Heartened by Grace conquering her travel sickness so quickly, we could now focus all of our attention on trying to get her to be calm in the big wide world.
I have never experienced anything like the level of fear with every noise, object, car, or person. Grace was simply terrified of everything and it was like having a lunatic on the end of the lead. She was so shut down she didn’t even know I was there with her. I couldn’t reward her with little bits of cheese for any steps in the right direction or any good response, as she was too frightened to eat.
I was only attempting to walk her a short distance along the very quiet street where I live, but it was next to impossible. I resorted to carrying her, holding her tightly against me. At least with her in my arms, she would calm down enough to listen a little more to the things I was trying to explain to her – everything from wheelie bins, to cars. She would also take little offerings of cheese when she calmly looked at whatever it was I was showing her.
For days I just walked round the streets with her in my arms talking to her and continuing to name things and show her they weren’t so scary by touching them myself and asking if she wanted to the touch too. If she did, she would look at the object and then look at me. That was my cue to gently lower her down so she could have a sniff and a poke with her twitching nose. Were we making progress? I didn’t really know.
The only way to find out, was to see how she reacted when I put her down on the ground and she had to walk. As far as I could see, there wasn’t any change in her reactions. I needed to get her focus on me. This was crucial for one vital reason: when something really scared her, she wanted to bolt rather than come to me. I was terrified that I would lose her.
While I had been carrying her around, I had been working on getting Grace fixated on a tug toy – a fleecy rope when we were in the house and our garden. The only time she got to play with this toy (or anything like it) was when I produced it as a reward. After a few days, she was getting the idea, and was very keen to play whenever I excitedly produced the tuggy and gently teased her with it to spark her interest.
After one particularly disheartening attempt at walking the short distance around the block, with Grace completely ignoring my efforts to attract her attention onto me using the tuggy, I put Grace in her crate for a snooze and emailed my friend Sian, expressing my dismay at how things were going. Immediately after putting my frustration into words, I found a new level of determination to succeed. What else was I going to do? Give up?
As we had only walked for a few minutes and I had carried Grace most of the way yet again, she wasn’t very sleepy. Deciding that there was no time like the present, I got the tuggy and some cheese and took Grace outside onto our driveway. I focused every ounce of concentration on Grace and willed her to do the same. I scuttled up and down the drive waving the tuggy around and calling her in the most exciting way I possibly could manage. She wasn’t having any of it – following in my general direction but showing no real interest.
Don’t give up, I kept saying, reminding myself of how keen she as on the toy in the garden. I kept going – darting this way and that and making weird and wonderful noises. Suddenly Grace shot forward and grabbed the tuggy in her mouth. We had the briefest of gentle games before something else caught her eye.
In response, I ramped up my level of excitement – I really didn’t think I had it in me – and again I had Grace on the end of the tuggy. I praised her and played with her, positively squealing with delight at how she was playing.
I gradually moved her further and further up the drive until we were on the pavement. Every time she dropped the tuggy I would tease her with it and run off excitedly. My spirits lifted when she came bounding after me every time to join in the fun. I took the tuggy off her for a minute and with me talking to her, we managed to walk a few metres up the pavement while she paid more attention to me than ever before.
My heart sank as I suddenly I heard a car coming along the road. Grace heard it too and the game stopped briefly while we looked at the car and I spoke to her ” It’s just a car Grace, you know what a car is”. and then producing the tuggy once more I waved it in front of her nose and to my surprise, she forgot about the car and grabbed the toy for another gentle game.
With Grace still attached to the end of the tuggy, I turned and we headed for home. Ending that brilliant session out in the big wide world, well a few metres from our driveway, on a high note, was the best thing to do. Now I knew it was possible to get her attention if I went above and beyond my normal amount of energy and enthusiasm (which is pretty high!), I was feeling much more positive and determined to keep working with Grace.