On teaching my puppy fear

I know it’s silly, but I feel like I’ve failed my dog.

We’ve worked so hard on so many aspects of her training, and she’s come a long way. She’s more confident, more relaxed, and more able to adapt to new situations.

Except for one thing.

She can’t or won’t tolerate someone else holding her leash.

She can do every single other item on the silver exam list perfectly. Lie down and stay for two minutes? She could go for longer. Recall? Perfect. Walking to heel? She can even do it off lead (even if she proved me a liar today by making a run for it when another dog ran first). Road walk and crossing the street? So easy that we’re bored with the practice. Getting into the car? She doesn’t bat an eyelash.

She’s perfect at everything, but she flips out when someone else takes hold of her leash. The only exception is at the vet’s, where she will let a nurse or vet lead her back to the exam area. Agility class, flyball, obedience class…nope. Nope, nope nope.

For the silver exam, she needs to allow the examiner to give her a mock check-up, similar what a vet would do.

Until Ladybug’s one-year exam, she had been perfect for vet visits. Maybe a bit skittish, maybe a bit timid, and maybe slow to warm up. But with a little patience and kindness from the vets and nurses, she was fine.

For her one-year exam, though, she hid behind me (I sat on the floor with her and the vet) and growled. Just a tiny token baby growl, but she’s never done that before. Barked at the vet or nurse when they interrupted my visitation time while she was hospitalized, yes. Growl, no. Not even a teeny one.

Since then, she’s refused to let anyone else near her.

She’s gotten better in just two flyball practices about letting people get close to her, but she won’t let anyone hold her leash. She’ll sit and stay if I unclip her lead or lay it on the ground, but she panics and jumps the second I give it to anyone else.

I don’t know what’s wrong!

I do think it’s now become a cycle because I’m anxious she’ll freak out, and she is quicker to freak out because I’m anxious. I tried stroking the leash to calm her (a tip from our puppy yoga instructor), but it only helped a little. Saying anything (soothing, reassuring, etc.) made her more nervous when our obedience class teacher tried to approach her.

She did better this week than last, but she still didn’t want him holding her leash. She was willing to follow him–up to a point–as long as her leash trailed on the ground, but he was not allowed to pick it up.

When we paired up in class to switch dogs and conduct a mock physical exam, our teacher specifically teamed me up with a nice, thoughtful dog mummy who has a lot of experience. I stayed close to them so Ladybug wouldn’t panic (thinking I was abandoning her). Total backfire. She flipped out, first with jealousy that I was touching another dog. Then, she kept jumping in sheer panic trying to get her leash away from the other dog’s mum.

The other mum was super kind about everything. Our teacher came and took the other dog to help us out. Ladybug was willing to let the other mum come close as long as I held the leash, but she still only permitted a quick hello and stroke. She ate the offered treats gladly, but then she began barking.

After class, our teacher spent a good deal of time trying to coax Ladybug to trust him. She did pretty well, but once he attempted the physical exam…nope. She barked at him and got upset.

I don’t know what to do! I don’t know anyone nearby who can help practice touching her. In agility class, we just work on obstacles on our own. Flyball will help a bit more, as one of the early goals is to allow someone else to hold her until they let her run toward me. That’s still not to the level of conducting a mock exam, though. Puppy yoga and scentwork are both 100% about giving her space and time. I love that I don’t have to worry about anyone getting too close…but that also doesn’t help her get used to someone else touching her.

Someone pointed out to me last week that I am Ladybug’s most vulnerable point. I’ve always thought of it the other way around. If anyone wants to hurt me, or if anyone wants to force me to do something that’s not right for me, hurting her is the best way to do it. I nearly signed a false confession because I was threatened with divorce and refusal to pay Ladybug’s medical bills. I either signed saying I had committed all kinds of wrong things that I most certainly had not done, or Ladybug would die because I wouldn’t have the money to pay for her medical care.

It’s true that I will do anything and everything to protect her. But it’s also true that she will put her life in danger to protect me. She’s trusted people who hurt her. Why? Because I told her to trust them. She encouraged a sick, violent man in the park to chase after her. Why? Because he was threatening to kill me. Those are the most extreme examples, but she will do anything to keep me safe.

I think she knows, in her wise but innocent puppy way, that I’m not safe. That I can be hurt and am being hurt very badly. It’s Mother’s Day in the US, and I’m isolated from my mother, my mother-in-law, and my stepchildren. For no reason but spite, I’ve been banned from seeing the two children who mean more to me than I can ever say. My mother will only talk to me if I never mention my wife, and my mother-in-law has not spoken a civil word to me since she learned of our engagement. My wife never once stood up for me while her mother insulted me.

I live in constant terror that we will be evicted, I won’t be able to pay rent, and I’ll lose Ladybug. She’s all I have. She’s the reason I can get up in the morning, and the reason I can sleep at night. I say that I’m okay and she doesn’t need to protect me, and that it’s unfair for her to carry that burden. It should be true (and I want it to be true), but it’s not.

Poor little dog. She should have been roaming the hills, herding sheep and enjoying glorious romps in all weather. I feel guilty that she’s cooped up in a tiny apartment with nowhere to run in peace. She’s stuck with me, a worrywart and unhappy mum whose life keeps falling apart more and more.

Our obedience teacher says to give it time. That she’s fine with everything else, and she will come to it when she’s ready…and not before. He suggested that we postpone taking the silver exam and there might be another date available at the end of the summer. He’s concerned that pushing her now will cause setbacks for later, and I’m afraid she’ll have a bad experience at the exam. My only concerns were having a new teacher who may not be right for us (the teachers switch around after exams) and spending the next few months working on all the silver stuff that she can doย  already. Boooooring!

He said that he will switch to teaching the gold class next month, and he’ll let us move up. That way, we can work on gold exam material while Ladybug works through her fear of other people touching her. With luck, she’ll be able to take and pass her silver exam in a few months. Even better, we’ll be learning something new in the gold class. He said he’d give special permission for it as she’s clearly demonstrated her readiness for new material.

I’m relieved she won’t have to take her silver exam next week (the original plan), but we won’t be stuck in the silver class.

But even so, I worry.

How do I teach Ladybug that the world is safe…when it’s not?

How do I help her trust other people…when I can’t?

How do I encourage her to let other people touch her…when I no longer trust people touching me?

A man I considered a friend and brother, the man who invited me to live in his house and was supposed to give me a job…

I will never get back what he took from me.

I taught Ladybug to trust him implicitly.

I allowed my wife to tell me for months that I’d imagined things, he wasn’t a bad man, and I was being too sensitive and expecting too much.

I let someone touch me, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be whole again.

How can I teach my puppy to do what I cannot?

How badly have I crippled her with my fears and issues?

How can I say I’m doing everything I can to give her a good life…when she’s saddled with my past?

I don’t get an ego boost when she clings to me rather than letting someone else take her. Of course I want her to come back eventually, but I’d love for her to have more people in her life.

But the people I’ve introduced to her life so far…well, it hasn’t turned out well.

I taught her to trust people who hurt her.

She allowed them to hurt her because I said they were okay.

I did to her what my wife did to me.

Except Ladybug nearly died.

That’s what it is, isn’t it?

I can never forgive myself that she almost died. I may not have fed the pills to her or left them in her reach, but I left her in care of the person who did.

If I hadn’t taught her to trust that person…

If I’d let her be wary, scared, and timid…

She might still be whole.

She might not have had to endure the months of trauma.

Maybe part of me wants her to be afraid…

Because fear will keep her safe.

Will it?

It’s keeping her from doing a lot of things that she would enjoy.

But fear would have kept those pills out of her mouth.

Maybe she’s afraid because I feel safer with her fearful.

The world is full of danger and bad people.

Don’t get hurt, baby.

I can’t bear to lose you.

(But what kind of life is it…to always be afraid? For either of us?)

 

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Another play date, agility class, and our first yoga class!

It’s been a busy few days! In fact, I meant to blog about a few events but didn’t have the time. We had our second-ever play date, fourth agility class, and a new puppy yoga class.

PLAY DATE

Goodness…if I’d known how much fun puppy play dates are, I would’ve joined flyball long ago just to make puppy mama friends. Yesterday, we met up with a member of our new flyball club. She brought her lovely border collie, Sky, and sweet springer spaniel, Lucy. Unfortunately, we were too busy playing to take photos. Ladybug, much the baby and outsider, struggled to keep up with two well-trained dogs as they wrestled with each other, play fought, and went their separate ways. In the end, she went on her flexi leash for a good romp while the other two ran after tennis balls, sticks, and shadows in the wood. Weather was wonderful (if a tiny bit hot) with blue skies, fluffy clouds, and not a drop of rain. Ladybug panted the whole way home. I was glad I kept her on the leash, after all. How lovely to enjoy a walk with a new friend (for both of us)!

AGILITY CLASS

Our agility class was both frustrating and exciting. Big excitement: She’s conquered her fear of the tunnel! Woohoo! Our teacher’s tip to try a ball (rather than stuffy toy, which is hard to throw) worked perfectly. The first time I threw the ball into the tunnel, Ladybug was so excited that she got in the way. The ball only went about 1/4 of the way into the tunnel. I expected her to stop once she got the ball…but nope! She charged through to the other end. Came out, laughed, and went right back into the tunnel for another trip.

Wow! Where was my little scaredy cat? She was spooked by everything about the tunnel for the first few weeks. Once a ball came into play, though, she had no fears.

“Collies and spaniels,” our teacher said. “A ball will do it.”

I wish I’d brought a ball for our first class!

Other than that, Ladybug was hyper and desperate to play with all of the other dogs. She’s the youngest dog by far (one dog is 18 months and another is 2 years, and the others are all older), so everyone except the 18 month old ignores her. Poor Ladybug! Pluto, the 18 month old lurcher, loves her, though. They have a good play wrestle at least once a class. Sadly, he’s moving away at the end of the month. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

We did another try of running over the poles toward a toy. Perfect. Running over the poles set in a wagon-wheel half-circle. Perfect! In fact, our teacher had to tell me not to make Ladybug sit first as she (Ladybug) was eager to run. I thought I had to put her into a sit first, as dogs always begin with a sit for the competition runs I’ve seen at Crufts. Then again, we’re still such beginners that it’s probably more important to encourage that excitement. Ladybug was quite disappointed at only getting to do each pole exercise twice. She would gladly have done them again…and again! (She was born for agility. ๐Ÿ˜› )

We had more trouble with the weave poles, but this wasn’t Ladybug’s fault. Last week, the class ran over and Ladybug never got a chance to try them on an easier setting. She’s done them only once when they were spread apart as far as possible. They’ve gotten a little closer each week, but she had to jump from easiest setting to more difficult. We struggled a few times on our own (honestly, I wish we’d been given more than two attempts with help from our teacher, as Ladybug hadn’t gotten any tries at all last week). Then, all of a sudden, Ladybug decided she would walk through all the poles…while on her leash! I hadn’t even asked her to go in. She did it perfectly two more times while I stared at her in surprise. She got lots of fuss and praise for that. She does like to surprise me!

We did try a bit more with the seesaw on our own (while waiting for others to have their turn at different equipment). She’s quite happy to clamber onto it without any treat or encouragement, but she isn’t careful about looking where she steps. I’m not sure how to handle that. I didn’t want to encourage bad habits, so we stopped after a bit. I don’t want her to climb onto the seesaw and fall off!

I tried a little bit more of the 2 on 2 off for positioning at the end of the A frame, but she got confused with our box turn work from flyball. Since nothing in class has been working on the positioning yet, I figured it’s better not to confuse her. We did a couple attempts at the chute/box turn work for flyball (ha, in agility class!), and then we moved on.

At the end of class, Ladybug had a fabulous play wrestle with Pluto (on lead, no less!) as we walked out.

PUPPY YOGA

It was great going to our first puppy yoga class because we both feel 100% comfortable with Ellen, our teacher. That’s not something to take for granted! I’d gotten to visit the class two weeks ago (to see whether it would work for us), and I thought the calm, relaxed atmosphere would be good for both of us. Agility and flyball are great, but they can also be stressful. It would be nice to show up, do whatever Ladybug felt capable of doing, and go home pleased with a good hour’s work.

Our first scentwork class with Ellen was almost a month ago, and wow…Ladybug has come so far since then! At our scentwork workshop, Ladybug was still wearing her “I NEED SPACE” leash scarf, on her canny collar, and very anxious around other dogs. Since that workshop, Ladybug has passed her bronze exam, worked toward her silver, and begun both agility and flyball training. She’s now discarded her cautionary leash scarf, is off lead for some of our walks, and has almostย outgrown the need for her canny collar. (I’m keeping her on it for now because it will help her nerves for the silver exam. I’m hoping she will no longer need the canny collar once we advance to the gold class.)

That’s only been in a month. Wow!

For puppy yoga class, we arrived late as I’d underestimated traffic delays. That normally would have made me tense and stressed. Instead, I let Ladybug have a sniff outside before going in. She walked in without any anxiety or fear.

Wow!

We went to the foam padded cushions and chair set up for us, along with a water bowl, snuffle mat, and braided fleece tug. I didn’t realize it until afterward, but I think Ellen had even set out bottles of water for us! (At the time, I thought someone else had left it behind.) Ladybug had a little bark at the other dog, but that was it.

Wow, again!

I was instructed to take out the yoga mat (dog-sized ๐Ÿ˜€ ) and begin with clicking and rewarding every time she even looked at the mat. Each time, I’d then throw a treat away from the mat so she had to choose to go back onto the mat. She got this quite quickly and thought it was great. Click and treat just for stepping on a mat? This was the good life!

Next, Ellen had us refine how much of Ladybug was on the mat. First two paws, then three. Pretty soon, Ladybug was going all the way onto the mat and sitting down (her position for “I deserve a treat”). In between sets, I gave Ladybug a little break by dropping a few treats onto the snuffle mat, letting her play with the braided fleece tug, or even letting her have her Very Favorite Stuffy (her reward toy for flyball and agility training).

Here’s the cute/amazing part. In the beginning, Ladybug was so excited about mat work that she said NOPE to her stuffy! She refused to even look at it.

Wow!

I said that a lot about last night. ๐Ÿ˜€

Also, which was incredibly cute, at one point she decided I shouldn’t take the mat away (I picked it up while she had a break, so she would learn that staying on the mat meant work time, while going off the mat meant break time). So she reached over to pick up the treats from the snuffle mat, but she kept her back paws on the mat to prevent me from picking it up. When I gently tugged the mat free, she gave me a look as if to say, “Nooooo! This mat means easy treats! I want my snuffle mat treats AND the yoga mat, too!”

We took a little break outside, but she was done with that. In fact, on the way back to the classroom, she pulled on the leash in her excitement to go back to the class.

Wow, wow, wow! She does pull in her excitement to go into the vet’s office, but she generally is more anxious to go outside than inside.

We went back in, and Ellen had us practice lying down on the mat. First just into a down position, and then waiting a bit in the down position before getting her click and treat. I found it a bit difficult while sitting on the chair, but I confused Ladybug when I knelt on the floor instead (as I was at the wrong angle for her to lie on the mat). Next time I may try sitting directly on the floor, as that’s how we do our training at home. It was hard to get the right angle with giving her a treat while leaning over the chair, and she thought I wanted her to sit up.

Then, my teeny bits of carrot ran out. Big lesson from our first yoga class: meat treats are too exciting! I’ll stick to steamed potato and raw carrot next time. ๐Ÿ˜€ Once I brought out the tiny bits of beef, she got so excited that she couldn’t focus. She threw herself head-first into my hand in her excitement to eat, and even after a little break she could only focus on TREAT TREAT TREAT!

(She didn’t get any real meat at all when we lived in a vegetarian house, and she wasn’t allowed red meat until very recently. I only give her a tiny bit once in a while as a special treat. So…lesson learned. Don’t bring super-special treats to puppy yoga, as she’s perfectly content to work for low-value treats. Just the training itself is rewarding for her, as she’s calm, relaxed, and focused. She loves the focused attention, distraction-free environment, and almost endless praise. I can’t help it. She’s amazing. ๐Ÿ˜› )

Then, for a hilarious finish, she said she was done. How? By licking the yoga mat. I couldn’t stop laughing (and probably rewarding her with the laughter). I was glad Ellen confirmed my feeling Ladybug had had enough. Ladybug got to play for the last few minutes of class. She wouldn’t play with any toys on her own for the scentwork workshop (only interacted with toys if I was holding them), so it was lovely to see her more relaxed and confident.

After the stress of agility this week and sheer terror of flyball last week (despite an amazing agility class last week and flyball practice this week), it was such a refreshing change to go and relax together for an hour. We were quite lucky to have the class at all, as two of the students dropped out at the last minute. That meant only two of us students (class is capped at four dogs, which is amazing), so we got tons of attention and help.

Of course I hope other students join, as Ellen won’t be able to continue long-term with only two dogs. But for our first class, it was wonderful to nearly have a private lesson. I love how thoughtful Ellen is about the little details (like the bottle of water for humans and water bowl for dogs). At one point, Ladybug got excited and accidentally tossed her stuffy too far for her to reach while on the lead. Ellen turned her back toward Ladybug, bent down, picked up the toy, and gently threw the toy back to Ladybug without getting near her or making eye contact. I think Ladybug was relaxed enough that she wouldn’t have felt threatened even if Ellen had faced her to give back the toy, but it was a lovely gesture.

It’s amazing to walk into a first class knowing that your dog will be okay, you’ll be okay, and everyone will create a good environment for your dog. I wish we could go to scentwork classes more frequently as Ladybug loves them so much (watching her do agility is my favorite, but her clear favorite is scentwork–though puppy yoga is now a strong contender for that title), but puppy yoga was great.

It’s so amazing to walk away from a class feeling good about both myself and my dog. I worry endlessly that I’m screwing her up, and last night was a mini-vacation from that worry.

Ladybug came home and slept for two hours, woke up to go outside, and then slept for another ten hours.

What a great start to our weekend.

 

Hooray for flyball!

Those are three words I thought I’d never say!

After a failed attempt to visit another flyball club (traveling 60 miles in 80 degree heat with no air conditioning and a very anxious puppy), I decided to stick with our first good impression rather than continue visiting clubs. One more negative experience could put both of us off completely, and flyball is a chance for Ladybug and me to learn some important lessons.

For me:

  • No one will touch my dog. No one will grab her, shout at her, or hurt her…even if she does not instantly behave according to their unrealistic expectations. (If this ever proves not to be true, she and I will quit flyball immediately.)
  • Other people can help me train her WITHOUT stomping all over both of us to do it.
  • She’s going to be okay. Whether it’s competing or not, or continuing to train or not, or even if it’s just going once a week to help her conquer her fears of other people…it’s going to be a safe space for her. Again, if it ever becomes not safe, we will both leave immediately.

For her:

  • Mummy’s not going anywhere (At least, they’ll have to drag me kicking and screaming. I’d only leave her if I could no longer put a roof over our heads, which is a constant worry…but one I have to have faith will not come true). She can chase a tennis ball, let someone else stand near her, and even talk to a grown man without me disappearing.
  • There ARE good men in the world. Not all men will shout at her, shove her, or hurt her. Not all men will chase her and threaten to kill her. Not all men will hurt me.
  • Mummy’s going to be okay. She’s done such a brilliant job of protecting me for so long (even while deathly ill in the hospital, she protected me from a nurse when she–Ladybug–saw me in tears). I’m honestly touched, as I’ve never had anyone–animal or human–protect me before. No one has ever tried to keep me safe the way she has. When she’s scared for herself, she freezes and trembles. When she’s scared for me, she barks and tries to protect me. I’m going to be okay (at least I hope I will), and I want her to release that burden of protecting me. She’s a baby. She shouldn’t have to worry about keeping me safe.
  • Flyball is fun. Chase a tennis ball. Run. Jump. Get praise and rewards. What could be better?

We had a fabulous practice. For one, the venue was easy to find and well-marked. It’s amazing what a big difference that makes. If I arrive late and stressed at getting lost, or never make it there at all–it hardly makes me happy to practice.

This time, knowing better what to expect, I took Ladybug out for a walk around the perimeter of the field and back. It’s a big one, so the walk took a good ten minutes. She loved sniffing the trees, nibbling grass, and cavorting on her flexi lead.

By the time we returned to the practice area, she and I were both calm and relaxed. When we met the first team member, Ladybug didn’t mind! No barking like last week. At least not at first. ๐Ÿ™‚ I hoped to pretend this was just a walk in the park where we happened to meet other people. For the most part, this worked well.

I was shown how to do a very basic introduction to the chute, but this time with it lying flat on the ground. Much easier! It was slightly harder than the straight on and off we’ve practiced at home (as basics for agility), as it meant turning to come off the same side.

When I brought Ladybug out, we got to run in the netting first. Yay! She didn’t even protest this time, like she did last week (she was so worried I’d leave her there). I brought her toy as a reward, but she had zero interest in stuffed toys when a TENNIS BALL was at stake. She didn’t jump out of the netting this time, but she did nearly shove her face through the netting when a ball went through. Completely understandable. ๐Ÿ˜€ She did a great job racing after the ball. She brought it most of the way back to me, but not quite as fast. Still, just running around after a ball made her happy and relaxed. No barking, even when a male team member helped us.

Then, we got to work on the flat chute. This was a square wooden box with non-slip covering attached. I lured her onto the box with her two front feet, guided her around my leg until her back feet got onto the box (so all four feet at once), clicked, and lured her off the box with a treat. Eventually, I threw the treat onto the ground to keep her moving forward.

She was BRILLIANT!

And sooooo pleased with herself.

At one point, when I was chatting with the two lovely team members helping us (trying to figure out strategies), she hopped onto the box and gave me a look as if to say, “Where’s my treat? Stop wasting time and get back to work!” She got bouncy and perky, excited and impatient to keep working.

In fact, she had the same sparkle she’s had for agility class.

I’m learning something new!

I did something well!

I’m so proud of myself!

This is what I wanted! I don’t care if it’s something so ridiculously small that any other dog could do it. I wanted her to do something, get it right, and get praised.

She’ll do almost anything for praise, and she’ll jump for joy once she gets it.

We actually had to stop because I got dizzy (turning around and around to guide her on and off the chute), not because she was done. I let her play with her stuffed toy and took her on another walk around the perimeter for a break.

In between all of this, yes she did bark at a few people. But this week, it was more of an excitement bark. Especially at the end when we watched other dogs working (I kept her at the very edge of the field, as I wanted her to learn that the field is a safe place), she was clearly annoyed that all the other dogs got to have fun while she was stuck doing nothing.

She did try her GO AWAY barking a few times, but she got ignored. One guy (the one who tried so hard to win her over last week) firmly told her no. That was it.

It started to sprinkle by the end, and we got a bit wet as we said a hello to Kubo before leaving. Still, she was happy, tired, and thoroughly pleased with herself. Fell asleep almost as soon as we got home and slept through the night.

I’m so pleased we gave flyball another chance.

Oh, and another achievement of last night?

No one made me cry. ๐Ÿ™‚

We really are going to get there, Ladybug and I. Whether it’s as flyball champions or happy fumblers who practice box turns for the next three years, we’re going to have fun. We’re going to make friends.

And every day, every practice…every moment will be one more building block toward health.

She’s going to be a healthy dog someday.

I just know it.

All of these lessons, classes, practices…that’s what it’s about. Focusing on becoming healthier and stronger, not on her illness and weakness.

She’s going to be a strong, healthy, and happy dog.

Or I’ll die trying. ๐Ÿ˜€

 

Our first playdate! (Ladybug gets muddy!)

For a pup who comes from working farm dog stock, Ladybug is amazingly clean. She’s gotten about four baths in her life (except at the hospital, where she was so sick and stressed that toileting accidents meant almost daily baths). The good thing about spending most of her life on lead (poor baby!) is that she hasn’t learned to roll in the mud (yet!). I’m also terrified of Alabama rot, so these days we give mud a wide berth.

Then we went on a play date. ๐Ÿ˜€

We went on a play date with another collie.

The two are now partners in crime for life.

Kubo and Ladybug pleased with their muddy state. Ladybug had NEVER been that dirty before!

Kubo taught Ladybug the joy of carrying gigantic sticks. Photo credit: Kubo’s mum

The two met each other, and Kubo went down into an instant submissive belly-up pose. Ladybug was rather perplexed why he wouldn’t immediately run with her. They negotiated their differences, though, and had a grand afternoon running around. At one point, I had to hold Ladybug in my lap to make her rest. She was panting so hard her entire body shook, and she seemed to have trouble catching her breath. She was not pleased with me, but after a rest she got to run around again.

She also got her first taste of what the Brits call a “push up,” which is a popsicle in a paper cone. She waited patiently while we had a snack, and I bit off a tiny piece for her. Bliss!

It was fabulous to see Ladybug running around with a friend. She doesn’t get much running time these days, as I’m still learning her physical limits. I’ve been focusing more on distance walking, as that is much easier to pace.

Just so pleased to see every daily victory. Look at how far she’s come in a few short months! When I brought her home from the hospital at the end of January, we couldn’t walk five minutes without needing a rest. (Both of us!) She wouldn’t eat more than a bite or two at a time, and only out of my hand. Neither of us got more than about an hour of sleep at a time.

And now…just like a healthy, ordinary dog (okay, with less stamina and more fearfulness), she had a play date with another dog.

So proud of her.

And glad we’ve made a new friend.

 

 

 

Our best agility class yet!

Ladybug and I have only been to three agility classes.

The first one was a bit stressful, as it was hard to find the venue and we ended up piggybacking on the following (intimidating) competition-level class. Ladybug was overwhelmed at the new environment, and she spent a great deal of the class time lunging and barking. (Sigh!)

The second was much better, as we got to the right class at the right time, and we were with other beginner dogs. But we were sent to the naughty corner when Ladybug couldn’t settle down around the other dogs. I left thinking, “Oh well, if she’s never good at agility, she still seems to enjoy it.” I actually asked our trainer if Ladybug didn’t show aptitude for agility, but I was told it was far too early to tell.

Class today, our third attempt, was amazing. Exhilarating. And it left both of us incredibly proud and happy.

For the first time, we walked from the car to the field without needing Ladybug’s canny collar. FIRST TIME! Yes, she pulled a little bit, but oh well! She managed! She was a bit excitable during class, but we got to stand near the other dogs! She even had a play wrestle with an adorable lurcher, Pluto. His mom was all gooey saying they should get married and have babies. LOL! They were sweet together and wanted to have a good run/play/wrestle. It was too bad we were near horses in another paddock, or we might have let our pups have a play. She also had a sniff of a cocker spaniel (I think? I still don’t know too much about dogs). It was great being able to chat with some of the other mums instead of just being on our own.

Our first task was the agility tunnel. This time, it was extended about twice as long and weighed down with sandbags. I was a bit uncertain looking at it, as Ladybug took some time getting used to it two weeks ago. But the attitude of the class is to try lots of new things without worrying about getting everything right, so we did. Ladybug sniffed it, said nope, and turned right around. I tossed her favorite stuffed toy halfway into it, but she was too spooked to get it. She did go after a treat, but it was hard to throw a treat in very far. Then she got so bouncy and excited (maybe trying to make sure I wouldn’t leave her, or just overexcited after a full day’s rest yesterday after flyball) that we stopped.

(Later, I brought her back to the tunnel. She discovered puddles in the other side of the tunnel, and that changed her mind! She licked first one and then the other, and pretty soon she’d worked herself all the way down the tunnel. Then she went back in and through the entire tunnel a second time! Just like our last class, when she was too scared at first but then was fine as soon as she’d had a bit to think about it.)

Next was jumping! Yes, actual jumping! The poles were so low that they nearly touched the ground, but there were four of them in a row (similar to the flyball setup). I had to get Ladybug to sit and wait, and I tossed her toy across two of the poles. She was supposed to run ahead of me toward the toy. (“It’s to work on their drive,” our trainer said.) She needed a quick treat reinforcement to remember to wait, not run after her toy as soon as I threw it. ๐Ÿ˜€ She also was a bit uncertain whether she should run over the poles or dash to the side instead. She had a blast, though! She got so excited that she ran around shaking her toy.

(In what’s become our pattern, I asked her to do the exercise again when people were working on other equipment. She got it perfectly on the first try, and we did it two more times! I couldn’t believe it. Jazmine said that Ladybug just needs some time to think about something before she does it. Ladybug is soooooo much like me that it’s scary.

I wonder if her personality was always like that, or if she’s become like me? Or maybe it’s the hospitalization and illness that makes her tentative? She was both curious and scared as a baby, though. She shook all over and was afraid of everything when I first brought her home. Hm…I suppose it can also be my feeling more confident when I guide her the second time, when no one is watching. She really surprised me by flying over the poles perfectly. I mean, that was real agility! Yes, only tiny baby steps, but still. Wow! Look at my little bug go!)

The last exercise (well, the last one we had time for) was the seesaw. I was a bit nervous as, well, it wobbles! And it’s narrow. But Jazmine had secured it so it didn’t move too much, and the objective was simply to interact with the edge of the seesaw. Putting a paw on it, taking a step, anything. I lured Ladybug onto the seesaw a few times (forgot her clicker in the car, oops!), and she was unfazed. I knew she’d like climbing, but I thought the sound would scare her. Nope!

We didn’t have time to practice the weaves (well, super early introduction to the weaves), so instead we did the tunnel and poles while waiting for others to do the weaves.

The class was over far too soon. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ I wish we had agility more than once a week, even if it is a long trip. It was such a pleasure to have a stress-free and fun class…and to see Ladybug run! I could not believe her running over the poles like a pro. Yeah, compared to competitors it was nothing, but this was my little baby! I was so impressed. As we went home, I kept telling her how proud I was of her.

Just think. My little scaredy-cat, desperately ill and clingy/whiny baby, ran over four poles to grab her toy. She didn’t stop, get confused or worried, or get scared and run back to me. (She hasn’t liked it when I leave her anywhere, even if it’s just a few feet for a few seconds.) The work we’ve done on sit/stay/run toward me has paid off…and now she’s even willing to run away from me!

Another bonus: watching her work for a toy, when in the past she’s wanted her food rewards. I don’t mind her eating food treats, but it gets hard to balance her nutrition when she won’t work for kibble. Plus, sometimes when I’m unlucky, her food treats during class will make her refuse to eat a real meal later. Today, she just had a few teeny-tiny treats (bits of leftover pizza crust, LOL!) and the rest of the time was spent cavorting with her toy. She thought she got the better end of the deal! I may have to get a spare toy or two in case that one gets lost or damaged.

The little puppy wonder came home, had a glorious sniffy walk in the park (chased dandelions!), ate a huge dinner (yay!), and fell asleep. She’s been asleep ever since.

So proud of my sweet girl. Seeing her learn new things is amazing. How far we’ve come in just three classes! I can’t wait to see what she’ll continue to learn.

She may never go to Crufts, but she’s already my star.

We no longer hate flyball!

How’s that for a ringing endorsement? ๐Ÿ˜€

It should be seen as one, though! After our first experience, I swore off the sport for good. Ladybug and I did not have a gentle or pleasant introduction to the wild world of flyball. In fact, the experience was so negative that I wasn’t sure I wanted to even watch in the future.

I was roundly criticized for that post, and I received hate mail calling me ignorant. Some condescendingly told me that yes, it WAS important to give small treats. For reference, the typical treat I give Ladybug for training is 1/3 to 1/2 the size of my pinky nail. Hardly big. And anyway, what I feed my dog is between her vet and me. Sheesh! Others speculated that I must be a quitter at everything in life, and that I clearly had no idea about dogs in general. They suggested issues with my parentage, my upbringing, my general mental health status, and basic intelligence.

I was also condemned for putting people off flyball and chastised because people might read my post and become turned off.

Hm…maybe flyball clubs that treat people inappropriately put people off, and not the people who write blog posts about their experiences?

Here’s where our story takes a plot twist.

A friend heard about our experience and asked to connect me with her friend who has collies and does flyball. (Hi, Deborah!) I didn’t think there was any possibility of considering flyball ever again, but what did I have to lose? I said a grateful thank you and received the introduction…and made a new friend! (Hi, Margy!) Then I was connected with the flyball representative for my geographical area, and she put me in touch with the captains of three flyball clubs close(ish) to me. (Hi, Sam!) One had practice tonight, so Ladybug and I made the trip.

Let me tell you…it was the world’s worst day to visit a flyball club. I’m still shaken from a near-accident yesterday, and a visit to the vet has put the Dreaded Spaying Specter closer than I want to acknowledge. The vet and I discussed various options to manage/minimize Ladybug’s risk of reaction to the anesthetic. She will be on an IV for the procedure, of course, with a full bloodwork panel afterward. She may need to stay in the hospital overnight for close observation and IV treatment.

This shouldn’t be a life-threatening procedure. But, in the worst case scenario where everything goes wrong, it could be.

The thing is, my dad’s final procedure wasn’t supposed to be life-threatening, either. He could have opted against the transplant and taken the chance that his cancer wouldn’t come back for a fifth time. If it did, he had no treatment options. So he chose a transplant in the hopes it would eradicate the cancer once and for all.

Instead, it killed him.

No matter how much progress Ladybug has made (and she’s come immensely far!), she is still at risk. It’s a miracle she’s still alive. The anesthesia should come out of her system without irreparably damaging her kidneys, but there are no guarantees. I can choose not to have her spayed, but she can’t afford to be off her food for a month twice a year. Plus, pregnancy would probably hurt her health more than she could tolerate.

It was in this frame of mind (and, of course, with the fresh memory of our first horrendous experience) that I brought Ladybug to our first recommended club visit. I was exhausted, in pain, anxious, and stressed because I wondered what kind of welcome we would receive. The practice would be outdoors, which was a plus, but it would still be a whole lot of strange people and dogs in an unfamiliar place. Honestly, I wondered why I even bothered. She has agility, scentwork, and maybe puppy yoga. Why was I pushing flyball when we’d probably be told again she’d never manage it?

Boy, was I wrong.

Was she a superstar who flew through the exercises and proved her readiness to compete?

Yeah, right. ๐Ÿ˜›

But…did anyone grab her, shake her, get in her face, call her aggressive, or say she’d never be able to do flyball?

Nope!

In fact, the team went very far out of its way to make sure she ended the practice on a high note. She got to run after a tennis ball (puppy ecstasy!) within the safety of a netted area. Even when she managed to jump over a lowered corner and I panicked (fell head-first in my terror she’d run out into the road), multiple people reassured me that it was okay (even though there were dogs training right next to us, and she was rushing to join them). “Don’t panic!” said a cheery team member. “If she runs out, act like it’s no big deal and tell her to come back.” “Mine does laps around the field,” said another.

New British-ism: ZOOMIES. It’s the best word ever to describe, well, border collies. ๐Ÿ˜› I think it means when your naughty dog gets the irresistible urge to run, run, run no matter what you say or do. I also think it means that adorably satisfying moment in the park when your dog meets another dog, they like each other, and they run in sheer exhilaration.

In other words, Ladybug. ๐Ÿ˜€

Ladybug and I were joined by two other newbies, which was lovely (strength in numbers ๐Ÿ˜› ). One was practically perfect on box turns (a slanted box that holds a ball for the dog to fetch)ย  (Hi, Kubo!), and I got quite nervous and worried. Ladybug had already barked at one of the team members (who remained calm, but I still worried as a few barks had gotten her expelled from the other flyball club), and there were a fair number of people standing around the chute (a beginner’s version of the box that doesn’t hold a ball). Kubo was perfect on his turns, and the level of corrections for his mum was intimidating. Give the command sooner, step with your leg this way, arm this way, etc.

I was struggling just to visualize Ladybug remaining calm on her leash in the midst of that many people, let alone following me in a complicated dance! Iย knew she couldn’t do it. I don’t mean pessimistically I didn’t believe in her, but it was too much too soon. I wanted to practice having her run toward me in the netting enclosure because I knew she could do that.

When I was told to get my dog ready, I was extremely worried. Ladybug came with me much better the second time, and she had a polite sniff of a dog or two. I had her favorite toy in the world (because she’s only allowed it rarely) as an enticement, and she was beside herself at getting to play with it.

The problem was that we’ve practiced the 2 on 2 off for agility (back feet on the A frame with front feet on the ground), and it’s hard for her. I may be training her wrong, but she’s not getting it. This was even harder. I was supposed to plant my foot in the middle of the ground in front of the chute (slanted box) and guide Ladybug to go up onto the box, around and over my knee (all four feet on the chute), and then come back down onto the ground. There was a certain number of steps to take, in the right order, with the correct leg in the right position.

I was also worried because Ladybug hasn’t completely outgrown her baby upset at getting things wrong. She does well most of the time, but that’s with me reassuring her. I was so worried about my part of the procedure that I couldn’t give her reassurance. So, that made me worried she’d get upset if she failed. The very worst is when she goes still, hunches over, and gets quiet.

It was too much for her and I knew it, but I didn’t know what to do. I was also scared to death she’d bark and someone would shout at her, insult her (and me), or, even worse, grab and shake her.

(The person who grabbed and shook my dog has a lot to answer for. Not just for the wrong action in the heat of the moment, but for allowing her proxy to publicly chastise me for having an “aggressive” dog and imply that Ladybug would eventually be killed for her aggression. And to end the “friendship” rather than admit she should not have attacked my dog, or at the very least agree never to touch my dog in the future.)

And, of course, this was only my second experience with flyball. The very first flyball person we met took one look at her, terrified her, and sneered at both her and me. We’ve been judged enough, thank you. It was a huge deal to show up at another flyball club, and honestly I would have considered it a victory just to do that. Just to make myself go, just to get her onto the field, and to experience the environment was about all I had hoped for. I did hope we’d get to run a bit to practice recall in the netting, but I wanted extremely tiny baby steps. We’d trusted the first flyball club lock, stock, and barrel…and look where it had gotten us.

Ladybug barked at the man trying to help us, and I panicked. He said it was okay, to let her go at her own pace, and to allow her to bark and approach him. The more she barked, the more scared I got. Not at/of her, but at what the others might do. Before, Ladybug barking at someone was given as justification for terrifying her and telling me that she might be killed for being aggressive. The last flyball person told us her barking meant she was aggressive and could never do flyball. And that I had done a terrible job of training her (not in so many words, but the implication was clear).

Then someone else came up and tried to give suggestions, and Ladybug started barking and lunging again. At this point, I was in tears. I just wanted everyone to leave us alone and wished we’d never given this miserable flyball a second try. She’s doing well in scentwork and agility, so why force this onto her?

That’s when things changed. Once I was able to be clear that I didn’t want her doing something so complicated, the pressure was dropped. And I was told in no uncertain terms, several times:

NO ONE will touch your dog.

No one.

She’s YOUR dog. I don’t touch her. No one will touch her. No one will get in her face. I talk to you, not your dog.

It took a few repetitions, but after it was pointed out to me that no one had tried to touch her or get in her face, and no one would…I started to calm down. “She’s not aggressive. She’s not upset. She’s just being a collie, and this is what collies do. She’s confused because she doesn’t know what you want.”

See, I trust my dog.

Other people, not so much.

Once I understood that no one would lay hands on my dog, no matter what, I could begin to trust.

And Ladybug, trusting me, relaxed.

We worked on baby things, like getting her to pick up her toy and hold/tug it. Praising her. Getting her excited for her toy. Getting her to focus on me.

Things that she has done since babyhood–but not on a field full of strange people and strange dogs, in a strange place with strange expectations. Playing with her favorite toy made her happy, and I was happy because she was safe. Or as safe as she could be.

Then we had the best part of the night, playing in the netted enclosure. This was very early practice for running up and down the relay lane, but without obstacles or a ball box. She got quite anxious at first because she wasn’t sure if I’d abandon her, but a few tosses of the tennis ball reassured her. We were there to PLAY BALL, and mummy wasn’t going anywhere! Yippee! We had a few games of chase/fetch/catch, and she got bold enough to run away from me to a team member at the other end.

She got so confident that she leaped over the netting and darted toward some other dogs.

She wasn’t one bit sorry, either! LOL!

I’d been so edgy all day that I raced after her (well, after falling onto the ground first) and held her in my arms as I shook all over. Even though she’s never snarled or bared her teeth at another dog, let alone tried to bite or fight, so many people have accused her of aggression that it’s become one of my worst fears. What if she does bite another dog and has to be killed? I’d die. I’m not being melodramatic. She’s all I’ve got, and she’s the only reason I have to live right now. What if this escape was the one time she bit a dog, and all the threats people have said came true?

The people who’ve told me for the past year what crap I am at raising my dog have a lot to answer for.

What actually happened?

Everyone told me not to worry, they helped me get her back into the netted area, and a couple of people helped in case she jumped out again. We had a few more runs with the tennis ball, and she jumped and barked for joy on our way out.

In a two-hour practice with quite a few dogs, we received an amazing amount of help, instruction, and attention. I suspect this isn’t the norm (if it is, wow!), but it was a lovely introduction. The other flyballers (hm, are flyballers the people or the dogs? Both?) were kind, compassionate, and patient.

Most of all, the promises I was given came true.

No one touched my dog unless she and/or I gave permission. No one shouted at her, insulted her, kicked her out, or judged her. She was a very young collie doing what very young collies do, and we could take all the time we needed until she was ready.

“My dog took three years!” said one team member, when I asked how long we’d have to get used to everything.

“You never have to compete if you don’t want to,” assured another. “If your dog gets so good at it that you want to have a try, great. If not, that’s okay, too.”

“The first competition is with netting, in separate lanes, with starters,” said someone else. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but it sounds like there’s a flyball equivalent of training wheels for the first competitions. ๐Ÿ˜€

A club that is willing to invest time and resources in an anxious, scared dog (and puppy mama) who may never help them win at a competition…

A club that never says, “We could use a collie” as if her worth is based on stereotyped assumptions of her ability…

A club that patiently lets her bark and immediately changes its training tactics when it’s too much for both of us (without reproof or criticism)…

Well, that’s a club that I want to join.

We are going to visit a couple of other clubs that Sam recommended, as the biggest drawback about this one is distance. I’m quite excited to see more than one club and learn how different clubs operate. I’m guessing that with any other type of organization, each group is a bit different with a different culture. This one seems like a great fit, but we have a few more to try.

If we’re extraordinarily lucky, we’ll have the difficult choice of which one fits best.

But if neither of the other clubs work out, we’re still okay. I could see us going to this club weekly and loving it. If I go next week and say, “I want to let her sniff the chute and put her paws on it despite the distractions of people around her…without any of the complicated stepping stuff yet,” I suspect that we will be allowed to do just that. I think I’d like to try some free shaping with her on the chute as she does get more confident when I allow her to make a lot of mistakes without correction, and then I reward her the second she does something right (I didn’t see anyone use a clicker…I wonder why?). She’s much quicker to keep trying when we do that method, rather than me trying to get her to do something really specific.

If I had more experience and I knew exactly what my body needed to do to guide her exactly the right way, I think the method we were shown last night would have worked. It worked for Kubo. (Teacher’s pet. ๐Ÿ˜› ) But given how hard we have to work on focus and calming down despite distractions, I think being able to reward her for anything and everything even close to box turns will help. She loves being praised, almost even more than treats and toys. If we can set up the box turn in absolutely teeny-tiny micro steps and make sure she succeeds immediately (no matter how small), she will love it. She loves getting anything right, and she loves learning something new. (She is soooo my dog, lol!)

She loves “touch,” our command for putting her front paws on something. I’m sure we could get her to do “touch” with the chute, and then maybe slowly shape her to touch on the left side (I think she’s a right-handed turner, as she always turns to the right when she sleeps. She turns much better to the right when she spins for agility, too). I’m not sure how you get from that to climbing up on the chute, but I’m sure the team will have lots of good ideas.

Once I can communicate just how slowly I want to go (super slowly!), I think it’s going to be great. Scentwork was set up with micro-steps, and she ended the class begging for more. She nailed everything almost right away, got confident, and loved every minute. Even if agility is a bit harder, she loves it. Watching her go from being scared at the tunnel to shooting through it (in just a few tries!) was amazing.

A lot about flyball will be out of my control, such as whether we will have transportation. But if all the stars align and we are able to continue, I’ve got a good feeling about this.

We no longer hate flyball.

And I’m quite excited to see where this leads.

Thank you, sweet and kind angels, who gave us this moment. Thank you for showing me that there are strangers who will look at a scared, nervous puppy and her mama, and help rather than judge. Be kind rather than criticize. Teach and encourage, rather than sneer and dismiss.

Because at the end of the day, this is for my dog. I will do anything to see the look on her face while running after the tennis ball last night.

WHEEEEE!

Surrounded by people she didn’t know, dogs she hadn’t gotten to sniff/play with, and unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells.

I LOVE THIS!

Whatever it takes, that look is worth it.

I want Ladybug to be a happy, fulfilled little dog. More than anything in the world, that’s what I want.

And it looks like we’re going to make some new friends along the way.

 

 

 

On having faith (life lessons from my puppy)

It’s been a h*ll of a week. Month, year, two years, decade, life.

But no matter what difficulties I’ve gone through, I look at the sweet face of the puppy I get to call mine.

This little soul, who has only been in this world just over a year (one year as of last week!), has gone through more trauma than most people in their entire lives.

She left the only world she’d ever known to go to what was supposed to be a loving, safe, and stable forever home with a forever family.

For the next few months, she had the “ordinary” (we wouldn’t call it ordinary if we forced human babies to go through it, or maybe we would–just look at kids in foster care) adjustments of learning how to live in her new home. But she had a lot more.

She was shouted at, kicked, shoved, held down against her will, and given constant mixed messages. This would result in more shouting. Worse, she was allowed to stay alone but was not given consistent training in how to be trustworthy on her own.

Due to circumstances outside of my control, I had to flee the house many times for my safety. I thought that she would be safe, but she was not. When I had to live apart from her due to safety issues (I mistakenly thought that she would be safe where she was), I held onto the tiny hope we would someday be reunited.

When we were reunited, it was for the worst reason imaginable–she nearly died.

Those ten days that she spent in the hospital, and the weeks and months afterward when we weren’t sure if she would make it…

No matter what she endured, she still wagged her tail.

Offered me a lick.

Even when she was weak, dizzy, confused, and in pain, she still tried to stand up and lick me whenever she saw me.

She never once got angry with me for abandoning her (when I fled for safety) or failing to protect her (when I’d said from the beginning that I’d only get a puppy if I could make sure she was safe for life).

When her world changed yet again, first to live in the hospital full-time and then to be discharged and move to a new home with me, she had more challenges. The first nights and days were a blur of pain, fear, and crying. She was terrified whenever I left her (even to go to the bathroom), and I quickly learned to give her warning whenever I’d get up or leave the room. If I didn’t coax her to accompany me to the kitchen or the bathroom, she’d panic and cry as soon as I was out of sight. She refused to eat, and I spent most of my waking hours cooking for her, trying to hand-feed her, putting away the leftovers, cleaning up, and comforting her.

In those first few weeks after she came home from the hospital, we probably didn’t get more than one hour of sleep at a time. I’d wake up in a panic sure she had died in the night, and she’d wake me up crying for cuddles and reassurance.

Never let anyone tell you that dog emotions aren’t real or that they don’t matter as much as humans’ emotions.

Three months later, there is a good deal of hope simply because she’s still here. She’s put on a little weight (that took blood, sweat, and tears!), we’re walking regularly, and she’s branching out into new activities.

Yet the signs of trauma are still clear.

Some, to be honest, I admit that I like. She never used to let anyone get close to her while she slept, but now we cuddle together every night. I loved hand-feeding her (but am glad she has mostly weaned herself to eat on her own). I love that we are so amazingly close that I can read her a lot better now, and I love that I feel more confident caring for her. (She almost died, but I’ve nursed her back to as much health as she has now, so I must be doing something right.)

Most of all, though, she’s shown me that I can be happy.

If she can almost die but still find love and joy…

If she can be betrayed by those she loved and trusted…

And if she can wake up each morning eager for WALKIES and ZOOMIES and sniffing all the yucky stuff I wish she’d put down, not to mention chastising the delivery and mail people who DARE to intrude…

Well.

I want to be more like her.

I want to wake up each day eager for a new challenge, new love, and new zest for life.

I want to be able to love and trust, no matter how badly I’ve been hurt and betrayed.

I’m watching my puppy, and I’m learning from her.

(Except for rolling in poop.)