Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Product Review: Thundershirt**

Though a relatively recent invention, the idea behind the thundershirt is not new. Parents have been swaddling their (human) babies for hundreds of years, and the thundershirt operates on a similar theory: that, as the official website states, "gentle, constant pressure" can "calm your dog, effectively aiding anxiety, fearfulness, barking and more."

As its name suggests, the thundershirt is often used by dog parents to alleviate their dogs' fear and anxiety during thunderstorms. Luckily for us, Lily is entirely unfazed by thunderstorms and often peacefully sleeps through them. However, Lily has her own fear and anxiety, namely, her exaggerated sense of stranger danger (read details about that here). Since the thundershirt is marketed as being helpful for all different kinds of fearfulness, I wondered if it might be a useful tool for Lily during some situations involving strangers. In fact, I had a particular situation in mind: Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving dinner for my family is often a relatively large event at my parents' house. Lily has spent lots of time at their house since we adopted her, so she's used to the environment. The Thanksgiving occasion, though, obviously involves many more people than she is used to seeing there. Lily had attended Thanksgiving the year before, a few months after we adopted her, and she spent most of the event curled up on an armchair, warily keeping an eye on things to make sure no one was getting too close and attempting to burrow away into the chair if anyone approached. I thought maybe the thundershirt could help her be more social during Thanksgiving 2012.

We purchased a thundershirt a few weeks before Thanksgiving in order to get Lily used to it before the holiday. We introduced it to her first by feeding her treats off of it (predictably, she was a big fan of this step), and then put it on her, leaving it on for progressively longer periods of time every couple of days. While this helped Lily acclimate to wearing it, it was impossible to tell whether or not it was going to make any difference in her fearfulness, since the trial periods were all carried out in our home with only me and Peter present, which meant she wasn't fearful in the first place.

On Thanksgiving, we got to my parents' house before anyone else and put the thundershirt on Lily a few minutes before the other guests were due to start arriving. We settled her in a spare bedroom with a bowl of water and left the door open so that she could come and go as she pleased but would know that there was a safe, quiet place for her to retreat to if she felt the need. Only a few minutes after that, as guests were arriving, Lily left the bedroom and came looking for Peter and me. Once she located us, she hopped up onto "her" armchair, from which she had a clear view of us, and settled in.

Though she did stay in that armchair for most of the night, unlike the year before she was much more engaged with the other people in attendance. She let them pet her with minimal shrinking away, and she happily took tidbits of food from anyone who offered it (I monitored the offerings to make sure she wasn't getting anything that would make her sick). After a little while, at Peter's urging (he was unconvinced of the necessity or efficacy of the thundershirt in the first place), I took the thundershirt off to see if her behavior would change. It didn't. She behaved exactly the same way as she had with it on, happy to take food and willing to tolerate some petting in exchange. She ended the night stretched out in my lap, in that same armchair, as we enjoyed the football game.

Is it possible that the thundershirt alleviated Lily's anxiety towards the beginning of the night enough to get her over the proverbial "hump," therefore making a difference in her behavior and anxiety level even once I took it off? Perhaps. Peter definitely wasn't convinced, though, and I wasn't really either. I think the difference between her experience of Thanksgiving 2011 and Thanksgiving 2012 is more attributable to the extra year spent in our care (with all the love and confidence building efforts we made during that time). We took advantage of the satisfaction guarantee and returned the thundershirt shortly thereafter.

I don't at all mean to malign thundershirts. I know they can be extremely helpful for some dogs (and their owners!), both for thunderstorm-related issues and other anxiety and fearfulness struggles. For Lily, though, and her unique quirks, it seems like the old cliches are the most effective: time, love, and patience!

**Unfortunately, at the time that we tried the thundershirt with Lily I had not yet decided to write a blog. Therefore, I don't have any photos of her wearing it. So, here is a photo of another beagle in a thundershirt. Just pretend it's Lily.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

We Won!

Recently Kelly over at Annie & Paul's World hosted a giveaway contest for 10 free bully sticks to celebrate her blog's one year anniversary. Lily loves bully sticks, but we don't buy them as often as she would probably like because they can get expensive. So when I saw this contest I excitedly entered, though having unsuccessfully entered a number of blog giveaway contests in the past, I had no expectations whatsoever that I would win. Therefore, I was very pleasantly surprised when that was exactly what happened! Lily was even more pleasantly surprised (okay, she was ecstatic) when the package arrived and she discovered what was inside.

"Oh my god, it's a box full of bully sticks?! You can't be serious."
"I'll just help myself, then..."

The bully sticks are much larger than I expected them to be, which is great because they'll last longer. We usually let Lily chew a bully stick for an hour or so and then take it away and give it back to her the next day. That way she doesn't consume the entire thing in one night (also, we usually give them to her in the evening, and if we didn't take it away before we went to bed we'd never get any sleep)!

In addition to the bully sticks, Kelly also included a sweet note about how she hoped Lily would enjoy them as much as Annie and Paul do. I think it's pretty clear that Lily loves them!

Thanks again to Kelly, Annie, and Paul for hosting this great contest!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Foster #5: Darling

As I explained here, there are a variety of reasons why a dog might be in need of a short-term foster home of the kind that Peter and I provide. Our first four fosters were all arriving in the DC area from high-kill shelters in the South, and our fostering them included picking them up from transport, fostering them in our home overnight or for the weekend, and taking them to their first Lucky Dog Animal Rescue adoption event. Unlike those first four, Darling arrived in the DC area a few months ago, and she needed a foster home this past weekend just while her long-term foster mom was out of town Friday through Sunday.

We picked Darling up at her foster mom's house on Friday evening. We had been warned about her shyness, so I was very surprised when she came bounding up to greet me at the door (Peter had to wait outside because there are two other dogs in the home who aren't crazy about unfamiliar men). Once we got Darling out of the house and onto the sidewalk, though, she seemed to realize that we were two unfamiliar people taking her away from a familiar place, and she started whimpering and pulling back towards the door. We coaxed her into the car, and she spent the car ride home alternatively trying to look out the windows and whimpering in concern.

By the time we arrived back at our house it was pouring down rain, which put a bit of a damper on our usual strategy of introducing Lily to a new foster dog on the sidewalk in front of a neighbor's house and then taking Lily and the foster on a walk together. Still, we knew it wasn't a good idea to just barge into Lily's "territory" with a new dog, so we braved the rain for an abbreviated walk just around our neighborhood's cul de sac. Lily and Darling complained far less about the drenching rain than I did, and by the time we got inside the house they were perfectly comfortable with each other.

Lily and Darling hanging out together on the stairs on Saturday morning

That night and over the course of the weekend we were pleasantly surprised to discover that, while Darling is certainly a shy dog, she is nowhere near as shy as Lily was when we first brought her home (although in fairness to Lily, we didn't already have another dog present to reassure her). Possibly because she is being long-term fostered by a woman, though Darling was wary of Peter she bonded immediately with me. She seemed to have decided that I was mama duck and she was a duckling, and she was going to follow me around accordingly. The entire time that she was with us, every time I moved, Darling moved. Every time I stopped moving, Darling stopped moving. When I reappeared from the bathroom after taking a shower (and therefore being unavailable to her for 20 minutes or so), she greeted me with joyous, slightly frantic euphoria.

Darling and Lily got along wonderfully together. While Lily loves other dogs in general, as I mentioned here we have had fosters with whom we needed to do tie-down training because they were constantly in Lily's face. Lily likes to play for short bursts, but she also likes time to relax. Darling seemed to understand this, and while she and Lily had a blast playing together, they also spent a fair amount of time calmly napping or just hanging out next to me on the sofa. Needless to say, the tie-down was entirely unnecessary, as Darling demonstrated impeccable "doggie manners."

While I have enjoyed the time I got to spend with each of our previous fosters, Peter, Lily, and I are a fairly low-key, chill family, and it was clear that our past fosters, all of whom were higher energy, would not have fit in with us permanently. We were happy to have those past fosters stay with us temporarily, especially knowing that we were helping them along the way to their forever homes, but I never got overly attached to any of them. Naively, I thought that maybe I was just really good at compartmentalizing my feelings and remaining suitably detached.

Darling proved me wrong. She does have a bit more energy than Lily, but between how well the two of them got along and her sweet duckling routine with me, she stole my heart. It turns out that I am no better at controlling my feelings than anyone else (and probably much worse at it than the amazing long-term fosters who keep pups for months or even years on end and then still manage to say good-bye when they find a forever home). It was just that we had not yet fostered a dog who fit in so well with our family. If Peter and I could adopt another dog right now, Darling would have been our foster failure.

But it was not meant to be. Current circumstances are such that, at least for now, Peter and I are committed to remaining a one dog family. Peter patiently reminded me of this more than once over the weekend when my emotions started to get the better of me and I began hinting that maybe we should give in to the foster failure temptation. Darling's wonderful long-term foster mom picked her up at our house on Sunday evening, and I managed to keep it together long enough to say good-bye and didn't start bawling until the door had closed behind them.

So, sweet Darling is still available for adoption. Maybe my loss could be you (or someone you know's) gain? Her petfinder profile can be viewed here, and contact information for her long-term foster mama is included therein. Her ideal forever home will include at least one already resident dog, as well as a person who thinks she is as wonderful as I do.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Introducing Darling!

Introducing Darling, Lily's foster sister for this weekend! Darling's regular foster mom is going out of town for the weekend, so Darling will be staying with us until she gets back. Darling will be our first foster not coming directly off of the transport van from a high-kill shelter.

Darling is a two or three year old, 21 pound beagle. Check out her petfinder profile here. More details to come!

Monday, May 6, 2013

On Inconsistency

As I've mentioned before (here, here, and here), ever since we've known her Lily has struggled with some fear issues and is particularly afraid of strangers (people, not other dogs). So, it has been interesting to observe that when we take her to doggie events (see posts here and here) she is remarkably friendly and unafraid. Peter and I think this is probably due to a combination of factors which each help make her less scared, including the fact that she is outside, surrounded by other dogs, and most of the people she encounters offer her yummy things to eat.

This increased friendliness at events was on display as far in the past as the 2011 Walk for Paws, only a few months after we adopted Lily:

and as recently as this month at Dog Day Afternoon:

While we obviously love how comfortable and confident Lily is at these doggie events, and how much fun she obviously has, it can lead to some confusion among people who don't know her. Such a situation arose at Dog Day Afternoon. Among the many organizations with a booth at the event was Paws 4 Comfort, a wonderful group that arranges for dogs and cats (and their owners) to visit the elderly at nursing homes, senior centers, etc. As we passed their booth, Lily trotted up to the woman stationed there and promptly sat prettily at her feet, expecting a treat. After giving Lily the anticipated biscuit, the woman leaned down to pet Lily, who gazed up at her happily with a big doggie grin on her face. At this point, understandably, she enthusiastically began trying to recruit Lily and me for her cause. It was up to me, then, to explain that the adorable, smiling little beagle at her feet would in fact turn into a terrified, cowering mess if I tried to take her into a strange building with lots of unfamiliar noises, a bunch of people she doesn't know, and no other dogs. This kindhearted woman clearly thought I was either crazy or lying, and I can't blame her, because at that moment Lily was displaying no hint of shyness whatsoever. I felt terrible about it (what kind of horrible person doesn't want to help the elderly?!), but I know my dog.

Anyone else's dog have a bit of a split personality depending on his/her surroundings?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013