Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Lessons from a Rescue Dog

We just got Jodie on Sunday, but we've already learned lots from her in 3 days.  Here she is right after we brought her home, sporting the red bandanna collar and denim leash and harness provided by her rescuer.

This photo was taken by the rescuer at her house right before we left:

They even sent us with a pillow that came all the way from Taiwan so that Jodie would have something of "home" with her when she arrived in the U.S.:

So, what has this sweet dog taught us in three days?

First, Cesar Millan is right.  Exercise, discipline, and affection--in that order--are the recipe for success with a dog.

We knew exercise was key because a tired dog is much less likely to get in trouble.  But giving a dog exercise is tough if she won't walk properly on a leash. So that was first.  I refuse to have my arm pulled out of the socket by a dog, so our first four or five walks were painful.  Leash slack, we move forward. Leash taut, we wait.  It took us an hour to go around the block the first day, but on the morning of day 3, we walked a brisk five miles with the leash mostly slack except for an occasional rabbit or squirrel sighting.

Here's what she looked like yesterday evening after her long walk with me and a shorter one with Doug--the cool deck felt great to a tired dog hanging out with her new family:

On to discipline.  Jodie has already learned to sit before she's allowed to return to the house after being outside, to wait for an OK from me before she dives into her food, and to lie down while we eat dinner.  These aren't just random shows of "I'm the pack leader" on our part--they're all designed to make our life with her more pleasant for everyone.  We don't want a dog that knocks people over, begs at the table, dumps her food bowl in her rush to gobble her dinner, or rushes into the house before we've had a chance to check her feet and take off her leash.

And affection flows much more easily if you're not mad at your dog all the time.  Of course, someone may be mad for awhile, but we hope he will get over it soon:

Here he's watching her from the trunk we use as a coffee table:

while down below, she's too tired to care:

Aside from the Cesar principles, Jodie has reinforced the idea that we have to be flexible.  Just as we bought some wrong kitchen tables on the way to finding the right one, we've had to rethink some of our earlier dog decisions.

Like buying a crate.  Our house is small so we hoped to get by without a crate, since Jodie is an older dog and not a puppy.  But her bathroom training wasn't going so well, and we were getting frustrated, which wasn't doing anyone any good.  I found a used wire crate for $20, cleaned it up, outfitted it with some old white towels and her pillow, and in she went at bedtime.  We didn't hear a peep out of her all night, and, even better, I wasn't greeted by a pile of poop when I got up at 5:30 the next morning.

Or using a retractable leash.  I hate retractable leashes because I think people just use them to allow their dogs to run around in a completely uncontrolled fashion.  But we want to play ball with Jodie in the park near our house, and right now, she doesn't come back when we call her after she fetches the ball.  So we need a long leash in order to teach her how to come on command. We ended up buying a retractable leash, but we're hoping that eventually we won't need it because she'll be controllable in open spaces without it.  For our regular walks, though, we're sticking with the 6-foot leash cinched up to 3 or 4 feet so that she's close to our side at all times.

Or buying a tie-out cable.  We would NEVER leave Jodie tied out in the yard by herself.  But our yard isn't completely fenced, and our first goal has to be keeping her safe.  So we bought a 15-foot lightweight cable that can be fastened to the hammock hook on our deck, allowing her to be on the deck with us while we read, eat, or talk.  Again, we hope that eventually we won't need it once she reliably comes when called off leash.  Here, she's happily chewing a stick while Doug and I catch up on our day:

We've also had to prioritize our goals and pick our battles.  For right now, potty training, leash walking, and simple house manners are our top priority. We also want her to stop chasing the cat, but he at least has places to be safe until that lesson is ingrained.  Next up is coming when called and staying on command for longer periods of time.

And then maybe we can sign up for therapy dog training so that other people can enjoy Jodie as much as we do.

P.S. I learned one more lesson from Jodie after I posted this yesterday:  Don't get too cocky.  Last night, we walked Doug down to campus, where he had a photo shoot.  It was a beautiful spring evening, and students were everywhere--walking to class, playing Frisbee, going to dinner, walking their own dogs.  All of Jodie's lovely new leash skills, acquired at dawn when the world is quiet, went right down the drain--she pulled to look at everything and everyone.  So now I know we have work to do to get her ready for prime time.

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