Tale of Tails: Maggie May – Part 2
We went looking for more information about Maggie’s background to see if it could help us help her overcome her fears. Unfortunately, the rescue couldn’t tell us much. Maggie had been through one adoption already and had been returned. The rescue said it was due to too many grandchildren in the home, running around and scaring her. We were quick to learn, it wasn’t just kids, she was just fearful of most everything.
Working with our trainer we slowly tried to get her acclimated to our home and our lifestyle – which was pretty calm and even keeled. We took her for walks each morning although she had clearly never been on a leash and knew nothing about a nice walk. We closed my office after dinner so she couldn’t escape into her safe zone, she had to be in the living area with us. And, Steve, well for now he just had to steer clear and give her plenty of warning when he was around. We focused on building self-confidence.
After the first few days – of starving herself – she started to eat – although she wouldn’t eat from a bowl, only a flat plate. Our trainer thought it was probably related to some battles over the food bowl in her previous situation and she had plenty of battle scars around her face and neck to show she’d been bitten. She still wouldn’t eat if Steve was around. We tried having him just sit in the vicinity and then slowly move closer and closer. That took days to get her to eat while he was in the room – she’d be nervous and anxious and looking over her shoulder the whole time even when I was sitting right next to her.
We slowly worked up to the point where he could put her bowl down and then leave the room and she’d eventually eat, once she was sure he wasn’t coming back. Then I had the brainstorm to feed her outside and that worked immediately – Steve could feed her and come back inside and the openness of being outside and him being inside was enough to get her over that hurdle and she started eating with gusto. Thresholds are a challenge, so being on the opposite side of a threshold seemed to calm her.
She loved her big brother SlimDoggy Jack…he still ignored her, but she took to him and used him as a shield, a guide post, an intermediary. If Jack was doing something, then it was probably okay for her to do it too. Steve could call Jack over for some belly rubs and Maggie would actually come over too. She wouldn’t stay long, but with Jack as her shield, she would allow a few pets.
She would allow me to take her for walks and even runs, but she still refuse to let Steve take her out alone, she would just go on lock down. Her rejection was breaking his heart and we agonized over what was best for her – would she be better off in a home with no males? Our trainer reminded us that maybe she’d have a home without a male presence, but she’d still have to learn to deal with men and her
other anxieties out in the world. She seemed unhappy to us – she never looked at us or came to us, her ears were always back, her tail was always tucked between her legs, she barely looked like a Lab, and if she wasn’t eating or out walking, she was in her bed…her safe zone.
Then one day we decided to take the dogs to the dog park. We don’t do it often as Jack can be a bit reactive sometimes. But we thought it would be good for both of them. Maggie really took to it. She didn’t really interact with the other dogs, but just seemed pleased and content to be there amongst them.I’m sure it reminded her of the ‘puppy farm’ where there was probably plenty of dogs around. The trip was such a success, we decided to have STEVE take her to the dog park – alone – without me or Jack and see what developed.
It was an amazing success and a real break through. She loved being at the park and equated that fun with Steve, so she would let him get her on the leash, get her in the car and off she’d go. She loved being with the other dogs and even the people at the park. She never stayed too long with one person, but would sit and look around and then move on to the next group. This truly was a breakthrough for her. We did that regularly for several weeks and she really began to transform.
Stay tuned for Part 3 and see how Maggie is doing now after 9 months with us.