Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sad Dog in the Box

It's now been five days since Stella came to stay with us, and Pongu seems to have decided that the newest addition to Team Stupid is his favorite so far. He clearly likes her more than he did any of the other foster mutts, except Gremlin toward the end, and it took Pongu much longer to warm up to Gremlin than it did for Stella. (Of course, Gremlin was a lot growlier.)

Stella went to the vet yesterday and we learned that she does not have ear mites. The black gunk in her ears is some kind of fungus/yeast crud instead. Still means I have to squirt her ears twice a day with one bottle o' goop and clean them out every other day with a second bottle o' goop. FUN. But at least this stuff is less contagious, so I don't have to do Pongu too.

I haven't started formal training with Stella yet. We're still on basic life manners: potty training, walking down the street without freaking out (I'm not even really focused on loose leash walking or attention games yet, I'm just trying to get her to go through doors and past other people without putting on the brakes and pancaking), waiting patiently for dinner instead of whirling around in glee like a beagle-tailed dervish.

Everything is going well. There haven't been any accidents since Day One, and Stella seems to have more-or-less grasped the concept of "pee outside NO NOT IN MY HOUSE GODDAMNIT," although I have learned to be cautious in my optimism about these things. But she is learning very quickly. She can now mostly go through doors without too much coaxing, although she still stalls a little on the last glass door that goes out to the street. Dinner manners... well, that's a work in progress. But she's making progress, which is the important thing.

Still, it's been a reminder that 90% of fostering is about patience, humor, and humility. I think it's been extra jarring this time because I've been working pretty intensively with Pongu on intermediate-to-advanced freestyle stuff... and then I come back to Stella, who is so clearly overwhelmed by processing everything in her new environment that I backed off teaching Sit after the first day. She is a sweet, sweet dog -- and really funny once she relaxes enough to clown around -- but it causes me a little mental whiplash to go from one mutt to the other.

And it's been a reminder, too, that while every foster pup goes at her own pace, the basic pattern stays the same.

Crate wailing, for one thing.

It's been my experience that foster dogs go through two, sometimes three, stages with respect to crates:

(1) Sanctuary!! (Optional) - The dog is so shaken up by the chaos of moving that it's just incredibly relieved to have a crate as a designated "safe spot." Dog huddles in crate and occasionally ventures forth to explore, but mostly sticks close to home base. Not all dogs go through this stage -- confident ones may never feel like they need a hidey-hole -- but Stella spent her first couple of days here.

(2) Sad Dog in the Box - Dog begins to feel more comfortable in the new place and affectionate toward its new people, and decides: I like you! I want to be with you! nooooo don't put me in the crate nooooo I want to sleep under the bed too whyyyy

So this is what you get: a Sad Dog in the Box. (At this point many people with just one resident dog give up and let the dog out of the crate. Not an option with fosters, alas. But you'd be amazed what they can do with earplug technology these days...)

...obviously, this is where we are now with Stella. (Pongu's all "yup you are definitely stuck in there! Welp, sucks for you.")

(3) Resignation/Acceptance - As the dog learns that it's not going to be locked up in the crate forever (and, indeed, spends less and less time confined in there as potty reliability improves), the wailing gradually goes away and is replaced with quiet resignation (although Gremlin continued to give us guilt-trip stares and pointed sighs forever).

So I know that eventually the mournful songs of the Sad Dog in the Box will fade off into memory... but for now we get nightly serenades, and every day around 10 pm I get to be really grateful that the new owners of the condo next door haven't yet moved in.

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