Tale of Tails: Maggie May – Part 3
Maggie has been with us for almost nine months now. We can truly say she is a different dog. Mind you, she still has her moments when the fear takes over and she shuts down, but they are fewer and farther between and she recovers from these much more quickly.
So how did we do it? It’s slow and sometimes frustrating work – that truly never ends. As I wrote about in our last post on Maggie, the dog park visit was a break through. After that, she seemed to kind of settle in. She became accustomed to the rhythm of our household and our routines. It helped that we walk or run the dogs without fail each morning. We both work from home, so we are around the house most of the day, every day. We don’t have a huge family that visits frequently, so there are few strangers to deal with. All of these factors helped Maggie settle in and grow her self-confidence.
A big part of her recovery was her big brother, SlimDoggy Jack. He is not a playful dog, nor does he have much time for other dogs, so he pretty much ignores Maggie. But she worships him. She follows him around, sniffs what he sniffs, eats what he eats and if he thinks that Steve is okay, then she thinks he is okay too. At first she wouldn’t go to Steve unless Jack was there, but slowly and surely she learned that going to him meant neck scratches and maybe treats. She now regularly visits his office on her own for a snack – particularly at dinner time.
Maggie was severely underweight when we got her – probably by 10 lbs or more. An oddity for a Lab, but reflective of her life as a breeder mom. After the first few weeks of wariness, we began to feed her outside and her guard dropped completely. She began to show her true labby love for food. She didn’t know what to do with treats like bully sticks, but slowly – after watching Jack devour them – she learned. She had some teeth pulled before we got her, so chewing some things is difficult, but she tries most everything now – loves carrots and has even eaten broccoli!
We used the SlimDoggy iPhone App in the opposite way with Maggie then how we used it with Jack who needed to lose weight when we got him.
We had it guide us to how much we could feed her in order to pack on a few lbs. She’s up about 10lbs since we got her and is looking fit and feeling healthier! She can even go on 2-3 mile runs with Steve & Jack and loves running on the trails near our house. Well, the truth is she loves sniffing all of the outdoor smells there are to sniff and exploring the great outdoors.
We also do a lot of challenge toys/games with the dogs. Toys where you put the food in little compartments and they have to figure out how to open it to get the yummies. She was pretty scared of them at first, didn’t quite know what to do with them but now she can beat Jack at some of them. We also play ‘find the food’ where we scatter/hide kibble or other treats around the front yard and they have to sniff them out. This is a favorite game of Maggie’s and all of these are great mental exercises for them.
Walking on a leash was also a challenge for Maggie. She had obviously never been on a leash before and didn’t really know what to make of being tethered to me. Jack walks perfectly on the leash (after plenty of work) so it was tough to try and walk them together! I walked her on a long lead for awhile and then slowly reduced the lead length until she became accustomed to being by my side. This slow method allowed her some of the freedom she craved, and let her build some confidence with being outside while I slowly got her to the position she needed to be in – next to me. I can now walk the two of them at a pretty close heel without any problem.
Maggie is truly a different dog then she was. Don’t get me wrong, she still has her moments where she scampers away or ducks if you move to quickly. She doesn’t like being in an enclosed space without easy access to the exit route and she always keeps an eye on Steve’s position so she knows exactly where he is. But instead of running from him or shutting down, when she hears that backdoor open – which means a potential adventure – she races to that door and bolts out of it like a bullet. This is night and day from when we practically had to carry her out the door just to get her to do her business. She’s been a real challenge, but as Steve says, she set the bar really low, so every little inch forward seems like a huge success to us!
Our next hurdle, hopefully the final one, is to get her to play. Neither she or Jack are playful – so odd to see retrievers not show any interest in chasing a ball, a stick or anything. Neither of them have much interest in water either. So we’ve enlisted the help of a trainer and I’m hoping that even though they are both in their senior years (8 & 9) they can still get over their pasts, let down their guards and have a little fun!
We will keep you posted.