Roo has been swimming in salt water, and it seemed like no matter how many times a day I rinsed her in fresh water, she was getting musty and itching a little more than usual. Her nails needed trimming. And over the last week, she was starting to drag her bottom. She needed her anal glands expressed, and she doesn’t need to be a guinea pig for me to experiment with that.
Here’s the thing about Roo - no matter how much I steer her into situations that help build her confidence and her strength, no matter how much she improves, and there’s no denying that she has come a long way in a hurry, Roo is still a special needs dog. She might always be. Some things still make her eyes wide with fear. And they’re not all easy to understand. Why do flashlights terrify her but not other lights? Some reflections make her run out of a room, while others don’t bother her. Sometimes she sees things in the shadows that make her stay out of a room for half an hour. I’m sure I could be doing things better if I was a behaviorist, but I’m not. I’m just some guy operating on instinct with her, and doing the best he can in the admittedly odd circumstances of hauling her all over the continent.
Those of you who read the Roo stories from when I first fostered her know that she was in such a terrible state that there was nothing that didn’t frightened her. The smallest household sounds - dental floss unreeling or a light switch flipping - sent her into a panic. At that stage, all that mattered was finding out she had a friend and love and support - all things that had been missing from her life. That seemed more important than worrying about reinforcing fear. It couldn’t have been any more reinforced than it was already. So I spent a lot of time holding her and talking to her when she was scared, which was all the time. That runs counter to a lot of theory about fearful dogs, a main tenet of which is ignoring the fear so that you don’t encourage it. That didn’t seem appropriate with Roo. She was too damaged, too frightened. She needed a friend.
Now that Roo knows she has a friend, the way I respond to her fear has changed. With that in place, there ways to brush the fear off quickly. Most normal household or street noises, I do ignore now. They just startle her, or at worst make her retreat a little. If she hears something that scares her more, I can tell her not to worry, that’s just a noise, puppy bear, and keep going about the business at hand. She looks me right in the eye and usually takes my word for it and gets back to whatever she was doing, which sounds like a little thing, but is an act of understanding and trust that blows me away every time we have one of those brief exchanges, which happen several times a day. If the thing that frightens her is something I can show her, she always is willing to go with me to see what it is for herself. That’s a huge leap forward.
Even all this traveling has had unexpected benefits. Constantly expanding her experiences has given her a wide range of stimuli to deal with and integrate. Would she be even better off if she had one single yard to hang out in and an unvarying schedule in a home? Who knows. I do believe, from my travels with Orville, that the experience benefits a dog, and I don’t see why Rooki would be any different. It is a challenge for her sometimes, she is never more excited than when she hikes in a new place. Traveling appears to be adding to her confidence, too. All the noises and sights and smells are helpig her catch up to a world filled with things she didn’t experience as an isolated puppy. She has to deal with stresses, but she is dealing with them well. In fact, her overall mood keeps improving. Roo keeps getting happier.
I could probably do more. I tend to avoid some things and a visit to a groomer was one of them. The clippers buzzing, the blow dryer blowing, being handled, having to stand on a table… But what to do? Roo is a Golden, and a Golden needs grooming. It could only be avoided for so long. My own attempts to do it were starting to show. Especially the last couple.
So today was the day for Roo’s first visit to a groomer. More to follow in a day or two.
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Sorry for the radio silence. I’m not well. Taking care of the Kahoo has been all I could do. She needs hours of walking. If she doesn’t get them, it shows right away in how frightened she gets. I hope that moderates. What little time I spent online I was trying to use to steer people to the e-book.
I can’t thank all of you who took the time to review it enough. You guys really made that book soar in the Amazon dog category.