Babe's first month in her new home in California

As many of you already know, "Baby" came to Lisa King in April, when Lisa rescued her from an animal shelter. Baby was in bad physical shape, but her mental condition was particularly bad. She was terrified of people and huddled in the corner of her pen when Lisa went to pick her up. The animal shelter staff would not release her to prospective pet owners, but only to a qualified rescue organization. Lisa rushed over to get her, because Baby would certainly be euthanized otherwise.

Lisa had Baby for about 8 months, and brought her back into good physical condition. Lisa also made important progress with giving Baby a place of safety and taming her. It took over 6 months, for example, for Baby to play with a toy and with other dogs, for Baby to take food from Lisa's hand and for Baby to enter her kennel with Lisa standing by the door. In one magic moment on her way back from the veterinarian (where she was spayed for her trip), Baby came up to Lisa in the dark van and put her head on Lisa's lap. Still, Baby could not walk on a leash, nor would she let any person approach her, much less approach anyone herself under ordinary conditions, even Lisa. She was still not adoptable, and Lisa was uncertain what her future would be.

I heard about Baby from Lisa when my old rescue collie died, and I wanted a new project, a really difficult rescue case, an unadoptable dog that virtually everyone else had given up on. Lisa had just the project for me in Baby. We made many plans and arrangements, and thanks to the generosity of many collie lovers (including Lassie Network, representing the most famous collie of all!), Baby flew from Colorado to her new home with me in California on December 5, 1998.

We knew that Baby would regress a bit here, but overall we were optimistic that Baby was physically and psychologically ready to be pushed, and brought into the life of a normal pet dog. When I first saw Baby in her crate at the airport, she did not look terrified at all. She was right up at the front of her crate, peering out the door. I was even more surprised that her crate was clean, as her intense fear had caused her to lose control of her bladder and bowels before. All seemed to go very well with Baby's big trip.

When we got home, I knew that she was wild and that I had to be very careful how I let her out of her crate. I knew that I couldn't open the crate until we got home inside a locked and secure fence. I wanted to open the crate in my front yard so that Baby could come out and look around before my other 3 collies mobbed us. I opened the crate and she burst out, pacing the yard and fence like a wild coyote. I could see right then and there that things were not going to be easy.

The first day was hard for everyone. I had to figure out how to manage a wild dog in suburbia. The whole idea was to have Baby live in a house and become a pet. How do you get a dog that has no relationship with people whatsoever to do simple things like go outside to potty and go back in the house again? Lisa had said that she could be corned and carried around, so that's what I did. I got her in the house, and then I put a collar on her. I then tried to get her out the back door using a leash. She was terrified of being on a leash and bucked and hanged herself on it like a roped calf. Still, I gave her the idea that I wanted her out the back door and away she went. Once outside she was not interested in potty at all, but paced the fence with great agitation, trying to find any hole to get out. Luckily all of my fences are good and very high!

I chose a room of the house that was used little to set up her crate and bed, assuming that she would want a place out of the way allowing her peace and safety. Surprisingly, she chose a corner of my bedroom on Lady's bed (one of my other collies), for her safety. That was just fine with me, as I wanted her in my bedroom where she would share our "den" and be in a higher traffic area. Also, the bedroom had a convenient door to the outside.

Baby spent the first week plastered into that one corner of my bedroom. All she did was get up and turn around, except for 3-4 trips outside to potty. She is a very smart dog and quickly learned the routine. I made this easier for her by sticking to a very strict, predictable routine so that she could feel secure and she could know what was expected of her.

I also spent the first week clicker training her (see Winter Collie Connection), which she took to very rapidly. In fact, at the end of her first month, she was doing so well in general that I wanted to stop the evening ritual of hand feeding her her food and clicker training her to do something in the process. However, Babe (as we now call her) has other plans! This seems to be our special time together and Babe doesn't want to drop it yet.

I decided that each week Babe would have to do something new and scarey, something that once she mastered it would increase her confidence. I picked things that would also help her adjust to life as an ordinary pet dog. So after the first week of her sticking to her corner, I decided she needed a change of scene. So I shooed her out into the living room, where she took up in her now special crate in that room. When she tried to escape back into the bedroom, I blocked her way with baby gates. She now prefers to be in the living room where she can watch all the activities from the safety of her crate.

The next week was a really big week, as it turned out. I decided that she would learn to ride in the car and go see my mother and her two collies. This week happened to be Christmas, with my family converging from around the country to stay with my mother. I assumed all along that I would leave Babe home during this frantic time, but much to my surprise, Babe did very well with her first car ride and she felt safe and secure in my mother's house. Perhaps it was the crowd of collies (6 in all!) or perhaps it was obvious to Babe that my mother is a true animal person and could be trusted. I found that Babe trusted anyone who completely ignored her and avoided eye contact with her--and people sensitive to animals seemed to sense immediately that is what Babe needed. One of the "safety places" Babe chose at my mother's house was this spot by the dinner table, curiously right in the middle of the family's activities.

This week was full of astonishments, too many to relate. Babe and CharlieIt ended on Christmas day with Babe sitting on the couch with my brothers and sister, in the midst of the action and frenzy of gift opening, a location that she herself chose.. Babe even begged for food from the table! She learned all the routines quickly and made herself as manageable as a dog who won't walk on a leash can be.

I still was carrying Babe everywhere, because each time I tried the leash, it was a disaster (using a halter instead of a collar made no difference). On the last day of Christmas festivities, I wrenched my back badly (finally) deadlifting her 50 lbs of weight. She was not easy to pick up, as she tried to make herself as heavy as possible. She often lost control of her bowels in the process--we'd find little bits of squashed dog droppings in the oddest places. She had mostly stopped that until I had to ask my sister to carry her because of my back. I got home that night and said to Babe: "It's a new week, and your next assignment is to walk on a leash!" I just couldn't lift her anymore until my back recovered.

Next morning was agility lesson for Kallie and Lady and I thought Babe should go too. To my great surprise, for the first time Babe ran out of the house into the front yard on her own, without the wrestling and carrying, as if she'd understood what I said the night before. I put her on a leash and two collars, a flat collar and a Barbara Woodhouse choke, as I didn't want her to hang herself or hurt herself, nor did I want her to escape. The choke collar was the back up collar in case she slipped out of the flat collar. I put her on a leash, and she walked out the front gate with the other dogs!

From that moment on, Babe walked on a leash. It was shaky at first, but she was very sensitive to hitting the end of the leash, and she wanted to avoid that. She would walk with me as long as the other dogs did too. That day I took her to the park where we do agility and I ran her on a long line. She desperately needed much more exercise than she was getting, stuck in her corner and her crate, and this was the way to get it. This week was vacation between Christmas and New Year's and we went every day to a park to walk Babe and run Babe on a long line. During our runs Babe seemed to burst with joy, loping with a huge smile on her face and barking excitedly.

By the end of this week, she was a pro at leash walking. The next weekend I took her for a long walk in town on an ordinary leash and her Barbara Woodhouse choke--it has huge links, and so is safer in my view should Babe panic and try to hang herself. But Babe was fine and walked on a leash better than my other dogs! She never ever pulls, but stays close to me with a lot of slack on the lead. We walked by many terrifying things, such as a man with a chainsaw cutting trees, people raking leaves, cars and trucks zooming by, barking dogs in front yards and behind fences, a park with people playing tennis--the worst was a family playing with model airplanes. My other collies acted as if nothing was there at all each time Babe encountered a new terrifying thing, so Babe's fear subsided to manageable nervousness. She even took food from me in several strategic places such as next to the family playing with the airplane.

This week held other amazing accomplishments for Babe. I took her daily to parks with people and dogs, including my agility class. She allowed strangers to approach her and even went up to one and sniffed his outstretched hand. She took food from strangers, too (dog people carrying their training bait). She seemed to trust children and people with puppies. One day I put her in a wire crate to watch our agility class. I had mixed feelings when she barked with excitement whenever I ran one of my dogs on the course--then she caught on and barked during everyone's run! She also barked and wanted to join obedience training, as my dogs showed her what great fun it obviously was. She seemed to open up during this week and show much more enjoyment of life.

Babe and the other collies beggingOf all the adjustments Babe had to make as a house dog in suburbia, begging from the table was by far the easiest. Babe is the sable in the center, second from right.

I've joked that Babe is nearly a normal dog or will be next week--well OK, I exaggerate. But now that Babe accepts the leash, I run her with my other collies 1-2 miles a night so that she can get the exercise that her frayed nerves need to calm down. Each step I ask myself, What does Babe need to be able to do to improve the quality of her life? and Can we get there from here? Her next task will be very, very hard for both of us--she needs to come when she is called. She still cannot be caught if she is off leash, and now that she is less afraid, it is much harder to catch her. I am afraid that if she should somehow get out of the gate or out of my truck, there is no way to get her back. If she is feeling sufficiently trapped, she can chew through a leash or long line in about 3 seconds--faster than I might be able to run over and stop her. I am not at all sure how to proceed, but she needs to learn that I am safety and she should not run away.

Click here for more progress on Babe's recall!

In the first month, Babe has made remarkable progress, however, and we are much farther than I thought we'd be. She seems happy sometimes and certainly spends much less time afraid and agitated. After watching her for a month, I have concluded that something really terrible happened in her puppy hood. She shows all the signs of a dog not nurtured as a pup between the critical 5 and 8 weeks, not by humans and not even by her dam. Perhaps she was a semi-feral ranch dog, perhaps a puppy mill dog. Babe is still a very lonely dog imprisoned by fear. But her progress so far has been steady, and I hope that she can get even better with continued work.


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