Friday, February 1, 2013

Penny Lane - Week One

We've had almost a week now with Penny Lane and I'm starting to get a better sense of who this golden girl is.

First and foremost, she is a loving dog. She has the golden retriever's love of people through and through, and she absolutely craves affection. I always say that the foster dogs want to be loved more than anything else in the world, because it's always true -- but Penny Lane takes it to a new level. She is so starved for love that she yearns toward any stranger on the street who seems likely to give her a smile.

After several days of practice, she's gotten better about yanking me toward them and trying to jump on them, but this is still a continuing project. I don't scold her for trying, because the girl just wants to be loved and there's no sense yelling at her for that. It's enough that her attempts don't work (because I reel the leash in short and hold her close by my side), and that she gets praise and a cookie for walking past people calmly. Already the intensity of her behavior is way down and she only does it to about half the people she encounters, instead of doing it 100% of the time. With another couple weeks of consistent work, and (more importantly!) a stronger relationship with her handler, I anticipate this will cease to be an issue.

She continues to be a quiet dog. She hasn't barked and rarely squeaks; when she does, it's because she's sad about being in the crate. However, she generally settles down within a few minutes. If she doesn't, it's because she has to potty and needs me to take her out -- a warning that I very much appreciate!

Penny Lane is not housebroken, but it won't take long to teach her this (in fact, I only figured out that she wasn't housebroken last night). I think the only reason she isn't there already is because she is such a people pleaser and so hesitant to give the wrong answer that she just holds it and holds it and holds it as long as she can. She only potties once or twice a day, and it's been hard coaxing her to go more often.

As she gets comfortable that some specific area is an approved potty spot, I expect this problem will also vanish pretty effortlessly. Right now, the big hang-up seems to be that she doesn't want to disappoint me by going in the wrong area, so she just won't go at all until she absolutely has to. But this means that she's not going potty inside, either (and certainly never in her crate!) so there are lots of worse problems to have on the potty training front.

The only other training issue I've noted is that -- unsurprisingly for a dog who spent some time on the street and, during the few weeks that she lived inside a home, did so with 40 other free-roaming former street dogs in a totally unstructured environment -- Penny is not only a counter-surfer, but prone to jumping on any and all comfortable furniture (beds, couches, etc.) with no sense that she might not be allowed on something. Again, this is a minor thing and easy to fix, and not something that all adopters would even find inappropriate, but for a foster dog it's not a great habit to have.

Mealtimes are becoming a bit of an issue. She isn't eating much, and that's worrisome because she was already underweight when she got here. The last thing she needs is to lose more weight.

I suspect what's going on is that Penny Lane is depressed because, as a foster, she doesn't get as much freedom or affection as Dog Mob does -- and she sees it, and she knows it, and it makes her sad. She'll happily eat any treat that I feed her by hand. Freeze-dried raw food patties, liver treats, buffalo braids, she'll take 'em all.

What she won't eat, after the first couple of days, are regular meals inside her crate. Penny is getting the same food as Dog Mob -- Acana kibble mixed with either high-quality commercial canned food or home-cooked "dog stew" -- and while she seemed to enjoy her food the first couple of days, she barely touches it now. She'll nibble at it as long as I sit near the crate, but if I get up and go, she stops eating immediately.

I might think she had some kind of food sensitivity except that (a) Penny gets a different kind of food at every meal, so a food intolerance doesn't really explain the behavior; and (b) her appetite really seems to be linked to my proximity to the crate. She only stops eating when she's isolated.

She doesn't show any other signs of separation anxiety, though -- no whining or stress signals when I leave to go to work. I honestly just think she's sad about having to eat alone in her crate. At her next mealtime I will try feeding her together with Dog Mob and see if that helps. This is a little risky insofar as Pongu can sometimes be a dick to other dogs (growling at them and stealing their food) but it's better than Penny just refusing to eat.

We haven't made a ton of progress in formal training yet. She recognizes and responds to her name about 70% of the time, and she has learned to recognize both the clicker and the verbal marker "Yes!" as cues that she's about to get a treat (I don't know if she's made the connection that a correctly performed behavior is what causes the marker sound to occur, but if not, she's close to it). Yesterday I got two lured Sits for the first time in three sessions, so we're probably close to a breakthrough on that one. Not on cue yet, though -- we're still just getting into the lure-reward stage.

As I noted earlier, it's apparent that nobody has ever even tried to teach Penny anything before, so she is really coming at this from nothing. In light of that, she's learning at a reasonable pace. Once the concept of learning-how-to-learn comes together, I expect she'll pick up on new concepts faster and faster.

And she's very socially adept, as demonstrated in this clip of interactions with the guinea pigs and Dog Mob:

Later today she is going to the vet to get that front left paw checked out, and on Sunday she may be headed out to an adoption event, hopefully to find a forever home.