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Foster Maggie: Then and Now

May 6, 2015 11 comments

@animalhumanemn @sfratzke Maggie says "Good luck today!". Hope it is a great walk!I always find it funny how we humans can be so close to something (or someone) and not notice the subtle changes that occur.

We usually notice the big changes over time, but when we are too close to the person or animal or event, the subtle ones get missed.

If you have ever had a puppy you have probably experienced this very thing. Someone comes up and exclaims their disbelief at how much your puppy has grown since they last saw him/her and suddenly you see, as if for the first time, that your puppy has indeed grown several inches. How did you miss it? How did you miss seeing those subtle signs?

I would argue that we only notice the big changes because they are concrete packages of time that tell us time has passed The smaller changes are so subtle and so woven with the other moments of our days that they don’t stand out (i.e., we notice when the puppy can no longer crawl under the coffee table, but not when his back starts to touch the bottom of it).

The other night I was texting with a friend and was telling her about bringing Maggie to a friend’s house. I told her how shocked I was by how well she did.

The little dog who would run from my outstretched hand just a few months ago actually approached two people she had never met and touched them, several times. Even more shocking to me was that she chose to do so all on her own. She even stayed for quite some time so she could get some pets and butt scratches. I was seeing Maggie’s small steps of progress all in one moment and in my eyes, it was as if she took a giant leap!

My friend responded back that she had seen the subtle changes in Maggie too. I was so surprised. She told me that I should look at Maggie’s early pictures, from when she first came to stay with us, and compare them with the ones I have taken of her more recently. She said you can see the subtle differences.

And you know what? She was right! I pulled several photos of Maggie from the early days and compared them to ones I have taken in the past few months. She looks different now. Some of the changes are really subtle, but I see:

  • A less worried look in her eyes
  • She looks like she is less in a “high alert” state now.
  • She often laid closer to Daisy than me in the early days. Now she actually chooses to be near me when she sleeps.
  • Here eyes and body position seem indicating a curiosity that was not there in the early days.

What do you see?

Maggie then
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Scared Maggie in her new foster home

Maggie now
Holding my bone.

Guess she likes Daisy's spot. I told her not to get TOO used to it. 😊

Maggie then
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Maggie now (just a few days ago)
Practiced walking on leash tonight. #Maggie #fosterdog

Maggie then
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Maggie now
Miss Maggie wishes you a happy Saturday! #Sheltie

Maggie then
The aftermath of game night.

Maggie now
Time for bed #Maggie #Daisy

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Maggie then

Maggie - Former Pine River Puppy Mill Dog

Maggie now

I think she wants the leftover hamburger bun.#maggie

Maggie getting some loving at my friend, Cindy’s, house.

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Fostering a puppy mill dog is not for the impatient

May 22, 2014 16 comments
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Maggie thinks I am too close and is making to create some distance

Since December, I have been sharing updates on Maggie and how she is progressing after being rescued from a puppy mill in Pine River, Minnesota.

Most of my updates have been about the things I am doing to help Maggie adjust to life in a home – hand-targeting, showing her how to tell me when she wants to be touched, chewing on bones, adjusting to all the new  sights and sounds she has never experienced. What I probably haven’t shared enough is all that goes on behind the scenes.

Let me just say, fostering and rehabing a puppy mill dog is not for the impatient.

While Maggie is making great progress, there are still things that she does that remind me every day that she is still dealing with the remnants of her former life:

  • Unusual or loud sounds and sights during the daytime will send her scurrying for her two favorite hiding spots – the kitchen and bathroom. She prefers her kennel during the day because it is dark and quiet and safe from the reflections of light in the house. Seeing a car driving by the front window is frightening to her. She has no context for such a thing in her previous life.
  • She still drags a leash behind her because she is still a huge flight risk. If feeling cornered or faced with something scary (and let’s face it, everything is scary to her right now), she will run. Fast and far.
  • Doorways are still scary – she needs a lot of space to go through them on her own. In the past, I could catch the end of her long line and lead her inside (always keeping my back to her, because facing her while leading is still very scary for her), but now that she has progressed to a shorter leash, it is about pretending I don’t see her. In the winter, I would bundle up in coat and boots and go outside and slowly usher her in by corralling her towards the door until she would go inside. Now that it is warmer, I go outside in pajamas and slippers and play ball with Jasper, because that allows her to head towards to door on her own and cautiously make her way inside. If I turn and look at her while she is doing this, she will freeze and/or run away from the door. If that happens, we have to begin the process again. On days where the doorway is really scary and she won’t go inside on her own, I will coral her from a distance in the yard. This is always done from a distance because I don’t want her to feel as if she has to run from me (and all humans). I think the longest time it took to get her inside was 30 minutes, but on a typical day it can be anywhere from 5- 10 minutes.
  • Touch is not alway a welcome thing. Maggie is definitely not keen on being held. Many times, she prefers not to be touched at all, especially when highly agitated or fearful. (This is when we focus on hand-targeting and using cheese to change how she feels about whatever is making her fearful at that moment.)  She is learning however, that touch can be good and will seek it out from time to time (like right now, as I am writing this post).

Daisy was like this in the early days too. She has made amazing progress in the 6 years I have had her, but it did not happen overnight. I already know that.like Daisy, some of Maggie’s unusual behaviors will fade with time while others will remain her entire life (even now, Daisy still has problems with doorways from time to time). What I do know is that Maggie’s quality of life is better than what it used to be. She is learning how to be a real dog, not just a miserable being just trying to survive in a puppy mill.

Franklin D. McMillan DVM, of the well-known Best Friends Animal Society, recently released a study on puppy mills that was quite enlightening (Understanding and Caring for Rescued Puppy Mill Dogs). It’s probably the most comprehensive study I have seen on mill dogs since I first adopted Daisy. It reaffirms most of what I know and have experienced with mill dogs myself.

Behaviorally, puppy mill dogs are very different from normal, well-socialized dogs.

They

  • Have many more fears and phobias – strange people, sights, sounds, movements and objects
  • Soil in the house more frequently (this has not been the case with Daisy or Maggie)
  • Have compulsive and repetitive behaviors
  • Are less likely to have aggression
  • May be less trainable because of their fear (anti-anxiety drugs can often help them get beyond the fear so they can progress)
  • Have less excitability and low energy levels
  • Are less likely to chase small animals
  • Have less desire to be touched or picked up
  • Often have a vacant or blank stare (this faded over time with Daisy)
  • Do better in homes where there is another dog or dogs

This does not mean that puppy mill dogs cannot make progress or should not be saved (in fact, McMillan’s study suggests the opposite), but rather that they need time, patience and a safe place to land, so they can adjust to life outside the mill.

If you are looking to foster or adopt a mill dog your first skill you need to practice is PATIENCE.

Cheese please!

Cupcake and Maggie waiting for some cheese. She keeps her distance from me, but that distance has been decreasing lately.

Maggie takes small steps forward – A puppy mill dog’s journey

January 6, 2014 36 comments

IMG_1963If you read my post from last Thursday, then you know about Maggie, our new foster dog.

That post provided you with some general information on Maggie’s background and her fears and shared some videos of her outside.

If you don’t know, Maggie came from a puppy mill and has been staying with us just a little over a week. Dogs like Maggie,  are often damaged – emotionally and physically. Building trust with them is difficult. It takes time, patience and dedication. Oh yes, did I mention time?

My Lab Daisy took almost three years to come out of her shell. People who meet her now would never guess how emotionally damaged and scarred she was when she came to me just over 6 years ago. I still see it sometimes, it never goes completely away, but she is miles from where she started. For that, I am grateful.

When Daisy first came to live with me, I made sure to give her a lot of time and space – time to get used to me, Aspen (my dog) and our routine and space to decompress and adjust to this new life she had.  I wanted her to have a say in what she felt comfortable doing and I wanted it to be on her timeline. Building trust with her was my goal, but that could’t be done completely on my terms. That had to be done on her terms. If I forced her to do something just because I wanted her to do it, I would have risked her shutting down or regressing, and I most certainly would have destroyed any trust she had with me. So instead we worked together, in tandem, with Daisy telling me when something was too much for her and when she felt she could trust me enough to push past her discomfort. it required me to listen to her and to watch her body language in order to know I needed to stop or move forward.

What I did with Daisy is similar to the approach I am using with Maggie. The only difference between then and now is that I have a little more wisdom and experience this time around, and I have a few more resources at my disposal.

IMG_2145In Maggie’s first few days with us, I tried to give her some space, some time to adjust – to me, to my dogs and to our routine. Now I am focused on building her trust. There are two things I am doing to help build that trust (with more to follow as she progresses). The first is modeled after a video I shared on my blog a year ago showing how you can determine if your own dog likes to be petted by you. I recommend watching it, if you haven’t already, and trying it with your own dog.

Briefly, what I have been doing is petting Maggie for a short period of time and then letting her tell me if she wants me to continue or stop. It’s taken some time for her to figure out that she has a say but she has started to realize that if I pet her and stop, she can tell me if she wants me to continue by simply nudging her nose at my hand or by touching my hand or making a movement with her nose towards my hand.If she does not want to be touched she stops nudging me and I stop petting her.

Here is a video demonstrating that behavior. As you can see, there is one point at which she becomes distracted by a noise and looks around. I let her and wait to see if she chooses to come back to me for more petting. I don’t try to get her attention back, I just wait and let her decide, which she does. This is Maggie choosing on her own what she wants from me. Pretty cool huh?

The second thing I am doing is similar to the first, except I am asking her to do something in return for some cheese. It’s called hand targeting. I don’t have a video of this with Maggie yet, but Debbie Jacobs from FearfulDogs.com was kind enough to direct me to some of her videos on hand targeting that she did with her dog Nibbles, who came from a hoarding situation. I have included one video below, but I would really recommend going to her post titles “Nibbles” so you can see a few of the videos of her work with Nibbles and hand targeting.

If you are working with a dog like Maggie or Nibbles, you should absolutely check out the rest of Debbie’s videos and blog posts about Nibbles. He has made such amazing progress in her expert care. To me, Nibbles is proof that sometimes you can rehabilitate dogs like he and Maggie and give them a good quality life.

I will continue to work with Maggie to help her along her journey, but I know it will be a slow process that will have its ups and downs. It just takes time and patience.

Note: Maggie is one of the lucky ones, she got out of her puppy mill, but there are many more still living a life of hell. Please continue to spread the word about puppy mills and the damage they do to dogs like Maggie. Not every dog can be saved, but every dog should have a chance.

Meeting Maggie – A Pine River puppy mill dog

January 2, 2014 104 comments
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Maggie is looking up because she is hearing strange noises that concern her.

If you follow my Facebook page, you may have seen me post a picture of a new dog that is staying with us right now. Her name is Maggie. She is a foster dog and will be staying with us for a while.

Maggie had the unfortunate luck to be born in a puppy mill in Pine River, Minnesota. (I wrote about the Pine River  puppy mill in a previous post – How many Pine River Puppy Mill Raids will it take to change laws? That’s up to you. and shared a video of the dogs that came from there.)

Unlike most of the dogs rescued from Pine River, Maggie was too frightened to be adopted out right away, so she came to Minnesota Sheltie Rescue for additional time and attention. She is very afraid of people and strange sounds (and sudden movements by me), but like many puppy mill dogs she is not afraid of other dogs, including mine.

A lack of early socialization with people and new environments, and mostly negative experiences with people (her puppy millers), has made her afraid of most everything she sees or hears. Her first reaction to something that scares her is to run. For that reason, she is a flight risk. I

n the week that she has been with us, Maggie has worn (and will continue to wear) a harness with a leash attached and a martingale collar that can be attached to a long line. It is for her protection that she wears these items. If she were to get loose, she would run and there would be no chance of catching her. Absolutely none.

For most Americans (at least those who know what a puppy mill is) a puppy mill is a terrible place where dogs are bred to be sold online or in pet stores. Most of what you and I know about puppy mill dogs comes from images we have seen of a puppy mill raid. Usually these include images of the squalid and dirty conditions in which these dogs are kept and pictures of their rescuers carrying them out of a facility like Pine River.  But what we don’t often get to see is what happens to these dogs once they leave the facility. Nor do we see the emotional damage that remains with a dog that comes from these places. I wanted to share Maggie’s story with all of you because I think it is important to show you the emotional state of a puppy mill dog after it has been rescued.

Maggie hides in the garage, where she feels safest. She continuously looked at the ceiling because of the noises above her.

Maggie hides in the garage, where she feels safest. She continuously looked at the ceiling because of the noises above her.

Maggie has been with us just under a week now and continues to be afraid of most things. Here is a list of the things she fears:

  • Hands reaching out for her
  • The sound of the furnace turning on and off
  • Cars going by the house
  • Planes flying overhead
  • Me pulling up the blinds in the morning
  • Me cleaning out the hall closet
  • Sudden movements by people
  • The house settling
  • Birds eating from the bird feeder outside
  • Shadows or reflected light on the walls
  • Having the long line attached to her martingale collar
  • Coming into the house from the garage (she makes it in the door and readily follows the other dogs, but needs me to back away from the doorway so she has time to run to the living room or her safe spot in the kitchen

Maggie’s response to these fearful things is to do one of the following:

  • Run away from the source of the fear.
  • Run to her safe spot in the kitchen (next to the refrigerator).
  • Run to her safe spot on the couch.
  • Run to her safe spot in my bedroom, my closet.
  • Cower and freeze.
  • Look at the ceiling or in the direction of the sound.

Sense a theme here? Yes. When faced with something fearful, running is her first choice. Her only concern is getting away from that which scares her.

Can you imagine living in a heightened state of fear almost every hour of the day? This is the life of a puppy mill dog.

Imagine constantly having adrenaline running through your body because the terror you feel is in reaction to everything in your environment or not being able to sleep deeply because you are constantly on high alert in case you need to run and hide from something or someone.

I don’t think many of us would want to live like this. Would you? That is why in some cases euthanization is the kindest thing you can do for a puppy mill dog. I am hopeful that Maggie won’t be one of these dogs, but it is unfortunately an option that we have to look at when dealing with many puppy mill dogs.

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Finally able to sleep.

Maggie gives me hope because even though she is afraid of many things, she is not always in a state of fear. She sleeps deeply enough to snore when she sleeps next to me on the couch. She is not afraid of my touch and even seeks it out when I sit on the couch with her. She is smart and a quick learner which should help her in the days ahead. She has already discovered that when all three of my dogs come into the kitchen it is because I am handing out treats. She is not afraid to venture out of her safe spot to grab a piece of cheese. She is fine with doorways and has no problem going through them. (Side note: Daisy was afraid of most all of these things when I first adopted her.) Maggie is also curious about new things in her environment and not afraid to investigate them (Side note: Jasper is very much afraid of new things in his environment and likely to run away in fear and bark  than to investigate them.)

Over the coming days, I hope to share more about Maggie and her progress, but for now I wanted to introduce you to Maggie and to share with you what happens to a dog after it has been rescued from a puppy mill. I hope that you will share her story and help educate people on the emotional damage a dog suffers when it lives in a puppy mill. We need to change the laws in this country, but we cannot do so until people understand why we need to change them. By the way, Maggie’s puppy miller is still in business and breeding dogs so there are many more dogs like Maggie who will likely be faced with a similar situation some day.

Here is Maggie on her 2nd day with us.

Here is Maggie on her 7th day with us.

A girl named Cupcake

November 4, 2013 21 comments

IMG_9755There’s something about a shy dog that can be so endearing. They can be shy and timid in the outside world, but at home show a personality that just makes you smile.

Cupcake is a one of those shy dogs. Wary of strangers and scared of new places, Cupcake has always been happy to stay at home. It’s where she feels safe. It’s the one place she can let her hair down and be her silly self without fear. It’s also the place where she can flirt and wrestle with her brother, bark at and chase her sister, and get lots of attention from me. Some of my favorite  moments are when she places her front paws on my leg and waggles her butt and tail and smiles and begs for a little attention. She loves attention. She loves to play games. At home, she is a true character and full of sass and silliness. It’s the side most people don’t get to see.

But on Sunday, I watched as Cupcake’s personality came out to play – at my mother’s house. Something she has never done before.

Granted, she has only been to my mom’s house a few of times, but on every previous visit Cupcake has been cautious, reserved and even a bit growly. Sunday she was the exact opposite. She approach my mom and her friend, Peg, for treats and attention. She wagged her tail numerous times throughout the day. She barked and played in her backyard and even laid down and fell asleep in her den. I was amazed. It was like she knew she could be herself there. (I also think she has a thing for my mom’s Sheltie, Jake.)

Cupcake and her friend Kellie

Cupcake and her friend Kellie

Like the unfolding of the petals on a flower, Cupcake is slowly starting to come out of her shell. At home, she has already demonstrated that she has a cute and sassy personality, but now she is starting to show it at the dog park. She barks at other dogs and will engage them in play. She chases squirrels and chipmunks right alongside Clover and Abby. And, she continues to approach people at the dog park for attention and treats. Truth be told, I think she may be under the impression that everyone at the dog park has treats. 🙂

The progress Cupcake continues to make is what makes me smile each day. She is making her own path, deciding her own way, but she is making progress. Who could have guessed that a very shy girl, on the run for 12 days, could become such a character? Cupcake did. I’m just glad she’s sharing it with the rest of the world now too.

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Trusting someone to care for your fearful dog. What do you do?

October 8, 2013 17 comments

IMG_6838One thing that can be difficult about having a fearful dog is finding someone to watch them who understands their unique needs. Not everyone who works in the pet industry is experienced with or understands how to work with a shy dog. As a dog owner, my biggest fear is that they will somehow damage my dog’s progress without knowing it or somehow lose them because they did not understand their high flight risk.

It’s one of the reasons that most of my vacations these days are “stay-cations” and not big trips to exotic and exciting places. It’s the reason I don’t go to blogging conferences or go to visit some of my blogging friends. I can’t just leave my dogs at a boarding facility or with any pet sitter I hire for those few events when I need to be away. I can’t just trust that someone will keep them safe or that they will know to be gentle and quiet and kind around Daisy. I have to be very cautious about who I trust with my dogs because the progress they have made could easily be damaged with one bad interaction. And in Cupcake’s case, one bad decision could lead to her becoming lost again. I just can’t risk it.

But, last week I found myself in a bit of a conundrum. I had committed to helping out at the sheep herding trials (something I very much wanted to do) without understanding the extended time commitment involved. I would need to be at the trial (almost an hour away from home) from 7 AM to 5 PM. That was a problem. How could I leave the dogs for that long? Who could I trust to let my dogs out if I decided to go? Who could I trust not to “accidentally” let them out of the yard or the front door? Who would understand that Daisy is sensitive to movement and sound and that Cupcake is not trusting of many people? Who could I trust to let them out and not put them in harms way?

In the past, I’ve relied on family or just committed to a half day so I could still get home to let my dogs out or just chosen not to go at all. But, this was one time I didn’t want to opt out. This was something I had been looking forward to doing for several weeks. So the question was… Who could I trust?

I started with a friend who is active in the Lost Dog community because I knew she would be extra cautious about keeping gates closed and ensuring she came into the house in a way that would prevent a dog escaping, but I quickly realized that my dogs might be scared by her presence, having only met her a few times.

Various 2008 018Luckily, I have a friend that not only knows my dogs, but understands some of the issues my dogs have when it comes to strangers. She is also someone who helped in Cupcake’s search, so I knew I could trust her to keep the dogs safe too. And, as it turns out, Kellie was the perfect choice. Yes, Cupcake barked at her the whole time (unless she was petting her). Yes, Jasper tried to hump her (something he never does), and yes, Daisy was a little difficult to get inside the house (she has problems with entrances and exits), but in the end it all worked out. Kellie was able to safely care for my dogs, and I felt better knowing she was the one doing it. I was (am) so grateful she was available to help me out.

But, going through this experience made me realize how limited I am in my ability to do certain things. It also made me realize that having a fearful or shy dog should not limit one’s ability to enjoy some time without them. I can’t always forgo events just because I have fearful dogs. I need to find an alternative that work for both them and me. What if I was hurt or unable to come home? Who would care for them then? What would I do if that happened?

Clearly, I need a plan for handling future events like these. I would love to hear what other owners of fearful dogs do when they want to go on vacation or need to spend the day or weekend away. What do you do? How do make sure your dogs are safe while you are away?

Treat and Retreat – Something to try with a shy dog (or your own dog)

September 29, 2013 15 comments

Man and Dog Lying on FloorBack when I was a pet sitter, I would schedule an initial meeting with my potential clients and their pets as way for all of us to get to know one another. This meeting was their chance to interview me and to determine if I would be a good fit for their pet, but it was also a chance for their dog or cat to get to know me.

I think many of my new dog clients were surprised when I showed up for the meeting and didn’t make an immediate beeline towards their dog, or in some cases, completely ignored them. It might seem like an odd thing to do for a pet sitter, but I had a good reason for doing it. I wanted the dogs to know that THEY were the ones who got to decide how they wanted to interact with me.  I let them decide how close they wanted to get to me, whether they wanted to be petted or just wanted to sniff me first. If they wanted one of the treats I carried in the pouch hanging at my side, they could have one but they got to decide whether it would be from my open hand or tossed to them (because they felt safer there).

Being a professional pet sitter requires you to work with people as well as their pets, but when it came to my client’s dogs, I wanted them to know from the beginning that I respected their need for space.

Earlier this year, I wrote about attending an educational seminar with Suzanne Clothier. In the day-long session, Suzanne demonstrated (with a Great Dane) how to tell at what distance a dog is comfortable meeting a new person (in this case her and the other attendees). As she explained at that time, every dog is different, but each one has a spatial parameter in which they feel comfortable and uncomfortable. What most people, including experienced dog owners, don’t realize is that space is often much larger than our own.

In her demonstration with the Great Dane, Suzanne used a game that she developed herself when working with dogs. It’s called Treat and Retreat. It’s a wonderful way to observe a dog and to get a better understanding of the spatial perimeter at which they feel most comfortable. It’s also a great way to help a shy or fearful dog to gain confidence and maybe even shorten their spatial perimeter. Even though I didn’t know it as Treat and Retreat back then, it is very similar to what I did with Daisy in the early days.

I thought it might be fun to share a video of this game with you. It’s definitely something you can try with your own dog. As you watch the video, notice how the dog in the video tells the people in the room, the people tossing the treats, at what distance she feels most comfortable. Also, notice how the trainer has them switch off throwing the treats near and far, allowing the dog to retreat to a more comfortable distance. You also see as the dog progresses that the people tossing treats start walking around and kneeling down. This is after weeks of work and progress,but it is a great example how treat and retreat can help a fearful dog.

If you do decide to try this with your own dog, I would love to hear what you discovered. Were you surprised by anything? How close or far did your dog get to you? Did it make a difference if you were sitting down or standing up? Let us know.

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