Faith, Trust, & Foster Pups

Helping dogs on the road to forever, forever finding ourselves as we walk that road with them.

1 Comment

The Art (and Heart) In Fostering A Shy Dog

Suga now proudly holds the title of our longest reigning foster, having stayed put at the Heun Homestead for exactly 4 weeks and 1 day. Previously our longest fosters had hung around for no longer than two weeks (I think Loopy was 2 weeks and 3 days, still within the 2 week realm from a technicality standpoint). While thrilled when a foster gets adopted and heads on down the road to their new forever, I do have to say that it’s been nice spending a little more time with our most recent house guest. Mostly because when a dog gets adopted that quickly, there is little a foster can say about the progress made in such a short window.

Sure, you see little things as they get comfortable in a home. Like Nina came to us too frightened to walk on a leash, but with the help of a harness and a friend in Ollie, she quickly came around. Loopy didn’t want to walk up steps when we first got her home, but thanks to some time and some treats she got over that minor speed bump. 
But Suga is different. We’ve actually been able to see the strides she is making in her time with us. Too scared to take treats or even move on that first night, she found a safe place on the stairs and hung out there quite a bit the first day, then a little less the third and fourth days, then almost not at all. She has gone from nervous curiosity to enthusiastically seeking attention and cuddles. From not going to the bathroom at all, to a daily accident, to going to the door when it’s time for a potty break. Running and hiding from Ollie’s attempts at play, to chasing, wrestling, and playing with toys with, and in the quiet hours, snuggling with him. They actually oftentimes opt to sleep in the same crate at night, and it’s pretty freaking adorable. All of us have had to work to earn her trust to get where we are now, but it’s been heartwarming to see her get there, and has made us feel pretty good.
Of course, there is still progress to be made. Yesterday we took Ollie and Suga to the dog park and she made an attempt to escape under the gate (she obviously failed under my watchful eye) and after some time hiding under a bench at my feet, ended up acclimating well enough. But it was a reminder that there are certain things still very much beyond her comfort level, and they may always be, and that’s okay. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to increase that comfort level.  Adoption events are one of those things beyond her comfort level. But we are working to support her with being as comfortable as she can be when outside her comfort zone, all the while making sure she doesn’t think we are putting her in danger. Losing that would only set us back, so we must make sure we work to maintain it as we did to earn it.  But she does trust Nick and me to keep her safe at this point, so our goal is to do what we can to increase that confidence that she exudes at home outside the home. 
Nick was gracious enough to give up his Sunday and handle her today at our adoption event, and while she wasn’t exactly having the time of her life, she looked much more calm than she had at previous events when being handled by a stranger. 
Nick was also able to advocate for her, and while nothing’s ever certain until that adoption questionnaire comes in (and still not even truly certain until the screening and home visits are complete and the contract is signed), there was a woman who seemed like a good match who was interested in her after chatting with us, and promised me an email. So paws crossed!
There’s a balance, and an art to working with a shy dog, and we tell our adopters this. We know we’re supposed to teach a dog not to jump up on you. But when that jump on you is a sign of comfort and confidence, it becomes a little more difficult to say “off” at first. A normal impulse is perhaps to expect love at first sight with a new dog, but shy dogs make you work a little harder for their love. And they have every right to. It’s reasonable to want your dog to not run and hide from, or bark at the neighborhood children. But if your dog is scared of the neighborhood children, it’s unfair to put them in a situation that makes them uncomfortable (and although a cute 6 year old little girl has her feelings hurt when you politely tell her not to pet an adorable pup you’re caring for, she will have forgotten about it by tomorrow).  
So while we patiently wait for a forever family willing to toe that line of knowing that Suga’s fears are normal, while also allowing her the opportunity to overcome them, we will continue to do that for her. Whether it’s one more day, one more week, one more month, or…well….you get the idea. 🙂