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Foster Dog Progress

Anxious Dogs

Foster Dog Progress

(Stella is my feral foster dog from an abusive hoarding situation. You can read about her backstory here:
Part 1 – The Slightly Feral StellaPart 2 – A Holiday From Fear, Part 3 – It’s All About Timing and  Part 4  – Ups and Downs)

It’s been a while since I wrote about Stella. I have not been quiet because there was nothing to report, quite contrary. Rather I was worried the changes were only temporary and did not want to jinx our successes by sharing them yet.
However, ever day Stella shows me that she is a confident, brave and resilient little dog who is ready to tackle life. Especially now that life does not mean living outside in a rabbit cage anymore!

Here’s a list of her most notable improvements:

1. Her noise sensitivity is fading.
She used to be so scared of any sounds, no matter where they originated. Doors closing, dogs barking, fridge opening, foot steps, vacuum cleaner, phone ringing, you name it – she was afraid of it.
Now she has gotten comfortable with most sounds of daily life, and if something does happen to startle her, she bounces back right away to her chipper self with a raised tail. Which brings me to

2. Her body language is relaxed and happy.
When Stella first came to me, she had exactly one pose: alert ears (always on the look-out for potentially dangerous people), closed mouth, tail down with a slight, tight curve on the end, rigid body. After she had been with me for a while a fellow trainer asked me if I had ever seen her with on open mouth. Stunned that this had not occurred to me before, I said no.
Nowadays Stella not only feels comfortable to display a repertoire of body language and positions, but most of all it now often is so happy: running around with an open mouth, tail up in the air like a flagpole. During a recent Skype training session a client remarked on the “little dog in the background with the wildly wagging tail”. It was Stella waiting to play with me.

3. Her sensory issues start to be resolved.
Probably as a result of the extremely limited sensory input during her first year of life in the rabbit cage, Stella came to me seriously weary of most surfaces (tile and hardwood were the worst), any kind of raised platforms (from pillows to stairways), anything that was wobbly and uneven, and even different textures of food.
Through our daily clicker sessions we have conquered small staircases, taught her to jump over low agility jumps, race across hardwood floors, be able to eat peanut butter and yogurt, stand on wobbly objects like human fitness balance disks and, most importantly, get over the initial fear of new sensory experiences much quicker. I try to present novel stimuli to her on a regular basis to further expand her tolerance.

4. She plays!
Oh, she loves to play. Her previous foster told me that she enjoyed playing with the other dogs at her house, unfortunately my own two snobbish Border Collies are adamant that it is no option to ever play with her. So finally, she started to play extensively with me: we play with balls, with fluffy toys, she tugs with me (pulling with her teeth on something I am holding a few inches away from her face would have been unthinkable 2 months ago!). She loves food chasing games, too.

5. That whole touching thing.
In order for her to be adopted, we still need to resolve the one big issue looming over our heads: being comfortable to be touched. On the upside, I can touch her face, her legs, and she will step on my lap. On the downside, we are still light years away from her allowing any other person to do this. I have some ideas that are (slowly) working and that I keep on following through with, and other, novel ideas that may or may not work. Of course also a bunch of ideas that I tried and decided to abandon again.
Anyway, this will be the big goal for the next months.

This is where we are at. Living with Stella has become really fun. The first time it was walking on egg shells, trying everything to not frighten her. Now she is curious, follows me around, sleeps next to me on the couch, and generally is being a dog rather than a terrified half-feral animal. I am hopeful and curious for what the new year will bring for us and her!

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