or friends of friends, rather than total strangers, seeking people experienced with helping crazy dogs, hoping that perfect candidate would take our dogs. I would never consider placing any ads, because I never trusted anyone I did not already know and I was not going to trust any strangers, especially from the internet, knowing how some people troll for free or cheap dogs for who knows what purpose or to sometimes use for bait dogs and fighting. Regardless, I would never go that route.
However, those we already did know and who we would have trusted to turn our dogs over to, those experienced in owning rescue dogs either had enough dogs of their own AND/or simply were not knowledgeable enough to help them with the severe fear issues our dogs had. I’m not even 100% confident that I would have given up had we been offered that opportunity. I was the one spending more time with the dogs and, in all honesty, I was simply exasperated at one point. We genuinely love them. Sometimes people in over their heads, in reality, just need a break, a vacation, a breather, just enough to be able to rest the mind, if only for a couple of days.
Had anyone, back at that time, house sat or stayed at the house, the dogs would have neurotically barked, howled, and crapped everywhere endlessly. Believe me when I tell you that, even those EXPERIENCED with dogs who are rescues and a little koo-koo had no idea or the slightest clue about how to deal with these severely mentally impaired dogs. Sure, talking about it over the phone to one or more of them did NOT seem to get the point across until they saw it for themselves. At that point they left, or said get rid of them, or it would be doing the dogs a favor to have them put down/put to sleep/put out of their misery (euthanized).
I want to specifically note that there were a number of times where I, myself, had felt very defeated and a sense of hopelessness, yet, there my awesome husband was so full of encouragement and motivational words. He is an amazing, intelligent man that, to this day, I am still just as deeply in love with as the first time I told him I was in love with him….and he had so much love to share with our dogs that, by that time, were barely and so slowly starting to come within 5 feet of me, well, only the brown one at that time, the blonde one still preferred staying as far away from humans as was physically possible.
We Were Lost and our Dogs Were Crazy!
Our social life was impaired by all of this, too. People rarely, if at all, came over. The dogs would be so freaked they would howl and bark. They did both. They were equal opportunist noise makers, but the brown one can howl really loud, and cue the poop being dropped all through the house. Sure, we could pleasantly yell to our guests over the noise, “Oh, just ignore the annoying loud barks, howls and dogs dropping their doo-doo all through the house.” but I would imagine it would somewhat ruin the festivities.
Cesar Milan always emphasizes dogs are less destructive, less neurotic, and have less unstable issues if their owners properly and responsibly walk or allow their dogs to REGULARLY, aka DAILY, get enough exercise. Not just with a 5 minute walk, and not just throwing out there how dogs need exercise, he fully addresses, so often, the amount of physical exercise dogs really must have, and with many solid reasons why.
In our case, *IF* we could even catch our dogs, knowing the flowing rivers of dog poop that went with that—and *IF* whatever was left of us had the energy and desire to catch the second doggie, well, by then, with all of their sprinting & with ours, accompanied by dripping sweat–even during cold temperatures, physically and mentally there wasn’t much of us left to even take our little nut bag dogs for a walk. (Their first few walks are stories for another day. They were physically and mentally draining horrible experiences.)
We couldn’t even get to the part where we could take the dogs for walks to help them burn off energy to start working at being more normal. RED ALERT: playing round and round and round the yard we go (or inside the house), times 2 severe fearful four legged creatures vs one or two humans—-Ugh! The good news about that was how we ALL got A LOT of exercise. No walks, no learning to wear a leash, but, lots and lots of running, panting and sweating for all involved.
Our hearts were USUALLY willing to try, yet again, for leash wearing and a dog walk, which eventually changed to “whenever we mentally psyched ourselves up” for the bi weekly rodeo-round-up-total-FAIL.
Maybe one day I will share how, when at first, getting one doggie to finally wear a leash, and she SEEMED calm, while tense, which brought my guard down, anyway, the least little noise in the distance and off she darted faster than the blink of an eye. Snap, snap, snap went at least two of my finger tips as they broke. All my fault for not contemplating that scenario and for simply being so happy I got a leash on one dog and it didn’t do the alligator-thrash-dance-of-fear! The brown dog had the leash on for about 12 seconds as it froze solid—until it heard a faint noise in the distance, and apparently, just when my finger tips were loosely wrapped in a loop within the leash. My newly acquired finger splints weren’t all that bad.
Instead of helping them in a loving proper way we were unintentionally teaching them, basically, to continue to live in fear or, at the very least, making something far more complicated than it needed to be.
Believe it or not, they exhibited a lot of intelligence in their own cooky way. Potty training them, astonishingly, became extremely easy from the beginning (not to be confused with their “fear-pooping”).
Note: If I had a dime for every time I cleaned the floors, towels, or furniture coverings….
We quickly went from newspapers to doggie pee pads due to them absorbing better with less leaking below to the floor and very quickly the dogs knew to go on them. Plus, I would get up up in middle of night and/or before the crack of dawn to open the back door so they could sprint outside to hopefully go potty, which they usually did. Granted, I had to, eventually, herd them back into the house when done—middle of the night or not, dodging our small pond, sprinkler heads, landscaping rocks, shrubs, plants, etc, and usually in the dark. Fortunately, the muddy ground broke my fall tripping over one thing or another in the dark, in my nighty or bathrobe, which was always the highlight of my night or pre dawn, but, eventually they would go back into the door left wide open—-eventually.
Oddly, for as many things as they were afraid of and neurotic about, thunder wasn’t one of them. They were content to adopt a corner of the upper dining room as their little piece of the world. We made sure it was comfortable, cozy, and always clean for them.
The brown dog seemed to show signs of more courage, while still fearful, in comparison to the blonde dog. The blonde dog was perfectly content to be sitting in the farthest corner of the yard, her back to the house/us, facing away from the world, and literally with her nose poking through the fence. Honestly, it was pitiful. The blonde dog, in the beginning, also moved around/ran in a weird way. She was bigger than the brown dog but she didn’t appear to be walking correctly on her feet from the start and she scurried around keeping her head and body low to the ground, like a doggy version of “low crawl”.
Sometimes the brown dog would try to play with or take doggie treats over to her sister as Blondie was content to stay GLUED into the farthest corner of the yard facing AWAY from the house. That part was really sweet to SECRETLY watch.