Monday, October 8, 2012

Getting to Know Shelby

It's been three days since Shelby came to stay with us, and I'm starting to develop a sense of who this little dog is.

Above picture notwithstanding, Shelby's an intensely serious and seriously intense dog. She rarely smiles; her default mode is to focus on doing things with total concentration, whether that's learning a new command or sniffing mysteries out from the ivy leaves on a walk. I'd describe her as confident, loyal, inquisitive, and perhaps slightly protective -- she hasn't barked or growled at anyone, but when we're out after dark and a stranger walks toward us, Shelby immediately goes on a subtle but unmistakable alert with her tail up and chest out, often putting herself between me and the approaching person. During daylight hours, however, she's much more interested in exploring her world and all its fascinating smells.

She's also affectionate and snuggly. Shelby likes to cuddle, starting by putting her head in her person's lap and then gradually crawling more and more of her body toward you until she's finally sitting on you. She actually seems to enjoy gentle hugging (most dogs don't) and will initiate her own doggy hugs by resting her chin on your shoulder and pushing into you with her forequarters.

She's intelligent and easy to train. Under normal circumstances, I suspect she's also a very athletic dog. Shelby would likely benefit from involvement in dog sports or some other ongoing challenge to stretch her mind and body. This is not a dog who would be content chasing the same ball in the same backyard for the rest of her life; to really be happy, she is going to need a home that can provide more variety and intellectual stimulation. Shelby needs a job to thrive, and I suspect she has the raw talent to excel at several of them.

 On top of the other observations, I'll add that she's a picky eater.

Shelby was severely underweight on arrival, yet right from the beginning she was very choosy about what she would and wouldn't eat. She is not interested in treats that aren't meat-based (peanut butter or sweet potato flavor? forgettaboutit), and is barely interested in the ones that are just "flavored." Freeze-dried liver and lung puffs get her attention, as does string cheese, but nothing less than the pure stuff will do.

She does not like plain kibble. I should note that Dog Mob is not eating garbage food; there's no Beneful in this house. They get good stuff: Acana, Orijen, grain-free Canidae. It doesn't matter; if it doesn't have a little bit of broth, canned food, or home-cooked dog stew mixed in (and I mean thoroughly mixed in -- if it's just spooned on top, Shelby will eat the yummy part and ignore the rest), Shelby won't touch it.

This doesn't bother me overmuch, because after years of living with Pongu the Insane, I am well accustomed to the quirks of picky eaters. Shelby's fussiness is nothing compared to Pongu's; she only needs a couple of spoonfuls of wet food or a splash of broth to make a bowl of kibble palatable. Plus, there are no health drawbacks and a couple of benefits to incorporating wet food into a dog's dry diet, so I don't mind accommodating Shelby's preferences at all. But she does like to have a tastier dinner, and her eventual owner should be prepared for that.

On the training front, all is going well. Shelby picked up Sit in just two sessions (and the first of those got cut short when Pongu decided to yell at her for invading his home and taking his person's attention, so it was really more like one and a half sessions).

I can't honestly say that she's housebroken (being on strict crate rest makes that impossible to determine), but I do think that she'll pick it up quickly and smoothly. She only needed one session of praise and treats to figure out where her potty spot was, and since then she's used it promptly and reliably.

Finally, I feel comfortable saying that she could live safely with children and other animals, provided everyone was properly socialized and respectful of one another's boundaries. Shelby is fairly tolerant of hugging and intrusive body handling, and her response if she's uncomfortable with something is to go somewhere else, rather than snarling or biting. She is appropriate with other dogs, and although she hasn't had much opportunity to play with Dog Mob, she'd clearly like to.

Shelby doesn't like to be bothered while she's eating, but as she gets all her meals in the crate, that has not been an issue here. She's curious about the guinea pigs and mesmerized by squirrels that she encounters on her walks, but her interest doesn't seem dangerous, so she would likely be fine with cats or other small animals in her adoptive home.

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