Welcome back on this wonderful Tuesday! Tuesdays are going to be a bit of a sharing and/or random day for us here at The Love of a Dog. Sharing because I’ll be opening up about the struggles and successes that we’ve been having with Miss Xeva, and random because, well, I’m random. On days when there isn’t much to share about our resident trouble maker, I’ll just find something fun to put up for you all
So. Trials and tribulations.
We’ve had a rough road with Miss Xeva in the last couple of months and it’s been paved with a lot of tears, kleenexes, and hard work. We’re still a work in progress, her and I are, but we’re slowly making those steps of progress forward.
Until she was about 9 months old, my little gal was friendly towards everyone- adults, children, babies, dogs- you name it and she loved on it. We took her to a show this February just to spectate and she was doing fine- minimal barking at all the excitement, fine with meeting all the people, all in all, not a big issue.
But by this point, whether we had realized it fully or not, our girl had taken a hard turn on us.
It’s a turn that we’re still trying to pull her out of.
This happy and friendly girl that used to give you kisses and want to play constantly suddenly no longer behaved like the pup that we had known. She lunged and barked at other dogs. She lunged and barked and snapped at people. On more than one occasion, she nipped at my brother and his girlfriend while camping.
The worst was a dog show that we had brought her to in March. Looking back, it was probably the worst thing we could have done for her, but you know what they say…Hindsight is 20/20.
That morning was the worst I have ever seen her. She was way over her threshold and was overstimulated by everything. Every dog, person, cart, everything. Mind you, this was at about 8 in the morning. The show hadn’t even begun. There were hardly any dogs that were really out and about. She was beyond all recognition of the dog that I knew her to be otherwise.
That day was probably the worst day I have had to date since she entered my life, save for saying goodbye to my old man about a month after bringing her home. Standing outside in the grassy back corner of the President’s Hall at the fairgrounds, I was reduced to tears. Yet again, I mourned the loss of a dog. Even though she was still with me, I felt everything that I had hoped to do with her slip completely out of my hands. All the accomplishments and training I had planed with her, gone. After all, how can you title a dog that can hardly be touched, let alone be around other dogs?
I felt the loss of the dog that she could have been that morning. The loss of everything that I had hoped she would be. And I cried. Lord, did I cry. It hurt so badly, to finally be able to have a dog to feel that bond with, to work as a team with, and have that opportunity ripped away. So I stood there with her as she alternated between barking and lunging at the dogs in the distance, and looking up at me with a confused expression.
Why is she upset?
Why isn’t she playing with me?
Mommy, why won’t you pet me?
I couldn’t. I was not prepared in any way to handle a dog that was as reactive as she was that day. All the confidence I had had from years of training my old man fled. I had never before dealt with a dog that was so far over the edge, let alone one that was mine. Disney had his bad days too, of course, but they were never so bad as what I was faced with there. In its own way, it was as though I had lost a dog all over again.
But in the end, I couldn’t give up on her. I thought then that she would probably never be the show dog I had intended her to be. One day, perhaps. But that day was most likely many years down the road and still is. I decided that if it ended up being that, if she couldn’t be fully or mostly pulled out of it, it was the least I could do to protect her for the rest of her life. But I couldn’t give up on her. I refused to believe that the sweet and loving puppy that she had been only a few months ago was truly gone.
There was one person who stood firm by our sides as we started down our new path. Our trainer, Noel, the same one who had worked Disney and I through so many little issues and problems over the years, now stood beside us while we faced a new challenge. She believed wholeheartedly that Miss Xeva could be helped and that one day, she would be able to do everything we had hoped for and more.
And so the retraining began.
Looking back, we dove into the new work with tenacity. We purchased just about every book on Behavior Adjustment Therapy (BAT) that we could. We took her to training just about every night, even if it was just to stand with her in the back of the room, teaching her to look at the dogs and activity around her and to observe it without barking and lunging. I poured every ounce of love and encouragement I could spare into her.
Gradually, we began to see a change.
She began to relax more in classes. Before, the motion of dogs moving around her was too much. She would lose all sense and just bark at everything. Now, she still barks from time to time, but for the most part, she can watch the other dogs moving and be calm, glancing up at me when she feels she’s seen what interests her. She can work around other dogs and ignore them. Slowly, she has begun to relax around people again. Not much, but enough to visit with Noel when she invites her up and accept loves and pets from her. She can go up to Noel and nudge her hand for treats, balance on a stability ball, do paws up, and do almost everything in the Pre-Novice Obedience class minus the Stand for Examination. She rarely barks at people anymore, but we have yet to begin introducing her to more people than Noel and Mike. That step is still much further down the path.
We’ve had our baby steps backwards since we set down this new path. They were to be expected. But never again has she been allowed to get anywhere near crossing that threshold that she had gone over that morning in March. The memory is still painful and I still find tears coming to my eyes at the reminder of that day. I wanted so badly to be able to show with her while she was young and to start off completely from scratch as I had begun to, but I found myself going in an entirely different direction than I had ever imagined.
I refused to let that puppy that she had once been go entirely. I can’t bring myself to believe that the dog that was once so happy and friendly is truly gone. She is still ridiculously friendly and loving at towards my family, Blake, and I, and loves to bring Branden and Amanda her toys when they come over now. I can’t give up on bringing her back to how she was, and even if she never fully is able to be that dog she once was, I can’t give up on her. Slowly but surely, I can see the dog I had hoped to show one day emerge from the shadows once more.
We still don’t entirely know what caused this shift in her. Her thyroid had a complete panel done on it and came back normal. Her hormones could have caused it since it was near the time of her first heat and she is only just coming up on her second. It may be that her body simply hasn’t regulated its hormones yet and she just has an overabundance of them. It may be that the lack of self confidence that she has is part of what triggered this. It may be some cause that we will never know.
But, she is making steps in the right direction, as are we. I do know that much. It hasn’t been an easy path thus far, nor do I suspect the coming months or years will be, but I know that I will work her through this as best I am able. Slowly but surely, I see the goofy dog that she had been start to emerge. She plays during trainings and she is getting better every day, and even when there are moments that she has a small step back, she has been able to be pulled through and continue on. Gradually, I feel hope return that one day, all of our training in Rally, Obedience, Agility, and eventually Herding, will come to fruition. We focus on the activities that involve just her and I right now rather than ones that require a group as Conformation does, and I see her start to shine once more. Her confidence is returning and her drive to learn and please is going strong. As long as we keep moving forward, I have no doubt that one day, we will be able to step into some kind of ring and be able to show together.
So, dear readers, that’s what has been going on in the world of Miss Xeva. It’s been rough and there have been more tears than you can ever imagine. But it’s the path that has been given to us. I promise to keep you all updated with our journey, the good and the bad, in the hopes that it serves as hope and encouragement to anyone out there who might be dealing with a reactive dog as well or just needs encouragement as they go through training with their dog. There is hope, truly there is. Just be patient. Understand that there are going to be ups and downs, and sometimes those downs are massive and the ups so small they can barely be seen. But be patient. Take your time and never lose that hope for as long as you are able. It isn’t easy, nothing good in life ever is, but I promise you, it will be worth it one day.
With much love,
Anastasia and Miss Xeva