Monday, November 3, 2014

Three Days With Silver

It's been three days since Silver came to stay with us, and she's starting to emerge from her shell.

I'll be honest: the first 24 hours that we had her, I was a leeetle bit underwhelmed with this dog. Silver was super shut down and pancake-y when she first arrived. On the ride home from Newark, she just sat on the far side of the car seat by herself, showing no apparent interest in engaging with me or looking around her surroundings. She flat-out refused to go down the dark scary stairs in the parking garage (we ended up having to take the freight elevator) and she wasn't a whole lot more enthusiastic about the stairs in the condo.

She just had no confidence whatsoever. And while this is not at all unusual, and plenty of our foster dogs have been pancake-y and overwhelmed those first few days, it does make for a tough introductory period. Silver was initially so withdrawn that I wasn't sure what to expect from her. I try really hard to avoid picking shy or fearful dogs -- the whole reason I got into fostering in the first place was to ensure that other adopters didn't accidentally wind up with their own little Pongus -- and for a minute there I was worried that I might have gotten one.

Happily, I was wrong. On Sunday, Silver started coming out of her shell. She got over her terror of the stairs (thanks in no small part to Crooky modeling casual confidence for her and showing that the stairs were not, in fact, a secret treacherous deathtrap for unsuspecting dogs, but were actually a great way to coax cookies out of me). She got more comfortable about walking on leash outside.

On Sunday night I took her out to the parking garage to run around with Dog Mob. I had to go out there anyway to do some agility homework with Pongu, and I figured it would be a good opportunity to let Silver blow off some steam by slamming herself into the concrete a bunch of times (...or something).

Mostly I just wanted to see what she would do without much guidance from me. What were her natural inclinations? Did she have the natural impulse control to hold a basically untrained Sit with the other dogs nearby? Would she follow me around the parking garage if I dropped her leash and didn't do anything to coax or cajole her either way? What kind of dog did I have on my hands?

Here's how that went:

Silver held a completely untrained Sit-Stay for five seconds, with other dogs nearby, knowing that those other dogs were (nominally) available to play with (although not really, as the video shows). That is amazing. To me, a dog who can do that right off the bat on her very first try, with zero formal training on Sits or Stays or anything else, is a remarkable dog.

Then she played with Crooky (Pongu, as usual, wanted no part of this frivolous nonsense). Good enthusiasm, a little uncertainty, a lot of rolling over and other appeasement signals. This was their first time playing together, though, and she consistently went back to re-engage him and didn't seem overly stressed or worried, so I view that as a very promising first session. A few times Silver ran back to me and dodged Crooky around my legs, which I also interpret as highly promising (since at this point we have no real relationship).

She did follow me around the parking garage unprompted, even while playing with the other dogs. I never had to chase her down to get her back at the end of each play session; she came back freely each time, even with no recall training.

It was a good session. Silver was a little squeaky and protest-ful when I tied her to a pole so Pongu could do his agility homework, but nothing terrible.

On Monday I took her out for a 90-minute walk around Old City and Society Hill. Silver is very good at walking on a loose leash now; she stayed by my side almost the entire time with no pulling except once when she wanted to greet a puggle (which I didn't allow because I don't want to start setting a precedent where she thinks she gets to greet every dog on the street. Noooo. We ignore the other dogs on the street).

Then we went home and I let her sit around on the deck while I harvested one of my fabric pots full of carrots, because she hadn't pottied outside and I was resigned to letting her go on the deck just to get it over with before I left for work.

She never did, though. She just lazed in the sun and watched me.

Carrots: not very interesting to the foster dog.

So that's where we are heading into our first week together. I'm hoping to be able to start formal training soon. I did a little introductory clicker work during our walk, but out on walks is not the optimal environment to introduce that concept, and until she gets more reliable about pottying outside, we can't do a whole lot of work inside.

Hopefully soon, though.

In the meantime she's turning out to be a pretty great little dog. Easily engaged, enthusiastic, fun and playful, but content to lie around patiently if I'm not actively trying to do stuff with her. Highly dog-social, but good at turning that on and off.

She'll make a really nice dog for someone.

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