Passion 4 Pooches, Articles by Laurie Buckley
Trixie a lesson in patience and love
I know what you are thinking. I can hear the voices all over town. In fact, I've heard a few. "But you said you weren't getting another dog." I have several lines of defense. The first is that I didn’t actually "want" this new dog. I did, however, think I might be her best hope. My second is that I did recently come dangerously close to adopting a third dog, a four-year-old Border Collie. Alas, cooler heads prevailed.
So here is Trixie's story. Trixie is a two-year-old Shih Tzu who got off to a bumpy start. She remained at the breeder for the first six months of her life. That is unusual and a big red flag. Trixie's first owner bought her over the Internet. From there, Trixie had a "series of unfortunate events." Her first owner is not to blame. Certainly there was no abuse or neglect. If anything, her first owner did everything she could think of to help Trixie adjust. At most, her first owner may have unknowingly reinforced her dysfunctional behaviors.
Trixie's issues are nothing all that exotic - she's extremely timid, fearful and anti-social. She hides, doesn't like to be held or touched, and if she is startled or frightened, she will run for her life. Noise that sets her off can be as simple as opening the DVD player.
Her previous owner had some health issues herself. She and Trixie lived a sheltered life. Trixie couldn't be walked outside because she was so fearful; her world just kept getting smaller and smaller.
Part of Trixie's allure to me is that she is a challenge. My theory behind her “rehabilitation" is what I call "Dog Centered Therapy." It's simple but not always easy. I treat her like a dog. Not a baby , not a like person, not a very fearful dog. Just a normal dog. In some ways, it's similar to the thinking of the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Milan. While I don't agree with some of his practices, I do agree that the best thing for a dog is to be treated like a dog. I believe they are at their happiest and most fulfilled when allowed to reach their full dog potential. I reinforce her healthy behavior with praise and treats and ignore her unhealthy behaviors. This is done in a very supervised way. The last thing I want is to add more drama to Trixie's life. A book I read years ago on animal behavior has been a wonderful resource- Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin, PhD, for people with a serious interest in animal behavior.
Trixie came home and met Mae. What did Mae think of having a little sister? Not much at first. And like Mae, other dogs completely ignored her. Even the pushiest dogs gave her a wide berth. It was as though they didn't recognize her as a dog. She certainly didn't act like one. The first time she barked I was overjoyed. A normal dog behavior! The first time she stole something out of the bathroom garbage I was tickled. Behaviors that would get other dogs in trouble are signs of hope in Trixie.
Mae serves as a role model dog behavior for Trixie. For all Mae's quirks, she is stable and reasonably well mannered. After a few days, Trixie began taking cues from Mae as to how to behave.
She began to go on several walks a day. The first few were trying. Tail tucked low; she was constantly ready to bolt. Little by little, I began increasing the stimulation. Block by block we walked closer to Centre Street and the harbor. Once we cross Beech Street, her body language becomes more fearful. But with much encouragement, we keep walking. The hardest thing is to not pick her up when she is scared. I truly believe that is the worst thing I could do. It will reinforce her fearfulness. So I talk her through it and provide encouragement and praise.
I took her to visit my sister and her two large dogs, some of the best -behaved, well socialized dogs I have ever know. I felt safe bringing Trixie into this environment. Relatively speaking she did great. What gives me the most hope is that, while Trixie may be damaged, her curiosity is still intact. Even when she starts out hiding under the bed, she now makes longer forays out to see what everyone is doing. My sister's Lab, Murphy, was the first to treat Trixie as a dog. He stuck his big head under the bed and wagged his tail exuberantly. He couldn’t imagine that she didn't want to meet him. Eventually, he was right.
I am also hopeful because Trixie shows signs of spirit and spunk. She is a determined little girl. I learned this when I placed her in her soft sided-crate, which is like a tent for dogs. If Trixie wants to come out, out she comes - she figured out how to unzip the crate. It made me realize that while she may be down, she is not out. I believe she is a survivor.
As the new year begins, I will continue to share Trixie's progress with you. At home, she is almost a normal dog. And while I am teaching her life's lessons, she is also teaching me. She is my first "little" dog and there are some differences. She is also teaching me a new level of patience, stability and confidence.
Laurie Buckley is the owner/operator of A Passion 4 Pooches Pet Spa, 1881 South 14th St, Suite 3. The spa offers grooming, massage and training. She resides in Fernandina Beach with 12 year old Border Collie mix, Mae. E-mail her your questions on Basic pet care, training and behavior challenges or call 491-1767.