It’s been a while since I’ve written about training, her lunging and barking issues, and what else goes on with Maia in her new home. It’s almost five months now that we got her, and I can say that she slowly develops into a real dog.
What? Isn’t that silly? What was she before?
When we first met her at the shelter, she was shy, worried, and about the only constant thing with her was her lunging and barking at other dogs. “She’s insecure,” people at the shelter told us. “Oh, she’s just insecure,” other people told us when we met them on walks, one of them a search and rescue lady.
Insecure is a vague word. Why is she insecure? Because she doesn’t know how to behave around dogs, around people? Because she is confused? Because she is afraid? We weren’t certain, but now we know. Most of it is fear.
It wasn’t all that clear in the beginning. When you have a lunging, barking dervish on the other end of the leash, you have your hands full to not let the leash go, to not slip and fall, to not step on the dog’s toes and make things worse, to grasp a moment of quiet to praise and turn around, getting her to watch you and walk away from the thing that gets her so worked up. All we could tell was that she was stressed out. She often showed signs of stress inside, too. Licking lips, looking away, closed, tense mouth, looking worried… but she didn’t have that whale-eye, that fearful stare, nor did she cower. She was quiet, and liked to cuddle.
Then she ‘thawed’, started to play, and smile. And she started to show signs of fear. We are sometimes a bit loud, shout from basement to first floor, throw things in jest… that scared her. Talking in an angry voice: scares her. Getting a clothes hanger from the cabinet: scares her.
Drying dishes with a dishcloth: the dishcloth scares her. Lifting the lid of pots and pans: scares her. My large wooden cutting board: scares her very much. Basically everything that is higher than she is seems to scare her. She cowers, tail between her legs, and is an image of misery.
Now we know, and we speak softly, move things below waist-height whenever possible, move slowly, and I also show her the item to make it less scary. It is getting better, but she is still afraid of many things.
But there are many helpful sites, and books, about how to help a fearful dog.
I think in the beginning she was just numb and confused, and didn’t really dare to show any emotion. From what we know about her back story, that’s perfectly understandable. By now she seems less afraid to show that she is afraid, if that makes sense. She also warns, and snarls sometimes (nothing serious, ‘normal’ stuff)–she didn’t do that in the beginning either. She didn’t play. She did like to cuddle, but now I think much of that was appeasement behaviour. She now plays, often smiles, and comes to cuddle, but more the type of ‘real cuddle’ where she sqeaks and grunts, opens her mouth wide without nipping and looks happy and relaxed.
The lunging and barking is still there, but by now we have become experts in finding alternative routes on our walks, and in spotting potential trouble. We master smaller dogs, at some distance, without even a woof.
From time to time, we can’t escape and ‘meet’ a dog she doesn’t like, or a dog off leash comes running towards us–then we have a lot of barking and lunging still. But it’s by far not as bad as it was in the beginning. “Watch me” helps, and all the training we did in the beginning starts to pay off. I’m very proud of Maia, she’s doing fine.
I’m giving her a bit more time to relax and we work on the fear. Later this year (when the weather is nicer…) we’ll continue with more formal training. She’s pulling on leash in the beginning of our walks, and there’s a lot to be improved. She’s reacting differently to the leisurely training we do, too. I may be anthopomorphizing, but I imagine to see a difference there. She seems more ‘awake’ when we teach her something new, more ‘conscious’. I’m not sure that’s real, or maybe wishful thinking, but it’s not all that important. Things are progressing, slowly, but clearly. We’ve even got positive comments from people who’ve seen us struggle from the beginning. I think we’re on the right track. Maia was a sad, sweet dog when we first met her, we were sorry for her, and that went to our hearts. By now she’s developed her own special charm and settled firmly in our hearts, not as a ‘shelter dog who needs a home’, or ‘dog to fill the void Jack’s death created’, but for her own sweet self. I’m very confident that, in time, we’ll get many of her problems resolved or at least to a manageable level.