Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Etta Gets A Name

It's been a few days now and Etta -- the little dog formerly known as Eldwin, Eldwina, and/or Eledwyn -- is rapidly improving. She's regaining her health and rebuilding her strength, and her energy level is increasing by leaps and bounds.

Best of all, she has a great home waiting for her.

I wasn't sure this would happen -- much less that it would happen so quickly -- because I pulled Etta from RCAS without a plan.

Whenever possible, I prefer to have an adopter ready and waiting for a dog before I commit to pulling that dog from a shelter. That way, I can work with the adopters to find a shelter dog that they like, then foster and train that dog for a set period of time until the adopters are ready to bring their new pup home. Everyone's expectations and timelines are clear, removing a lot of uncertainty from the process. This is, to be sure, a considerable luxury, and I don't always get to do it that way.

In this case, I had no adopter lined up for the dog who would become Etta. I had no idea how long she would be here or where she might go. But she was on her last day at the shelter, dogs were dying all around her, and I couldn't leave her any longer, so I pulled her anyway and blindly hoped for the best. As soon as I made the commitment to take her, I also asked my rescue group to list her on Petfinder, hoping that she'd draw some notice there.

And she did. Even before Etta arrived in Philadelphia, several people inquired about adopting her. Two days after she got here, she had a new name -- Etta -- and a wonderful home prepared to take her.

She's a lucky little dog.

On Friday she'll go home. In the meantime, I'll do my best to teach her some of the foundations she'll need to live happily and politely with people.

Training got off to a bumpy start, because initially Etta was too starved to concentrate in the presence of food. She would drive herself crazy trying to grab the lure out of my hand, and although she gave up on attacking my hand fairly quickly when it didn't work to get the treat, she couldn't focus on doing anything else.

I spent a couple of days trying to capture a Sit, but capturing is not an optimal method of working with a dog who has absolutely no concept of human-directed learning. In my experience, capturing can be very effective with a dog who's already familiar with clicker training, but it doesn't really work if the dog doesn't know what a click means yet. So we weren't making a ton of progress with capturing Sits, even after I used name recognition exercises to build up Etta's "click = reward" association.

Yesterday brought a breakthrough. Not on the capturing front (that still hasn't really worked out for me in this case), but in Etta's ability to focus on a lure. She'd finally gotten out of starvation mode enough to concentrate with food around. So I reverted to lure-reward training and within two sessions I had a pretty good Sit on verbal cue.

Socially, Etta's doing quite well. She's beginning to engage with Dog Mob a little more. This clip is from this morning; while she's still somewhat tentative in her interactions with Crookytail, she's definitely warming up to him. It probably won't be much longer before I have to start discouraging play instead of encouraging it, so as to keep her from straining her stitches. But for now, it's good to see her starting to make friends.
Finally, I've discovered that Etta loves running. Her adopters plan on taking her jogging with them, and while it will probably be a few more weeks before Etta is healthy enough to keep up over any real distance, I'm working on getting her comfortable with the idea. She still has her spay stitches in and isn't allowed to do any strenuous exercise, so we jog for only one block at a time, then walk two blocks. Jog half a block, walk two blocks. And so on. Etta is very good at keeping a steady pace and position on leash while jogging, and she gets SO happy when I call out "ready! ready! goooo!!" to signify that we're about to pick up the pace. She puts everything she's got into running, and she's always sad when we slow back down again.

Soon, I hope, she'll be able to run to her heart's content.

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