Bret and I have never been so proud to fail at something!
On January 3, 2015 Bret and I became official “foster failures”. We are so proud to introduce Turnip Halverson…he is now part of his forever family. Turnip has been a joy and also a challenge for our home. Anyone who knows me… knows I love a challenge… also that I have a knack for falling in love with dogs who need a little extra help figuring life out.
Turnip was so painfully shy when he came here. It took quite a bit of time and patience to win his trust but eventually we did. He came here as a foster because he was struggling to make connections with humans at his first foster home. The day I met him all he did was pace…. back and forth…over and over…the pacing continued here for several days. Even corralling him in and out of the house to potty was a bit of a challenge as he was terrified to walk through door ways with a human present and he didn’t want us to touch him.
Every time I meet a dog I believe I can help in some way I am repeatedly thwarted by the magic influence dogs can have on each other. After a week or two Turnip adjusted to the most basic elements of life with our pack. He followed the lead of our dogs (my labs especially) and figured out meal routines, potty routines, sleeping routines and finally that it was safe to approach us.
Anytime Turnip made a new leap …like walking up the stairs for the first time (he was terrified of the stairs) or getting in and out of the car without me having to carry him (he was terrified of the car)…Bret and I would brim with excitement and pride. Our most recent big excitement has been Turnip’s walks. Turnip is afraid of everything…a blowing leaf, a passing car, a garbage can. Raising his comfort level to walk in the neighborhood has been no small accomplishment. I attribute most of his success to my labs…who walked flanking Turnip for weeks…up and down the same streets…now a clicker and a few pieces of meat are all that is necessary for Turnip to venture out without the labs and stay relaxed.
Turnip was not neutered when he moved in…he had been too sick to undergo the surgery. For me, having an intact male in the house was something new…I have always had rescues that came neutered or spayed. This raised the challenge a bit as Turnip wanted to mark EVERYTHING and he was having trouble (at times) getting a long with our other dogs. (He was the instigator of several squabbles that ended with me getting bitten.) I used Simple Solution belly bands for the marking situation…I tried a few brands and this seemed the most comfortable for him and by far the most absorbent. They are easy enough to wash (though I wouldn’t recommend putting them in the dryer). After he was neutered I used the umbilical cord technique to potty train him…which only took a few days…we have not had any problems since. His play style with the other dogs improved significantly after his neuter as well and mom no longer gets bitten!
I used several proven techniques for working with shy dogs to train with Turnip. I am not a novel dog trainer…I rely on the wisdom of those who have many years of successful experience working with dogs with behavior challenges….Jen Severud (who was my mentor), Emma Parsons, Debbie Jacobs and Patricia McConnell. I use a clicker for just about everything I work on with Turnip. One thing that is particularly challenging with fearful dogs is getting them to generalize behavior (perform the same behavior in different settings). Using a clicker makes the process of generalization go much faster which significantly reduces the dogs stress in new settings. There are two things you will pretty much always find on me when I am out and about…dog hair all over my clothes (ish) and a clicker hanging from wrist!
I played a game called “touch” with Turnip…we play it still. It makes approaching new things a fun game for Turnip instead of a scary experience. Since Turnip is a very playful dog this has worked wonders. Another thing I made sure I worked hard at when training with Turnip is always making sure I am setting him up to succeed in his training. If I am asking my dog to perform a behavior and the dogs is failing…ITS NOT THE DOG! It is my role as his trainer (and well now his mama) to make sure that he is successful…if he is struggling with his training …I back up and revamp the situation to a scenario in which he can succeed…then work back up the difficulty more slowly.
The night before Turnip’s official adoption Bret and I became resolved to no longer speak of Turnip’s past in our home…this is the last time I will write about it too. Turnip led a hellish life for years…but that is not what makes him special…what makes him special is his fight…he is a tough dog who first survived neglect and abuse, then a horrible illness and then began fighting his way to learn to lead a normal life with a family. We won’t be looking at the old pictures…we won’t be recalling how badly he was treated…because it is all upside from here for him. Turnip’s identity now is one of a playful, energetic and affectionate (and even sometimes naughty) member of our permanent family.
I can’t end this post without calling out my husband. Turnip is terrified of men…it has been no small exercise in patience for Bret and Turnip to adjust to each other. It gets better all the time…due entirely to my husband’s huge heart and persistence. Turnip still won’t go in or out the door for potty if my husband is close by but he does hang out on the couch with him and eats out of Bret’s hands. The fact that my husband fell in love with a dog who still fears him is a testament to his heart. I don’t have the kind of husband who buys me jewels…but rather one that loves broken creatures and believes in second chances…I am so lucky!
This is a picture of me and Turnip at my desk. Whenever I sit down to write at my computer Turnip climbs on my lap and falls asleep…sitting up like this…it is so darn cute. I have figured out how to type with him on my lap…he has become my muse.
The last thing I will say about Turnip…he barks…Turnip was in the rescue process (fostered, hostipalized, etc) for about one year….that whole time no one heard him bark. Turnip has found his bark…he barks all the time now…I love the sound of him barking…he also howls now…every time the sirens pass our house…it is so cute.
I love the sound of dogs, the smell of dogs and the chaos that comes with of a house full of dogs…and I love Turnip.
I leave you with this picture of Buster…our other foster dog. He is also here because he has some behavior challenges…but he is making great progress too. The night of the party, with a few exceptions (like leaping on to the table of food) he behaved wonderfully and had a great time…so much so that he was caught dozing off with his party hat on.
Many blessings to you and yours and Rescue On!