Posts Tagged ‘rehabbing a puppy mill dog’

The ASPCA Rehabilitation Center that is changing the lives of damaged dogs

January 13, 2016 10 comments
Maggie gets this close for chicken. #sheltie #puppymilldog

Foster Maggie telling me it’s too much pressure to “touch” my finger when I am this close.

If you would have asked me what my dream job was five years ago, I would have said professional pet sitter. It was what I was doing at the time, and I loved it. I loved caring for other people’s pets and making them feel loved while their parents were away. I also loved being able to train and socialize the ones I walked each day. Puppies were the easiest, they were always so eager to learn, but what always got me excited was working with a shy or fearful dogs. I can’t explain it, but there is something so rewarding about being able to build their confidence and win their trust.

Even when I volunteered at our local shelter, it was the shy or fearful ones I was most drawn to each day. In the 8 1/2 years I was there, those were the dogs I woke with most. I think it’s in my DNA. It’s most certainly how I met my dogs Indy, Daisy and Jasper.

Several years ago, I heard about a small facility that was being set up as a pilot site to work with and better understand how best to help dogs coming from dog fighting rings, puppy mills and hoarding cases.

Operating out of St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison New Jersey, the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center rehabilitates dogs that are damaged and traumatized by abuse and neglect. Their goal? To give dogs, most likely to be euthanized at local and county shelters, a new leash on life.

Back when I first read about it, it was more of a proof of concept, an experiment designed to prove that these dogs could be rehabilitated. But, it was also a study into learning what worked and didn’t work when rehabbing these dogs.

Fortunately, it appears they are succeeding. Thanks to the ASPCA and the wonderful people working at the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center, dogs are successfully being rehabbed and placed into new loving homes.

And now, they are ready to graduate and take it to the next level. Recently, they announced that they will be moving to a brand new (and much larger) facility in Weatherville, North Carolina in 2017. This is HUGE news. For those of us who work with puppy mill dogs, it means we may soon learn more about how best to help these dogs recover from abuse, trauma and neglect, and that really excites me.

This is my dream job! Think they would be open to a Minnesota transplant with a silly Fargo-like accent? Would it work if I made up a sign “Will rehab dogs for food?”

A person can dream, can’t they?

If you want to learn more about the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center, there is a great piece on it in Meet the ‘miracle’ dogs: N.J. center rehabilitates animal cruelty victims

Kindness to animals

Foster Maggie Update – Filling in the holes of the sponge

August 20, 2015 13 comments
Could they be any cuter? Maggie and Jake #shelties #shetlandsheepdog

Maggie and Jake

One of the things I love most about rehabbing puppy mill dogs is watching them bloom and start to become real dogs. They might never become the dogs they were meant to become, but they get close as time goes on. The difference between puppy mill dogs and other dogs is that they spend a lot of time watching and absorbing everything around them before actually trying it themselves.

They act like little sponges, filling in all the holes left behind by their lack of socialization on early life, and then suddenly, a switch turns on and they start to put all the pieces together and act out the behaviors they have seen in other dogs.

Daisy was like this when I first brought her home. When we would go to the dog park, she wouldn’t interact with the other dogs (and most definitely not with people), but would sit and watch and observe them. She would take in their behaviors and the repercussions. She would watch how they played and drank and interacted with each other. From these observations, she slowly started to fill in the gaping holes in her knowledge of how to be a dog.

I still remember how she would watch her friends, Prince and Princess, drink from a water jug at the park. She watched them for weeks, and then one day, she tried doing it herself. It was clumsy and messy, but she tried. She pulled on her past observations of their movements and mimicked them as she attempted to drink water out of the water jug.

Cupcake has always been an observer too. She’s never had an issue with “speaking dog”, but interacting with humans was something she has always been fearful of, until recently. All those years of watching other dogs approach strangers for treats and a butt scratch has paid off. She is starting to mimic their behaviors. If you had asked me if Cupcake would let strangers pet her two years ago, I would have said NO WAY. But now? She does it more than I ever expected. And, with strangers too! She’ll follow behind them and wait for them to offer her a piece.

This is Maggie on most evenings. She will often sit on the floor beside me and then gently touch her nose to my leg so I will pet her. Although it was unintentional, I have reinforced this by petting her when she does it. I love that she seeks it out. #ma

Maggie’s nose nudges for attention

Maggie is no different. For the past year and a half she has been absorbing tons of information about her environment, dog behavior, and me. It started slowly with just learning the routines and knowing what to do when.

She learned how to put herself to bed at night by opening the kennel door herself. She learned that she gets fed in her kennel and being in it brings good things. She also learned that scritches feel good and now seeks out my touch daily. (I love her little nose nudges for attention.)

But even more recently, Maggie seems to have flipped a switch and decided that she wants to be like the other dogs.

Last Saturday, I updated the Sheltie volunteers (at our Sheltie Meet and Greet) on where Maggie was at in her rehab. I told them that Maggie had “watch me” and “touch” down, she had yet to learn “sit.”  I also told them that she still needed a long line on when she went outside because that was the easiest and quickest way to get her inside.

I guess Maggie felt she had something to prove, because Saturday night I held out a treat and asked for a “sit”  and she sat, several times! In the past , I had worked on sit without the cue word by holding a treat over her nose (like you do in puppy class) but each time it was met with nervous lip-licking and look-aways. It was too much pressure for her. She would back away or shut down. This time she not only sat, but she did it when I said the word! She had put the two things together on her own.

Then, on Sunday and Monday, I thought I would see if she knew the word “down” and asked for a down while also holding a treat near the floor. She did a down too! Not just once, but several times!

Maggie waits for cheese.#fosterdog #puppymilldog

Maggie and her long line

Then yesterday, Maggie’s long line broke in half while I was bring her inside. I groaned because I knew that I might be late for work since I would need to herd her inside. (This has taken me anywhere from 30-45 minutes in the past.) But apparently, Maggie had something else she wanted to show me. She took her usual route around the lilac bush and behind the chairs on the patio, but she went inside all on her own! I was shocked. She has never done that without me herding her in. Holy cow Maggie!

Last night I thought I would see if it was a fluke and let her out into the yard without a long line. Not a fluke. She did the same thing! She went right inside. On her own. And, this morning? She did it again. Could it be we are permanently done with long line? I hope so!

Jasper and his mini-me, Maggie. Waiting for cheese.

Jasper’s mini-me, Maggie

I am so proud of her. Maggie is pulling on all that information she has been collecting for the past year and a half and using it. Her sponge might not be completely full yet, but she definitely has filled a lot of holes. This is the very best part of working with a puppy mill dog. It makes it all worth it. Go Maggie Go!

A Pine River puppy mill dog update – Maggie’s progress

March 16, 2014 18 comments

Keeping her distance. #Maggie It’s been a while since I’ve written about Maggie, so I thought I would give you all a quick update.

Maggie is a puppy mill breeding dog rescued from a puppy mill in Pine River last summer. She was not yet ready to be adopted into a home, so I am fostering to help her adjust to life in her new world.

Maggie has made some great progress since coming to stay with me just after Christmas. Here are some of the areas in which she has made progress:

  • Going outside – She now follows my dogs outside like she’s one of the group. For those times she doest, I am able to lead her out easily on her leash.
  • Coming inside – This was a problem for her before (doorways are often a problem for mill dogs). I would often have to let her drag a long line behind her so I could easily catch her and lead her inside, but this became an issue because she would often get it tangled on the bushes and trees in my yard. Now she drags a short leash and chooses to go inside on her own, often with my other dogs. She won’t do it if I am standing in the doorway, but if I go outside and walk away from the doorway, she runs right in. This is huge progress!
  • Interacting with me and my dogs – When Maggie first came, she was frightened of me, but not as much by my dogs. (This is common for mill dogs, who are often more comfortable around other dogs than humans.) She wouldn’t engage with my dogs, but she would often follow them around. Now she has started to engage them, coming into contact with them, sniffing them, and even making an attempt to play with them. She will also take treats from me  and interact with the dog puzzles I use with my own dogs. We are now working on her making eye contact with me. I am very impressed with how much more confident she is around me.
  • Eating – Maggie seems to have no trouble eating as long as she feels safe. Like Daisy, I often feed her in her kennel because that is where she feels safest. It also allows her to eat without my dogs trying to swipe a kibble or two from her. She is great about going in her kennel and loves the Kong I leave her before I leave for work each morning.

Despite all the progress Maggie has made, she still has some things that frighten her and cause her to run and hide. Most of them seem to occur in daylight:

  • cars going by the window
  • reflections from the sun on the window and on my walls
  • birds at the window bird feeder
  • reflections of the TV on my walls
  • Strange sounds
  • Loud sounds

All of these things frighten her and many will lead to her looking around frantically and running to my bedroom to hide (see the video below). Darkened rooms are much more comfortable for her than rooms doused in sunlight. (I imagine if we had grown up in a dark room and had little exposure to daylight, we might also be afraid of these strange shadows and reflections too.)

I am working with Maggie to help her change how she sees these scary things, but it will take time. We use treats and her Thundershirt to help her.

Here’s just a few of the more recent pictures I have taken of Maggie and the video I made to show you how she reacts to shadows and reflections she sees during the day.

Notice in the video that Maggie is panting and constantly looking around. Her ears are pulled way back on her head and at times she will pull her lips back in a tight, close-mouthed display. She also paces, coming back to me for comfort, but then moving away again when something she sees really scares her. These are all signs of stress. As I mentioned, I am working on this with Maggie but I wanted you to see a little bit of the stress and fear a puppy mill dog experiences when rescued from a mill.

Being rescued is not the end of the story for dogs like Maggie. It takes a lot of time, patience and dedicated work to help them deal with life. For some, life is just too stressful for them and they live in constant fear, unable to move forward. In those cases, euthanasia is almost a blessing, but for those who are able to adjust and cope, those who can be rehabilitated, life can be better. It just takes time. Maggie is a work in progress.

What new game is this?

Maggie giving me eye contact

I did something I never do this morning. I went back to bed after letting the dogs out. When I woke up, this is who I saw sleeping next to my bed. #maggie

Maggie often likes to sleep next to my bed in my bedroom when the daylight shadows scare her.

The aftermath of game night.

Like Aspen was for Daisy when I first fostered her, Daisy has become a comforting presence for Maggie. She often sleeps next to her like this. It is very sweet to see.

You can't see me.

it might look funny or cute, but Maggie is actually hiding because I was tossing the ball for Jasper. It frightened her so I let her go inside where she felt safe.

Maggie's first attempt at a dog puzzle. She may not be at Cupcake's level yet, but she wasn't afraid to try! Go Maggie!

Maggie working on a dog puzzle. It didn’t take her very long to figure out that my dogs loved doing puzzles. She started moving closer and closer until she indicated she wanted to try it too. Now she can hardly wait to play. 🙂

Please don’t shop, adopt. When you buy a puppy from a pet store, you support puppy mills and ensure that dogs like Maggie stay in them.

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 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

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.


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.

Daisy rides in a car – A look back

October 24, 2013 8 comments

DSC00869Today I am taking another look back to the early years when Daisy first came to live with me.  Daisy is a former puppy mill breeding dog who was estimated to be four years old at the time I adopted her. She was afraid of everyone and everything. She practically crawled on the ground the first few days she came to live with me.  It highlights the progress Daisy has made since I adopted her in 2007.

I hope it gives hope to those who have a damaged or unsocialized dog. Progress can be made. It takes time and patience and often happens in fits and starts – for every step forward there are two steps back, but it is so rewarding when you start to take those steps forward.  The key is to never give up hope. You need a lot of patience and understanding. You also need learn to learn to celebrate the small successes.

Time has a way of smoothing the edges of our memories. What once was crisp and clear, and ever so real in my mind, has been replaced by more current memories. But if I take a minute to look back and think about the early days with Daisy, I can remember some of what I have forgotten.

This past week I was thinking about Daisy and our early trips in the car. How different they used to be from today. Even now, I don’t really know if it was the car that terrified her or the movement of it.

What I do know is that she would readily jump into the car after the first week, but then immediately lie down and sprawl the entire length of the car. And there she would lay, frozen, for the entire trip. In the early days this would pose a problem because Aspen also had to fit into that back seat. I quickly learned that Aspen had to get into the car first or there was no room for her. Even then, Daisy was just as likely to lay directly on top of the elderly and delicate Aspen as she was to lay next to her.

I could not explain to Daisy why I needed her to move, and tugging gently on her collar or trying to physically move her were an impossibility. Have you ever tried to move a 60-lb dog who immediately freezes and clings to the car seat for dear life? It is not a great experience – for  the owner or for the fearful dog. It used to make me feel like the worst person in the world where Daisy was concerned.

So to help make the experience less stressful, we developed a routine that included starting over (something we did a lot in the early years). What this meant was that I would call Daisy out of the car as if we were unloading (i.e., getting out) and then re-load her into the car. This allowed me to adjust Aspen, move Aspen or help Daisy to leap in and lay next to her vs. on top of her. It often took 2-3 times, but we would usually get it right and then could be on our way.

Over time, Daisy learned that the car was not something to be feared but something to be excited about. This is because it usually meant we were going for a walk at the dog park. I remember the first time she sat up in the back seat to look out the window (it still makes me smile to think of that moment) and the first time she tentatively stuck her nose out the back window to sniff the air rushing by. Who could have ever guessed that my sweet fearful girl would learn to enjoy the simple things that most dogs enjoy every day?

Now, Daisy loves riding in the car and is usually the first one to jump in. She loves looking out the window, but is just as happy to lay sprawled out in the back seat so she can doze as we drive to our destination. She knows when we are getting close to the dog park and when we are close to home. These are the times when she perks up and stands and wags her tail. No more fearful frozen moments for her. I love hearing that now familiar thump, thump, thump as her tail hits the back seat. How far we have come from those early days. This November it will be six years since Daisy came home with me. Time may have muted my memories of those early days, but it has not muted my love and pride for her and her progress.

Summer 022

Summer 030

Have a Daisy Day – A Look Back

May 29, 2013 5 comments

IMG_2594Today I am taking another look back to the early years when Daisy came to live with me.  This is an old blog post from Daisy’s blog, “Daisy the Wonder Dog (and how she found her inner Lab).” It highlights the progress Daisy had made after I adopted her in 2007.

I think it is a good reminder for those who have a damaged or unsocialized dog. Progress can be made. It takes time and patience and often happens in fits and starts – for every step forward, there are two steps back, but it is so rewarding when you start to take those steps forward.  The key is to never give up hope. You need a lot of patience and understanding. You also need learn to learn to celebrate the small successes.

This post is from October 21, 2008, a little under a year from the date Daisy first came to live with me.

I am sitting here tonight with my Daisy dog lying next to me on the couch, my mother’s dog, Jake, laying beside me on the floor and my pet sitting friend, River, laying on her bed behind me. All sleeping peacefully. Could it get any better?

There are so many things I would like to write about Daisy’s progress these past few months, and yet, I can’t help but focus on what she has been doing these past few days. Will there ever be an end to her growth? To her progress? I don’t think so. It seems like she is constantly surprising me with new facets of her personality.

Most mornings, Daisy and I pick up Henry, another wonderful pet sitting client, and head off to the dog park. Daisy always claims the back seat as her own; sprawling across the full length of the seat so she can sleep comfortably. (I actually think it’s her way of coping with car rides.) Henry rides shotgun; always alert for the lone squirrel crossing the street or another dog on a walk. On occasion, he looks over at me with his adorable puppy-dog eyes and I cannot help but pet him and tell him how cute he is – he really is that cute.

Even after our jaunt to the park and the short stop to drop Henry off at home, Daisy will remain in the back seat. Sleeping.

It’s only we get closer to home that she will suddenly sit up, like she has some internal radar detecting a beacon from home, and look out the window or stand up, tail wagging wildly, as she waits for us to pull into the driveway and into the garage.

That has always been the case. Always. Until recently, when Daisy suddenly decided to add a new behavior.

Now after we drop Henry off, she climbs into the front seat, where she sits until she falls asleep, head drooping down, lower and lower until she finally lays down; or she curls up in a ball and lays her head on my lap between the stick shift and my bottled water. It’s the first time she has really sought me out for affection in that way. I know I may be adding human emotion into the mix, but it’s almost as if she feels more at peace being near me. Her whole body relaxes and she sleeps more deeply, sometimes snoring gently. She also seems to enjoy the fact that I can pet her continuously while she sleeps.

For me, they are the most peaceful rides I have ever had. There is so much love that is contained in that one small moment in time. Knowing how afraid Daisy was to trust anyone (including me), makes it all the more amazing and beautiful.

How is that a dog so mistreated and unloved for so much of her early life could trust enough to let me see her vulnerable? I know I’ve said it before, but I really am lucky. She is one special dog and I don’t think I will ever be the same again. She has taught me so much in the past 11 months that she has been with me, including: love, patience, trust, commitment, beauty, peace, and the joy – all the things that come from those small but powerful moments  in our lives. It’s my wish that everyone gets the chance to be blessed with the same.

Have a Daisy day on me.

Sleeps without fear

Sleeps without fear

Daisy Makes a Leap – A Look Back

May 23, 2013 14 comments

DSC01243Today I am taking another look back to the early years when Daisy came to live with me.  This is an old blog post from Daisy’s blog, “Daisy the Wonder Dog (and how she found her inner Lab).” It highlights the progress Daisy had made after I adopted her in 2007.

I think it is a good reminder for those who have a damaged or unsocialized dog. Progress can be made with dogs like Daisy. It just takes time and patience. Often it happens in fits and starts – for every step forward, there are two steps back, understanding this may be easy, but seeing it can be hard. They key is to never give up hope. You need a lot of patience and understanding. You also need learn to learn to celebrate the small successes.

This post is from April 11, 2009, a little over two years from the date she first came home with me.

It’s been a while since I’ve updated anyone on Daisy’s progress. Partly because it’s been a little busy around here (we’ve had a lot of visitors staying with us), but also because Daisy seems to have made a tremendous leap in her progression towards finding her “inner lab”. To be honest, I couldn’t be more proud of her.

It’s like a light switch has come on. Although I know it has taken a lot of work, time and patience, it seems as if Daisy has suddenly gained confidence overnight. Oh, she still has her moments when she is unsure and overwhelmed, but all in all, she seems to have turned a corner. Even my friends at the dog park have noticed her new confidence. She absolutely loves to have her friend Brutus chase her through the woods at the dog park. She can fly like wind when she’s running through the woods. I am always amazed at her dexterity and her ability to quickly change course or find a way through the thick brush. I would never have guess she could be so nimble!

It makes me laugh sometimes to watch her pretend that she doesn’t see Brutus sneaking up on her, and then just when he’s about to pounce (and yes, a 120 lb. Rottweiler can pounce!), she’s off like a flash! She flies through the woods, her tail up and a smile on her face. What happened to the dog that stuck closely to my side or just behind me, so close that her nose often touched the back of my leg?  She’s still there, on those occasions when she does not feel safe, but she is more often than not off exploring with her friends or running through the woods. And when she does stick closely to my side, it’s different. I don’t see the fear that I used to see. She’s more confident. More sure of herself.

Just last week, our friend, Lynn (Sasha’s dad) commented on how she is now able to comfortably approach men and women now. She used to be more cautious and unsure when she approached a woman or when they approached her. But, so many of her friends have moms that she has learned to be less fearful around women. It’s so great to see.

Daisy is also confident enough to sit with her group of friends waiting for a treat from her friend, Henry’s mom, Ann-Marie. Last summer, whenever her Bob, another dog park regular, would distribute treats she would back away and only approach cautiously when the other dogs let her in. Not anymore! She’s right there waiting for her share. A Lab never turns down free food!

I think the last thing that has changed is our morning and evening rituals.

Daisy has always preferred to sleep in her kennel because she feels safe there (and because Nick doesn’t terrorize her there). In the past, morning rituals consisted of me getting up and letting Daisy outside and then getting our breakfasts ready. That was until Mya (a pet sitting client) came to stay with us. Daisy was watching when Mya started sleeping on my bed with me at night. She noticed that Mya got belly rub from me every morning before we got out of bed.  The wheels in her head started turning and soon she was thinking she wanted a bit of that attention for herself. So now, every morning before she goes outside, she jumps onto my bed, lays down and stretches her body out so I can give her a belly rub.  We spend a little quality time together just me rubbing her belly and giving her kisses. She loves it, and so do I.

In the evening, her belly rub time is a bit longer. Sometimes it even includes a little doggie massage. She absolutely loves her doggie massages! It’s our quiet time together and I get to tell her I love her. I think she likes that too.

When she first met Daisy, my vet told me that she would probably be the best dog I’ve ever had. To be honest, I seriously doubted her statement at the time. I had already had some pretty awesome dogs I my life. But now, I think she may be right. Daisy is so very special. She’s courageous, well-behaved, gentle, loving, and smart. She doesn’t bark and she gets long with every dog she meets. Who wouldn’t want a dog like that?

The Old Daisy – A Look Back

May 15, 2013 16 comments
Daisy at the beginning

Daisy at the beginning

Today I am taking another look back to the first year Daisy came to live with me.  This is an old blog post from Daisy’s blog, “Daisy the Wonder Dog (and how she found her inner Lab).” It highlights one of the many set backs we faced in those early years.

I think it is a good reminder for those who have a damaged or unsocialized dog. Progress is often made in fits and starts. For every step forward, there are two steps back.  Understanding this may be easy, but seeing it can be hard. They key is to never give up hope. You need a lot of patience and understanding. You also learn to learn to celebrate the small successes.

Daisy rarely has a set back any more, but when she does it is usually a small one, and it is often missed by those who do not know her past. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe Daisy was like this once.  I first wrote this back on November 10, 2008, almost one full year after I first adopted Daisy. 

I was reminded once again this weekend that despite her progress, Daisy is still a puppy mill dog and as such, will still react to new experiences with fear and uncertainty.

While marveling at her progress this past year, I forgot that the old, fearful and uncertain Daisy still lurks beneath the surface. The  “new” Daisy is so much different from the old one. The new Daisy is vibrant, energetic, and curious and much more present than the old one. She interacts with strangers at the dog park, even placing her head on a stranger’s laps for a long pet. She often leaves my side to explore new places and smells. She is even confident walking into a pet store, as long as no one looms over her too much. The “new” Daisy sometimes makes it easy to forget that I need to go slow and introduce her to new situations with care.

A new toy (a stuffed wiener dog with squeaker sounds in it), a towel draping over her body (to dry off the wet snow melting into her fur), a strange new environment, new people or young kids, new doggie friends – all seemed to cause fear this weekend. System overload? I’m not sure, but it all seemed to start with that small toy and only escalate from there. Her behavior this weekend reminded me of what Daisy was like when I first adopted her.

When I first brought Daisy home, one of the things we had to work on was how to come inside the house. The first step  always required getting Daisy to enter the garage, which is the only way to get from the backyard to the house, then we had to go through a series of rituals that would eventually take us from the garage to the house.

Daisy was more likely to enter the garage if she was following Aspen (her doggie guide), but only if I met her specific guidelines, which of course, were only known to her. Direct eye contact, a sudden movement, even holding some unfamiliar object in my hands, would frequently send her skittering away from the garage door and back out into the backyard. Often when this happened, Aspen and I would have to start the whole process over again. This meant going back outside, frequently in the middle of winter, so we could all come in the door again – the correct way. I would enter the garage door first, followed by Aspen, and then Daisy – if I wasn’t too close to the door or looking at her as she entered the garage.

However, this wasn’t the end of the process. Once I had Daisy in the garage, I then had to convince her to enter the house. Wood floors have always been a problem because she is afraid of slipping on their surface – something I hear is quite common with dogs who have not been socialized to live in a home. Unfortunately, the first thing Daisy encountered when she entered the house were wood floors. If Aspen led the way, Daisy would follow, reluctantly. But once again, her entering often depended on where I was standing, whether I was facing her when she came in, or if I was far enough away from the door to allow her to enter in a way that she felt was safe.

More often than not, we played a game of chase in the garage. Daisy would run in circles around the car, sometimes in fear, but often in some sort of  pacing pattern (very similar to what you see when a zoo animal is confined to a small enclosure), and I would try to head her off at the pass.

Sometimes, I would go slowly towards her from the opposite direction and attach a leash to her collar and lead her inside, but that only worked if she froze in fear. Not exactly ideal. I always felt awful in those situations because it only seemed reinforce the fear, and it did nothing to help me build trust with Daisy. Other techniques included: opening the car door and letting Daisy jump into the car so I could attach a leash to her collar and lead her inside, using treats to get her to approach me so I could attach the leash, and/or using Aspen to lead her inside.

All of these techniques could be, and often were, thwarted when Daisy pulled her head out of her collar – something she did quite often. In those cases, Daisy would begin to circle the car again and I would need to open the car door so she could jump so I could put her collar back on without her running away. After a while, I started putting on her Easy Walk harness while in the garage. This allowed me to safely lead her inside without her pulling her head out of her collar and it short-circuited the pacing behavior that seemed to border on obsessive compulsive.

Why do I share all of this with you? Because this weekend I was reminded again that while a lot of Daisy’s old behavior seems to have  gone away, it is still there, just beneath the surface, waiting to come out again. Put Daisy in a new situation or expose her to a new experience, and you can and should expect that she will revert to the Daisy of old. This past weekend, I actually had to use the leash to lead her back inside the house again – several times. Whatever scared her, caused her to revert back to behavior she hasn’t demonstrated in some time. I guess trust is a hard thing to come by when you’ve been mistreated most of your life.

So, we will begin again, my Daisy and I, slowly building trust through positive reinforcement. And slowly, with patience, we will rebuild her confidence. Together. Daisy’s story continues…. stay tuned.

Summer 054_2

Daisy as Good Citizen (A look back)

May 2, 2013 9 comments

DSC00089Today, I am sharing another blog post from Daisy’s blog, Daisy the Wonder Dog (and how she found her inner Lab).

Daisy is my former puppy mill breeding dog that I fostered and then adopted in November 2007.  Even though I don’t write on her blog much anymore, I still treasure the words I wrote back then because they remind me of how far Daisy has come in the past 5 years.

This post was written on November 17, 2008, nearly a year after I first brought Daisy home.

Friday morning was a cold day at the dog park. The dogs didn’t seem to mind, but I certainly did! I was not ready for the bitter wind that came with the low temperature of 15 degrees. Brrrr! Nothing like having your legs go numb while you watch your dog run and play in the woods. As a hearty Minnesotan I should be used to it, but I’m not.  Despite the weather I was still able to enjoy the sun and  laugh at the dogs and their antics.
Daisy’s buddy, Brutus, a 110 lb. Rottweiler puppy was there, as was her favorite pal, Henry. Everyone seemed ready to have some fun. Brutus was looking for a playmate so the chasing and running began as soon as we got inside the park. Daisy really likes Brutus, but I was still relieved to see that she was okay with Brutus stalking and chasing her. I was expecting her to be a bit tentative or fearful, especially after last week. Thankfully, she wasn’t fearful at all.
Last week Daisy got into an “altercation” with another one of her friends over a stick. In past experiences, Daisy has learned that a stick can be a great toy to play a game of tug. Unfortunately, she chose the wrong partner this time. She chose someone who was not open to sharing the stick. On top of it, Daisy thought she would tell the other dog she wanted it and that led to the altercation between them. It  escalated when other dogs in our group also joined in.  In the end, Daisy ended up with a few bites to her head (just above her ear) and one to her backend (by her tail). She is totally fine, but I think she learned that perhaps she should be a bit more cautious about who to challenge when her stick is taken. It reminded me how careful I need to be when Daisy’s gain in knowledge can be.
As her dog mom, it has been fascinating to watch Daisy learn from the other dogs at the dog park this past year. It’s like she’s trying to figure out how a dog should act. Obviously, some things are instinctual, like the constant need to carry something in her mouth (definitely a lab thing to do), but other things she has learned by watching what the other dogs do.  She started picking up sticks and chewing on them only after watching other dogs do it first. She learned how to drink out of the spout of a water bottle after watching other dogs do it. She learned how to roll over on her back and wiggle around in the dirt and wood chips after watching her friend Turbo do it. She learned how to chase a squirrel after watching her friends Prince and Princess do it (luckily she has never caught one, but I don’t think she would know what to do with it even if she did!).
The first time she left my side to go run through the field with some of her friends was amazing. In the past (and still to some degree today), Daisy has always walked beside me or right behind me. The first time she ran off with her friends was a beautiful moment. It’s like she was saying, “I’m free! I’m free!” Her tail went up, she started bouncing along the trail ahead of me and then off she went flying over shrubs and tall weeds. All of this was learned from watching other dogs and then mimicking their behavior.
But that’s also why I have always been a bit cautious with her. In many ways, Daisy is like a tabula rasa, a blank slate, she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know, so every behavior that she observes leaves an impression on her. You can actually see her watching everything the other dogs do and mimic their behavior. She seems to learn from from every interaction. Picking up a stick and then flaunting it in front of another dog so he or she will chase her, is something she learned from watching her friend, Turbo.
Unfortunately, not every dog displays good behavior. Sometimes they are aggressive or possessive, or they jump up on people, or they nip at other dogs. And yes, sometimes they think that their stick has magical powers and must be protected at any cost. It is because of this that I constantly watch Daisy to see what or whom she is observing. I encourage her when she acquires a new desirable behavior and displays it, and I gently discourage her when it is a behavior that I don’t want her to display.
Overall, I Have to say I am very lucky because she really hasn’t picked up any behaviors that have caused me real concern. But it is something I am aware of each time Daisy interacts with another dog. It made me think that in some ways that my role as Daisy’s owner is very much like a mom or dad’s role in raising their children. Parents are  there to set an example for us. They show  us what is acceptable or unacceptable behavior throughout our lives. Although my job is much, much easier than any mom or dad’s, it is something I take seriously. I want Daisy to be a good citizen –  one that interacts with both humans and dogs in a positive manner.
So today, I want to recognize all those parents out there, to both human and animal. Keep up the good work! May your “child” represent the best of you. And, may they make you proud!
Daisy Sleeping
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