“Oh you got a puppy? My daughter got two rescues”.
Do I need judgement? Apparently I do.
I rescued both Pepper and Chandi. This time, it was me that needed rescuing. Grace has done just that. Already. In just four short weeks.
I needed to be there for every possible moment of this dog’s life; to make sure that nothing bad ever happened; to show her the world and explain to her all of its scariness. How wonderful to have this opportunity and responsibility right from the start! I have never experienced the early days of puppyhood with my own dog before and it has been wonderful and exhausting all rolled up in one soft-furred-wet-nosed-waggy-tailed-package. If Grace develops any hang-ups, I only have myself to blame.
By the third day that we were together, I had introduced a collar and lead and she was getting the hang of walking in the direction I wanted to go and accepting the restriction of the lead. She had not made any mess or had a single wee in the house, but was as good as gold about doing her business in the designated area as soon as I took her out and told her to ‘get busy’. If she didn’t need to go, she would sit and just stare at me, exactly as Chandi used to.
The next thing was to try to deal with the travel sickness. I was stressed at the thought that she might always be car sick. This would not be fun for either of us and didn’t make for pleasant adventures. I started taking her on short car rides first thing in a morning before breakfast. She would always bring up something or other. We didn’t appear to be making progress.
Saturday dawned and again before giving Grace anything to eat, we got in the car and drove the short distance to Pets at Home. I thought we may as well combine a car trip with some much-needed socialization. For the first time, she wasn’t sick!
I carried her into the pet superstore and with Grace gently quaking with nerves in my arms, we walked round and I showed her various things, talking to her and naming things. Everything startled her. Every noise, movement – you name it. The whole world caught her attention and completely distracted her from me.
After a couple of circuits of the shop we went outside and got back in the car. Since we were out in the car, I thought we may as well do a bit more socialization, so we drove to Percy Thrower’s Garden Centre that allows dogs to look round. Chandi and I were regulars – it was lovely to look round with her by my side – she loved it too!
I carried Grace around the outside areas looking at the plants and letting her sniff any flowers that caught her interest. She was still shaking, but the tighter I held her to me, the less intense the shaking was – I could feel her relax.
There is sound scientific evidence to back up what I was feeling by holding Grace’s body tightly: controlled deep pressure touch lowers heart rate and respiration – which has a significant relaxing effect. It also facilitates the release of dopamine (pleasure chemical, helps us stay emotionally neutral and balanced; activates the parasympathetic nervous system for a relaxed, neutral, state), which may wash away cortisol and adrenaline involved in the fight/ flight response of the autonomic nervous system.
Grace was doing very well on her first outings, but we had had enough for one day. As Grace seemed okay in the car – still no sickness after two short trips, I drove to the supermarket and as Grace was sleepy, she slept on the seat while I rushed round like a lunatic filling a basket as fast as I could as I didn’t know whether she would be screaming her head off when I got back to the car. This was the first time I’d left her on her own.
I waved to Grace as I approached the car. She wasn’t making a sound. She was sitting up on the front passenger seat where I left her (Harness attached to seat belt for safety). She was leaning up against the seat, totally relaxed with her back legs akimbo and looking rather frog-like, exposing her naked, pink tummy. She was just watching the world go by.
I unlocked the car and got in. She leaned over to say hello as I stroked her. Then she solemnly lifted her left front paw and offered it to me in way of a formal greeting. I accepted her paw and shook it, much to her delight (and my own). I had shown her how to lift her front paws the day before and she got the hang of it very quickly.
Putting her paws high in the air seemed to give her a huge amount of pleasure. It did the same for me. Chandi was master of the ‘paw lifts’ and renowned the world over for her mastery of something that seems so simple, yet is so difficult to perform with accuracy.
We then drove home – a full seven miles and still Grace hadn’t been sick. We couldn’t have conquered it already could we? I left Grace in the car while I took the shopping inside. I was only gone for about two minutes. When I came out to bring her inside, she was sitting up exactly as I left her. I opened the door and saw that there was a pool of vomit in front of her. So…. not sick whilst moving, but once back on the drive at home …. Go figure?!
Undeterred, we went out again in the car the next day, and made our way up to the noisy open-air Sunday market. Carrying her in my arms, she was thrown in at the deep end somewhat with all manner of scary noises, from generators, to loud music and people with microphones shouting about the things they had for sale. I named everything and she responded from time to time by licking my face. She wasn’t too stressed as she would accept pieces of cheese to eat, and I was always monitoring her and making sure she wasn’t overly frightened.
After several tours of the noisy over-crowded market, we went back to the car and drove home. Again I left her in the car for a minute or so before getting her out. Once more she was sitting up on the seat with a pool of vomit in front of her…
It would have been easy not to continue taking her to experience the scary world after seeing her frightened reactions. There were times when I felt really down – would she ever become accustomed to the world and ignore all distractions to focus on me? The answer to this was, probably yes, in time, but only if I kept taking her out and showing her I was on her side, naming and explaining scary things and where possible going to touch the object to show her it was safe. She obviously did trust my judgment, as if I touched something she was frightened of, she would then approach it, give it a little poke with her mottled pink nose, relieve her stress with a full body shake, and move on to the next thing.
If I wanted a bomb proof dog, it was up to me to make her into one.
Bomb proof dogs are made, not born!