Sunday marks one full week that Kira has been with us. During her first week, I have tried to leave her alone as much as possible to allow her to acclimate to her new environment. She immediately found two ‘safe spots,’ one is in her crate in the living room and the other is outside under the steps on the porch. From these safe places she intently watches and studies everything going on around her. At first she laid like a statue, hardly moving even her eyes, but by the end of the week she was turning her head to see things and sometimes even sitting up to get a better view. Her expression is more relaxed.
She picks up routines extremely quickly and it is very important to her that things happen in the same order. She feels much more comfortable when she can anticipate what comes next. For example, she learned that going outside is the first thing that happens every morning. Halfway through the first week I was surprised to find that she had quietly followed me to the back door after I walked past her crate and said, “Good morning, Kira.” The first day she ran right into the glass of the sliding glass door and frightened herself, so I started opening the door first and then going back to get her and guide her outside. But this morning she had followed me AND stood waiting for the door to open! Tiny steps for a normal dog, but for Kira it was a huge step!
Because I hope that this blog will be useful to others adopting puppy mill dogs, I will share some of the ways I have seen Kira grow this first week. Much of this can be attributed, I’m sure, to the great work her foster family did with her during the first two months after she was rescued:
1) She occasionally walks calmly through the house to get outside (or back inside) rather than making a frantic mad dash like she did at first. There are lots of times when she gets halfway through the kitchen and suddenly panics and turns around to run back to her crate, but she is usually willing to try again after a while, with some gentle encouragement.
2) She leaves her crate to eat her food and drink her water. Both are only a few feet away, but for the first few days I hand fed her or held her bowl inside her crate for her because she was too afraid to come far enough out. Some puppy mill dogs will not eat in the presence of people, so it is very good that Kira is willing to take food from me and eat in front of me. Having Obi sitting where she can see him seems to prompt her to come out and eat, either because she feels more comfortable when he is near (which she does) or because she doesn’t want him to eat her food. It’s hard to tell which. He has never come anywhere near her food or tried to take it.
3) She is beginning to make forays out of her crate in the evenings to peek around corners or furniture and see where Obi and I are and what we are doing. These forays have never lasted more than 4 to 5 seconds, and she quickly spins around and dashes back to her crate, but she is curious!
4) She doesn’t show any signs of enjoying being petted.
5) She is now willing to go out into the backyard to potty every day. This one was a big challenge! Most puppy mill dogs will potty anywhere, but Kira would not potty at all!! The first day when she peed in the yard, I praised her by saying “Good girl, Kira!” and she interpreted that as a negative thing. I think she feels that any human attention focused on her is frightening and scary, even if it is positive, gentle and encouraging. She simply would rather have no one look at or talk to her at all. She doesn’t understand human words, gestures, or intentions and she reads everything as threatening. After that initial pee, she held it for TWO DAYS!! No pee, no poop, nothing, for 48 hours! She was eating and drinking normally. I was taking her out every 2 hours and even taking her out during the night and was beginning to worry that something was terribly wrong. I fully expected her to go in the house during the night, since her crate is always opened, but she never did. Finally, I tried letting her out and I staying inside. I watched her from the windows where she couldn’t see me. She furtively raced into the yard and went. Important Lesson #1: Don’t look at or talk to her while she is pottying!
I will also share one big mistake I made with Kira the first week. Even though I was trying to leave her alone and not push her out of her comfort zone, I was concerned about the potty training issue, so I was putting the leash on her and taking her out to the backyard and sitting out there with her for 10 minutes at a time. It’s important to understand that before she was rescued she had never had on a collar or leash and she was terrified of them initially. She is also terrified of the open space of the backyard and she feels enormously vulnerable and uncomfortable out there. I was asking her to face two things that frightened her very much! Initially, she would follow me whenever I picked up the leash, but once she knew what was coming, she started trying to get away from me when I picked up the leash. I took this as a definite sign that I had pushed too far. The last thing I wanted was for her to want to escape either me or the leash, especially when she had initially been so willing, so I immediately put the leash away. After a couple days I started at square one: put the leash on for a few seconds and give treats, put the leash on to go from one safe place to the other, more treats, etc. She seems to have recovered lost ground and is ok with the leash again. She has not voluntarily returned to the back of the yard and this is something we will need to build up to more slowly, once she is feeling more comfortable. Another lesson learned.