Midway into our second week with Shelby, and she's almost through with her heartworm treatment. In just a couple more days she won't have to spend almost all her time in the box, and I'll be able to get a much better sense of how she behaves in a more normal home environment, with a greater degree of freedom... provided, that is, we still have her.
Shelby's officially available for adoption starting this weekend, and I'm torn between wanting to keep her a little longer for training and wanting to send her off to a real home as soon as possible. We're getting to that awkward middle stage where the foster dog wants to be loved like a permanent dog, and I won't/can't do that because I want the dog to bond completely with its new people and not get too attached to me, and it causes woe and sadness to us both.
This stage sucks. So, because I want Shelby to be happy, I want her to go home soon, because the sooner she finds a real home, the sooner she has that loving bond -- which is what all the foster dogs really want, and which is the one thing I can't give them.
BUT she's almost totally untrained. Ordinarily, by the end of the second week, a foster dog would know several commands and would be fairly adept at walking politely on leash. Shelby has zero behaviors on straight verbal cues (she Sits on command, but that's only because she has learned to default to Sit for everything, including prolonged eye contact; she has no idea what the word "Sit" means or how to differentiate it from any other word, whether it's "Down" or "Heel" or "Rutabaga") and is pretty bad at leash walking. She doesn't pull too much, but she does tend to zigzag in front of her person, making it very easy to trip over her if you aren't watching where both you and the dog are headed.
These deficits are entirely my fault, of course. Shelby is a little slower than average to grasp verbal cues -- she's very smart, but seems to have a particular mental block about connecting "person says word" to "I do a behavior in response." Give her a hand signal, and she's got it down at lightspeed. Spoken words take longer for her, at least right now. My expectation is that once she figures out the concept, subsequent cues will go much much faster, but that idea hasn't quite clicked into place yet.
And that's because she just hasn't had enough practice, and the reason she hasn't had enough practice is because I've been focusing most of my attention and training time on Dog Mob these past few weeks.
Normally my training priority is (1) Pongu; (2) foster dog; (3) Crookytail. Lately Crookytail has taken the #2 position, leaving the foster dog as priority #3. So Shelby's been getting shortchanged, and that's why after nearly two weeks she has no reliable verbal cues.
So to the extent that I want her to have a better headstart when she goes to her new home, I'd like to keep Shelby a little longer, because then I can make up that deficit. (Whether this is actually necessary depends on the home, of course; many adopters are happy to do the work themselves, and some don't think it's all that important for their dog to know Sit or Down anyway. But then there are homes with first-time owners who work and have kids and don't have time to read a dozen training books. If knowing a few basic cues helps a sweet-tempered adult dog get into a good but busy home, that's an option I'd like my fosters to have.)
In the end, we'll just have to see what happens: whether the right home comes along, when they feel comfortable taking her, and what degree of training they expect their new dog to have.
And the truth is, for at least another week and a half, I'm not going to be fully focused on Shelby anyway, because Dog Mob's got a competition coming up, so this might be the one time I have to suck up my pride and send a foster dog home not knowing a whole lot more than she did when she arrived.
Oh well. At least she's gotten a lot healthier. Shelby's still skinny, but it's more on the lean side of normal than "oh my god somebody get that dog a sandwich." She still coughs, but not that much and not that hard. So I've done her that much good, even if she still only knows how to Down on a hand signal.
It's something, I guess.