Posting days: Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
I regularly report virtually all of Isis’s problems: self-harming rage spins, growling and snapping when groomed, fear of light and shadow and consequent difficulties with walking her.
But I seldom say what an amazing little dog she is.
From the moment she came, we only had one brief period of difficulty with house training. Although she had obviously not lived indoors before, had probably not even been indoors before, miraculously, she just seemed to know that there are certain duties which are not performed inside.
Her temporary transgressions were entirely my fault. One day I failed to realise that her barking was a request to be let out. She peed on the front door mat. I didn’t respond negatively, of course. She did it again. And again.
I hesitated to mention it to her, in case of causing offence. But as I returned the door mat from the washing machine for the fifth time, she approached. I lifted the edge of the mat up to her and she dutifully sniffed it. As she did so, I repeated, “No,” very firmly and emphatically, hoping that she might hear enough to understand. She looked thoughtful (I fantasised) but was not upset.
She has never done it since. Which I think is pretty amazing.
When she first began walking in the park, she backed away from contact with people or dogs. Then, after very careful, daily approaches from Gr., Be. and Joh., over weeks, she gradually accepted first their treats, then, very cautiously, little pats and sometimes rubs. Now she has accepted not only these three but their dogs too. She is confident enough to sniff with their dogs and to stand around next to them. In fact their presence can be reassuring for her.
Last Sunday, in Highbury Park, we met a dog walker who had met Isis some time ago and remembered how anxious she had been. After checking with me that it would be OK, she offered her hand to Isis for a sniff. Isis sniffed. Then the little boy who was part of the group held out his hand and Isis actually walked forward two steps to sniff it.
The lady was delighted and kept saying how wonderful it was that Isis just stood there calmly, close to the group, without cowering or trying to escape. Other people notice her ‘public’ progress much more than I do, of course.
I changed the grooming routine, only rewarding her after a few minutes of acceptable behaviour, i.e., no growling, no snapping. My response to any unacceptable behaviour is now to remove myself and the chance of reward immediately.
This morning, I worked for two five minute sessions in order to remove a matt from behind her ear. It took a lot of disentangling and even required cutting with scissors but she was brilliant.
The behaviour modification is showing good results for almost all of her daily routines – eating is still a challenge, but I am moving very slowly and cautiously with this as it is clearly a very fraught area for her.
If I’ve been out of the house she is always asleep when I return. I put my hand close to her nose and when she got the scent she stood up chirpily and set off to the back door. Out, please. Now she wags her tail and allows me a quick fuss first.
She had always appeared indifferent when she came across me in the house or garden. If I attempted to give her a quick pat she shook it off impatiently and skipped away. If she suspected I might detain her, she would growl or lunge at her tail.
But now, in the last fortnight, lovely things are happening. When we meet and I pat or stroke her, she stands still briefly and wags her tail.
Not the world’s most optimistic person, even I am beginning to think that now these changes are taking place, the behaviour modification work, alongside the anti-anxiety medication might help her to overcome the self-harming bouts.
That would be brilliant.
Isis came from the Aeza* cat and dog rescue and adoption centre in Aljezur, Portugal. For information about adopting an animal from the centre, contact email@example.com or www.dogwatchuk.com