Friday, March 29, 2013

Lily's Sense of "Stranger Danger"

Much of this blog is and will continue to be dedicated to my bragging about what a wonderful dog Lily is. She is sweet, affectionate, funny, gentle, naturally well-behaved, wonderful with other dogs and cats, and completely adorable. With this post, though, I want to take the opportunity to write about Lily's one "flaw": her fearfulness.

Lily's fearfulness is relatively specific. While she will happily trot over to greet an unfamiliar dog with a butt sniff and a play bow, Lily does not warm up to human strangers so easily. In fact, she often finds them quite scary, and it can require her meeting a new person for several extended visits before she begins to trust him or her.

Peter and I had some inkling of Lily's shyness from the beginning. The first time we met her, at her foster mom's house, Lily wouldn't let either of us touch her. We sat on the floor for around an hour, chatting with her foster mom and periodically offering her treats. But not only would Lily not approach us, she kept actively trying to escape, either down one stair to the basement or up the other stair to the second floor. However, Lily's foster mom's enthusiastic description of all Lily's good qualities convinced us that she was nevertheless the dog we wanted to adopt.

We were also willing to adopt Lily in spite of her fears because of the way in which she expresses them. Dogs, like all other animals, have a "fight or flight" response to fear. Many dogs who seem aggressive actually behave this way because they are scared, not because they are mean or bad dogs. Lily, though, has never displayed any aggressive behavior whatsoever; one of the trainers we worked with on her fearfulness commented that when it came to the fight or flight response, Lily "has 100% of the flight and 0% of the fight." When Lily is scared, she first tries to flee (thus her attempts to escape the room during her first meeting with me and Peter). If she is not able to escape, she then begins to display a variety of submissive behaviors designed to communicate that she is not a threat, including tucking her tail between her legs, cowering low to the ground, desperately avoiding eye contact, etc. She has never growled, snapped, or bitten anyone. I have the utmost respect for people who are willing to foster and/or adopt dogs who struggle with fear aggression-- I think they are heroic-- but it was not something Peter and I felt comfortable taking on, particularly in a dog we were going to adopt, not foster.

frightened Lily on her first night with us
Happily, Lily has made enormous progress since we adopted her. It only took Lily a few days of living at our house to warm up to us. Within 24 hours in our home she stopped running when we tried to pet her and occasionally wagged her tail a bit; within three or four days she was rolling over for tummy rubs. By a few weeks after that she was actively coming to us for attention and affection.

Lily after living with us for a few days
Lily's progression with her fear of strangers has been slower but also significant. For approximately the first six months or so after we adopted her, whenever friends or family came to the house to visit Lily would try to hide upstairs in our bedroom. Now she wants to be where the action is, although she generally prefers to observe from the safety of Peter's or my lap rather than be the center of attention. For the first year or so that we had her she wouldn't get near my dad; she has always been more afraid of men than women, and my dad is a tall guy with a deep voice. Now, though, when he comes over to visit and sits down on the sofa she jumps up into his lap and starts sniffing around for the treats she knows he's brought for her. Similarly, until very recently if I was walking Lily and people wanted to pet her I would have to tell them that they couldn't because she's too shy; if a person didn't ask first and simply tried to start petting Lily would run to the end of her leash and strain frantically against it, to the point of choking herself, desperate to get away. Now she will go up to a female stranger on a walk and take a treat from her hand (I always carry some treats with me to help ensure that any interaction with a stranger is positive for Lily). She still won't let them pet her, and she will only go up to female strangers, not male ones, but  I'm confident that we will get there eventually. She no longer shies away from strangers of either gender when they walk past us.

Lily will probably always have an exaggerated sense of "stranger danger," but I am so proud of how far she's come in the approximately year and a half since she joined our family. Adopting a rescue dog with "issues" has not been without its frustrations, but the feeling I get seeing her overcome each hurdle is beyond worth it. On more than one occasion I have thought that she'd plateaued, that she'd gotten as brave as she was going to get, but she continues to surprise me and surpass my expectations. I don't know what happened in Lily's life before she came to us that made her think that many people can't be trusted, but I like to think that the longer she's with us, the more confident she'll get that she no longer needs to fear people because we would never let anyone hurt her. I can't wait to watch her continue to blossom over the coming years.

happy Lily snuggled safely in my arms

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

This was the look on Lily's face pretty much the entire time she was in the backyard with Margo. "Good lord, how does this crazy creature have so much energy? Just watching her makes me want a nap."

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Foster #4: Margo

When Lucky Dog first sent out the list last week of dogs coming in on transport who would need fosters for the weekend, Margo was not on it. We volunteered to foster a couple of other dogs, including a 5 year old beagle named Elijah, a 2 year old corgi mix named Danny, and a 2 year old chihuahua mix named Valentine. To our surprise (and happiness!), we were told a few days later that Elijah and Danny were getting adopted directly off of transport and Valentine had found a full-time foster (click here for an explanation of the differences between full-time fostering and the type of fostering we do). We were told, however, that additional dogs were being added to this week's transport because so many of the original transport dogs were getting adopted immediately. We were asked if we would be willing to foster one of these added dogs, a one year old, 16 pound feist mix named Margo. Of course we said yes.

Margo at the shelter
When Margo was unloaded off of the transport van and relinquished into our care, she took a few steps and then promptly threw up on the ground. As she was doing so, I noticed that she had something (I suspect a combination of vomit and poop) caked to the fur on her hips and tail. Clearly transport was not a particularly pleasant experience for her. We took her for a short walk, got her fitted for her Lucky Dog collar and tag, and then loaded her into the back of our car for the approximately one hour drive back to our house. Within seconds we realized that we were going to need to keep the windows cracked open, despite the barely fifty degree temperatures, because Margo, quite frankly, stunk. As I posted on facebook as we were driving home, no one ever said fostering is glamorous!

Once we got Margo home, Peter went into the house to get Lily while I waited on the sidewalk a few houses away with Margo, so that we could introduce Margo and Lily in "neutral territory." Once they had finished sniffing each other's butts and Lily had communicated to Margo that jumping on her face was not considered polite canine behavior, we took the two for a lengthy walk so that they could get used to being around each other through a non-confrontational activity. We then got them back to the house and let them run around the yard together for a bit (supervised, of course). And finally, we let the girls inside and immediately carried Margo upstairs for her desperately needed bath!

getting acquainted through the all-important butt sniffing

Margo was relatively well-behaved in our house throughout the rest of that evening and the next morning before Sunday's adoption event. She seemed to be mostly housebroken, and only had one accident in the house that I think was more just due to excitement, stress, and not knowing or being used to our schedule. She was very affectionate and eager to be wherever Peter and I were and give us kisses if we came close enough. We did have to keep her in tie-down so that Lily could get away from her when she wanted to (click here for a basic explanation of tie-down training and here for an excellent blog post over at the Oh Melvin blog about their experience with tie-down training). Margo, with her puppy energy and lack of doggie manners, was not good at respecting Lily's personal space and lower energy level. Of our four fosters, we have had to do tie-down with two of them and not had to do it with the other two; it just depends on the individual foster dog and whether or not he or she is able to recognize what Lily is trying to communicate.

Lily and Margo got along great in the yard; it was only in the house, where Lily wanted to relax, that Margo's boisterousness needed to be contained.
Despite Margo's good behavior at our house, I was concerned about her chances of getting adopted at Sunday's adoption event. I knew that she would have lots of cute competition, and I knew that the fact that she's a black dog could be a disadvantage, although she did have her small, apartment-friendly size going for her. She also has a tendency to bark frantically at other dogs on leash; I knew from our experience with Lily that this was excitement, not aggression, and that she was just eager to play, but I was worried about how it would be perceived by potential adopters.

Black dogs can be difficult to photograph, but they are just as cute as their lighter-colored brethren!
Luckily, my fears were unfounded! Margo garnered a lot of interest at the adoption event, and though there were multiple potential adopters who were put off by her barking at the other dogs, a lovely young engaged couple from DC fell in love with her and decided to adopt her. I was so happy to be able to meet them and see for myself that Margo was going home with a wonderful new mom and dad. Her new dad expressed interest in taking her running (an activity I think she will love) and told me that he was looking forward to watching basketball with her that evening. So, less than 48 hours after being pulled from a high kill shelter in rural South Carolina, Margo went to a fantastic new forever home with parents who I am confident will take great care of her.

It feels so good to have been a part of Margo's journey from shelter dog to forever dog. I hope that she and her new parents will have many happy years together!

Happy Margo playing in our backyard; maybe she knew she was going to find her forever family the very next day!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Introducing Margo!

Introducing Margo, Lily's foster sister for this weekend! She will be coming up to the DC area on a transport tomorrow from the animal control facility in Pickens County, South Carolina, which is the same place Lily was from. Margo will be our first foster who also came from there.

Margo is a one year old, 16 pound feist. Check out her petfinder profile here. More details to come!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Crating Lily

Crate training is an increasingly popular type of dog training, helping to housebreak dogs and keep them out of mischief when their humans are away from home, as well as providing dogs with a "safe space" to retreat to if they so wish. Many rescue organizations recommend crate training to adopters, and Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, the organization for whom we foster, requires that foster parents crate their foster dogs when they are not being supervised. Read more about crate training here.

beagle in crate - source

Eager to be a responsible doggie mama, when Peter and I decided to adopt a dog I automatically assumed that we would crate him/her. A rescue dog, I figured, would likely have been through a lot and would be particularly grateful to have a "safe space" to call his or her own. When we decided that Lily was the dog we wanted to adopt, though, we discovered that she had other ideas.

As I mentioned here, Lily HATES being crated. It makes her go a little crazy. If put in a crate, even with a treat and/or a familiar toy, she howls miserably and claws at the sides and will not stop until she is let out. And all this howling is from a dog who, despite being a beagle mix, is overall very quiet.

So, we do not crate Lily. We do not even own a crate for her. When we have a foster dog, she always looks very relieved when the foster dog gets put in the crate and she doesn't.

Of course, this situation is made significantly easier by the fact that from a training standpoint, Lily doesn't "need" a crate. She is reliably housebroken and totally non-destructive; in the entire time we've had her she has never once chewed anything except her toys. When we're not home she mostly just lays around and sleeps. If she was destructive when left alone or had housebreaking issues, we might have to re-evaluate the crate situation and try to come up with a way to make it work for her. However, we see no reason to force the issue when it makes no difference to us and she is clearly much happier without a crate.

"See Mom? I'm perfectly comfortable without a crate."

Do you crate your dog(s)?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

Every morning, as I put on my jacket to leave for work, Lily sits on this step and watches me with this forlorn look on her face. I have tried to explain to her that my going to work is important for the support of her cookie habit, but she is having none of it. Dogs are so good at guilt trips.

Monday, March 18, 2013

When Lily was Adoptable

Like so many pet parents who have adopted their furry friends in the age of Petfinder, our first "introduction" to Lily was via her online profile. I'm always curious about what initially attracted people to their pets, so with that in mind, I thought I would share some of Lily's online "adoptable" profile, as well as a few of the photos which accompanied it. I consider the photos to be her "baby pictures," in a way, since of course we don't actually have any photos of her as a puppy (apologies for their blurriness, they're not terribly high-quality).

So, without further ado, here are the first words we read about Lily:

"I'm a sweet beagle mix. I am four years old (which is really young for a beagle) and ready to bring joy and fun to my new family! With classic good looks and soulful brown eyes, people have commented on how I am "the perfect little beagle," but my sweet disposition is really the heart of what makes me perfect!

I am full grown at 21 pounds, having shed the baby weight from my recent pregnancy. Thanks to my nurturing, my pups have grown into strong dogs, and now I am ready to find my own home. Being a single mom hasn't been easy and living in a dreary and overcrowded shelter only made things worse. Now that my pups and I have been rescued, I am relieved that our futures are bright. You just can't stop me from smiling!

Since I am a little lady, I would be happy in an apartment or a house. As long as I get my daily exercise, I am not particular about the size of my new place. I love both dogs and cats and would be happy to have a furry friend. I could be equally happy as an only dog. I am gentle and patient with kids and would make a super family dog. Basically, I love everyone and no matter how many kinds of family members you have, I will fit in just fine. I would also make a great companion for a single person.

I would love to play outside, snuggle up on the sofa and watch TV, or stroll around the town. I am easy going and eager to please, so I am up for any new adventure! My foster mom says I am "so sweet" and "such a good dog." It's true! I'm a lovebug!

I am a smart girl and will work hard to learn my new routine. I am likely crate-trained, but will need a refresher on housebreaking. My foster mom says I only had one accident in the house, so I think that is good!

If you are interested in adopting, please submit the Adoption Questionnaire..."

Who could resist this cuteness?!

Now, to be fair, not all of this information about Lily turned out to be strictly true. Our vet thinks she was actually three years old when we adopted her, not four, and she was/is most definitely not crate-trained; in fact, she despises being crated (more on this in a later post). Also, while she is entirely gentle with children and everyone else, she is not terribly patient with them and will often try to make her escape from the loud noises and sudden movements that typically accompany interaction with a child.

Still, this profile gave us a good feel for Lily's personality and obviously intrigued us enough to set up a real, in-person introduction. And the important parts, about her being gentle, great with other dogs and cats, and being "so sweet" and a "lovebug," are 100% true!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Temporary/Short-Term Fostering

source - (For those of you who don't know me, this isn't me-- just a relevant image I found)

 As anyone involved in animal rescue will tell you, foster homes are critically important to the effort to save as many furry lives as possible. Read some basics about fostering here. Many of the approximately four million homeless pets euthanized each year in the United States are put to sleep simply because shelters do not have the space and/or resources to keep them. Foster homes take some of this pressure off of shelters and give animals who otherwise would not have survived a chance to find a loving forever home.

Unfortunately, for logistical reasons my husband, Peter, and I are not able to be "full-time" foster parents (full-timers keep their foster pet until s/he finds an adoptive home). However, many rescue groups, in addition to needing full-time foster parents, are also in need of temporary or short-term fosters. These types of fosters keep an animal only for a shorter period of time, generally anywhere from a few days to a week. This is the type of fostering that Peter and I do.

The reasons why pets might be in need of a short-term foster home vary. Sometimes their full-time foster family is going out of town. Sometimes they are recovering from an illness or medical procedure and need a quiet environment and/or some TLC. Sometimes they just need a safe place to go for a few days, to get them out of a shelter, until a full-time foster can be found.

We foster through Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, the organization from which we adopted Lily. Lucky Dog transports most of its dogs from high-kill shelters in the rural South to the Washington, DC metro area where they have a better chance of finding a home. They usually do transports every week or two, and every dog must have either an adopter, a full-time foster, or a temporary foster commitment in order to make it onto the transport. All the dogs who are not adopted off of the transport then attend an adoption event later that weekend. Dogs who were in a short-term foster home who do not get adopted at that event are then transferred either to a full-time foster home or to boarding with one of Lucky Dog's wonderful area boarding partners. So, though as a short-term foster you may or may not get to see your foster pup ride off into the sunset to his/her forever home, you know that you have played an integral part in getting that dog out of a shelter to somewhere safe. And you then eagerly check Lucky Dog's list of adopted dogs each week, waiting to see your foster dog's name!

Peter and I have so far fostered three wonderful dogs in this way: Frank, Lucy, and Juancho. Stay tuned for separate posts about each of them, as well as posts about fosters we have in the future! And if you live in or around Washington, DC and would be interested in fostering for Lucky Dog, either full-time or short-term, please click here for more information.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Overcoming Fears

Things Lily was initially terrified of and now couldn't care less about:

ice machine/dispenser

noise and motion made by someone putting up the footrest(s) on the reclining sofa


Things Lily was not afraid of at first but is now:

My parents' cat, Harry, who whacked Lily on the nose the first time they met and she tried to come up to him to say hello.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Product Review: Kong

I plan to write about our experiences with a number of the products we've tried with Lily, so I thought it made sense to start with perhaps one of the best-known dog products: the Kong. The Kong company makes lots of different dog toys and accessories, but the one we like best is the good old classic red Kong food puzzle toy pictured above. We use the medium size for Lily.

I had read about Kongs before we moved into our house and were finally ready to adopt a dog. Lily's Kong was one of the products we purchased on the "new dog shopping spree" we went on once we knew we were going to adopt her but before we picked her up from her foster home to bring her home with us. Lily loved her Kong right from the start, but at first I didn't like it quite as much as she did, mostly because I didn't initially really understand how to use it properly.

The key to the Kong, I eventually learned, is freezing it. An unfrozen Kong takes Lily less than ten minutes to finish. A frozen Kong can take her up to 40 minutes, thereby significantly increasing both the amount of time she remains entertained by it and the mental stimulation it provides for her. I put a small dab of peanut butter in the bottom of the Kong to seal off the bottom opening and then fill the rest of the Kong with something else (usually pumpkin or baby food veggies like sweet potatoes or peas), with a few pieces of kibble mixed in as well. I then seal off the top opening of the Kong with another, slightly larger dab of peanut butter. Finally, I put the stuffed Kong in a plastic baggie and stick it, upright, in the freezer and freeze it overnight.

Lily doesn't get a Kong every day, but it's a great way to give her some mental exercise on a day when she doesn't get as much outdoor exercise as we would like (if the weather is lousy, etc.). We recently purchased a second Kong so that we can always have one in the freezer ready to go.

"Bummer, is it empty already?"

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Lily and the Snow

Lily is originally from South Carolina. She was pulled from a high-kill shelter there and brought to the Washington, DC metro area by Lucky Dog Animal Rescue so that she would have a better chance of finding a home. Whether because of her being used to warmer South Carolina weather or for some other reason, Lily is not a fan of the snow. She would much rather "hold it" inside indefinitely than go out to potty when the cold, white stuff is on the ground, or, even worse, falling from the sky. If forced to walk on/in it, she will often hop around on three legs in an awkward attempt to keep at least one of her paws warmer and dry.

Often, the only way I can get Lily to potty in the snow (or if it's pouring rain, for that matter) is to pick her up, carry her out into the middle of the yard, and stand there with her until she goes. After which, of course, she makes a mad dash to the door and sits impatiently on the doormat, waiting for me to catch up and let her back inside.

"Can we go back inside now?!"

Monday, March 4, 2013

Book Review: The Genius of Dogs

This excellent book is an examination of recent theories and breakthroughs in the study of canine cognition (or "dognition"), written by Brian Hare, the founder of the Duke Canine Cognition Center at Duke University, and his wife, Vanessa Woods, who is a research scientist at the Center. It details the fascinating history of this field of study, as well as the ways in which it grew out of, and continues to inform, the study of human cognition. Hare and Woods touch on a variety of current hot button issues in the dog community, including BSL (Breed Specific Legislation), dog fighting, and whether dogs of some breeds are inherently smarter than dogs of other breeds.

While the detailed explanations of the behavioral experiments and studies conducted with dogs is interesting, I most enjoyed Hare and Woods' demonstration of the intricate connection between the human and canine species and the ways in which, over hundreds of thousands of years, each species has influenced the other. As the authors note, "despite the abuse dogs can suffer at our hands, no other species is as loyal to the human race as a dog" (265).

Meet Lily

This is Lily. Lily is an approximately four year old rescued beagle mix whom my husband and I adopted in August 2011. She is my first dog, my baby, and my introduction to the wide and wonderful world of dogs and their people. Her likes include food (of almost any kind, but particularly pumpkin, peanut butter, and popcorn), keeping an eye on me at all times, sleeping, food, walks, other friendly dogs, food, sunbathing, and, oh yes, food. Her dislikes include pretty much everything that occurred in her life before she was rescued, adopted, and started her new life as a very pampered pooch.

Feel free to consider this blog my application to join the Crazy Dog Lady Society.