Friday, January 6, 2012

Finna's Second Month

Finna has lived with us for two months now and it's quite the ride. Sometimes it seems like we've adopted two dogs in one body. Can dogs have split personalities? There's the Finna that lays her head in my lap next to the cat and rests it there as The Great Catsby places his paw gently between her eyes; it makes me think of him blessing her. And there's the Finna that charges out of her crate across the width of the living room and into the atrium to bark ferociously at my husband when he picks up a plate my son left on top of the computer. There's the Finna that's trying so hard to learn leash manners and how to make U-turns so that we can stay out of trouble and there's the Finna that still wants to grab me by the coat sleeve and drag me where she wants me to go. There's the Finna that curls up in my lap like an oversized cat and there's the Finna that is intent on destroying every soft toy she can find.

We're still learning who this new family member is and how to communicate to her our desires and expectations so that she can live successfully as part of our family. As I've mentioned before in this blog, Ranger is a very effective communicator. He calmly and confidently states what he has to say in such a way that even us dense humans can understand. Finna seems to have learned that the only way anyone hears what she has to say is if she screams. Communication is really what it's all about. I want her to be able to tell me what she needs to feel safe and unafraid and I want her to understand what I'm asking of her so that she can succeed in her new life.

There are times when our communications work; when Finna shows me she's unsettled by what's happening in the house and that she'd feel safer sitting on my lap. This was the case Christmas Eve when her whole family sat in one room opening presents; this was new and unfamiliar and in her mind cause for concern. She spent the time sitting with me and observing. It was new and different to her but by allowing her to be where she felt safe and protected she could relax and not feel that she had to drive the scary thing away. She told me she was worried about this new behavior and I told her I wouldn't let anything bad happen to her and things went well. Finna sat on my lap most of Christmas Day as well keeping a close eye on my mother-in-law who was unfamiliar and unpredictable. There were a couple of incidents of Finna yelling at this strange intruder but we managed pretty well all things considered.

Other times I can't understand what she's trying to tell me. Finna still reacts badly to my husband on occasion. I can't tell whether it's because he has just done something that frightened her or whether she's decided that he's the one member of the household that she can bully or some of both. We're working hard with three techniques trying to make clear that "Dad" has every right to be where ever he wants in the house or yard and that he is a source of fun and pleasure. We're using Classical Counter Conditioning (CCC) and having Dad feed her yummy treats and play endless rounds of fetch with her (Finna has become a Fetch Fanatic). She's gotten to the point where she clearly recognizes him as a source of yummy things and that she needs to demonstrate some manners to get those yummy things but sometimes her approach leaves a lot to be desired. Usually she walks or trots to where he is and sits for her treat but sometimes she goes rushing into the other room barking and when she sees him walks over and sits for her treat. I admit I do not understand what she's saying about "Dad." I know her ears are a lot better than mine and assume he's made some sound that frightens her. I take heart from the fact that once she's in the room with him she generally behaves appropriately but I'm concerned about her desire to deal with things her own way. It's pretty obvious that Finna has never learned to trust humans to protect her so it's encouraging that she considers my lap to be a safe place but it's clear there's a long way to go. I much prefer Ranger's technique of fetching a human to help him address things that have him concerned to Finna's "I'll take care of this" attitude. Ranger's ways of dealing with things are appropriate and safe, Finna's are not.

The second thing we're doing is Abandonment Training. When Finna barks or growls or resource guards I say in a shocked voice "How rude" and everyone leaves the room. I had to laugh the first time we did this. I asked my husband and son to leave with me but Ranger and The Great Catsby accompanied us down the hall to another room. Poor abandoned Finna who has some separation anxiety issues picked up the chew she'd been guarding and brought it to where everyone had gathered before laying down on the floor at my husband's feet to chew on it. I should note that Finna does not resource guard from me or the two children. Her resource guarding is confined to my husband, Ranger and sometimes The Great Catsby. Ranger's technique for dealing with this is to give her a wide berth anytime she has something she might feel compelled to defend. He's clearly saying to her that he respects her right to whatever she has and has no desire to take it.  Of course anything that she has been guarding that is left unattended is fair game and he immediately picks it up and asks to take it outside where he buries it.

The third thing we're doing is making sure that Finna knows "Dad" is valuable. I spend time every day preventing her access to him by body blocking her so that she can't approach him. I try to show her that I respect him and value him and that he's worthy of respect. If she's decided that because he is absent more than the rest of the family that makes him less valuable and an appropriate target for bullying I want to change her opinion and show her that "Dad" is worthy of respect and is important.

Finna has come a long way in some regards. She's learned to play with people and adores fetch and tug. We've purchased her a new soft crate and she's making good progress in being retrained to a crate. She still doesn't like the door zipped shut but spends a good portion of her day in her safe place voluntarily. We're working on teaching her to run to her crate when she's worried about anything. Finna's leash manners have improved and she's reacting a lot less to people in their driveways and even improving when there are other people on the street. She sits on command 75-80%, comes when called 80-85% and is starting to figure out that the fastest way to get me down the stairs in the morning is to run to the door and wait instead of grabbing my clothes and pulling. Finna is even beginning to have some faith that I'll come back when I leave. I was delighted the other day not to be met at the door by a frenzied Finna beside herself with joy at my return. Instead I was met by no one and after I was inside and divested of my coat Finna wandered down the hall and said a very calm "hi." Moments like that I'm confident Finna can be rehabilitated and become the awesome dog we think she can be and other days I'm sure I'm in way over my head. Life with Finna can be quite the wild ride.

The Finna in this photo is the Finna we love. This is our goal, a calm peaceful dog willingly sharing with the other family members.


  1. Is possible that Finna reacts badly towards your husband on occasion because she was mistreated by a man in her previous life? Just wondering cause we adopted a dog years ago when I was a child, who never felt comfortable around my dad (or any male figure), even though he was always loving towards our animals.

  2. It's very hard to say, Captivated Reader. It isn't uncommon at all for a dog to fear men even though they were never mistreated by a man. Men are generally bigger, have lower (growly) voices, and the way men carry themselves and move tends to be with their weight forward (a threatening posture in dog society). My personal belief is that Finna lived in an inconsistent disciplinary environment (sometimes she got punished and sometimes she didn't for the same behaviors) and that it was the man that was most likely to be inconsistent. I also think that, push little bitch that she is, Finna hasn't agreed to accept my husband's status in the family partly because she is a teenager. She's been playing rough with The Great Catsby and bullying Ranger the last couple days. I suspect testing limits and boundaries.

  3. I don't know if it's the angle, but Catsby looks almost the size of Finna!

    Although it must seem like forever, I think you and your family are doing wonders with Finna in such a short time.

    Random thoughts on my dog who is slightly less on the fearful scale: Pupper still prefers not to be touched by people who are not 'family'. Our petsitter says when we go on vacation it usually takes two days before Pupper comes and leans against her legs as if to say, "Okay, I guess I have to rely on you, now." Once we come back, Pupper reverts to not wanting to be touched again :-\. Do you have a sense that if you were not there Finna would transfer loyalty/security to your husband? Or maybe your son, since he is also training her?

    Re: barking at your husband, then sitting for a treat. Before she went deaf, Pupper used to lie in wait for the mail, which comes through a slot. The mailman would clomp up the steps, and she would bark and lunge and scratch the door and grab the mail. We tried leaving treats for the mailman to push through the slot, but that didn't work. Occasionally on a midday walk, my husband and Pupper would run across the mailman. My husband would have Pupper sit and the mailman would give her a treat (she REALLY likes treats). She would be polite enough, but when the mailman turned away, she would go, "Rrrr".

  4. p.s. You had mentioned getting a professional re: Finna's resource guarding. Did you do that?

  5. Thanks lookrkt, I'm still trying to connect with the behaviorist. Called again today and left a message. The resource guarding has actually improved some. It isn't gone but the frantic edge to it has disappeared so I think we're on the right track with that. The separation anxiety is definitely improving a lot. More and more often I'm coming home and being able to walk in the house without a frenzied greeting.

    Really, in many respects she's come a long way. It's the barking, growling, and lunging at my husband and sometimes at Ranger that I can't seem to get a handle on. It drives me crazy that she'll be in her crate on the far side of the living room and my husband will be taking recycling out to the bin. He makes two trips with her glancing up when he goes by but no other reaction and the third time she flies out the crate barking like a maniac. I can't figure out what's different the third time--maybe it's just that it is the third time. I don't know. Sunday she was ferocious toward him yet on Monday she barked a few times but was easily distracted and called away. Outside she's barked at him a few times when he's come back from walking Ranger or she meets Dad and Ranger on a walk but as soon as she identifies them she relaxes. I don't ever remember seeing her have one of her Finna fits at him outside just in the house. Something is going on in her crazy little head but danged if I can figure it out.

    I think that's what bothers me more than anything. Where I understand what prompts the behavior, grabbing my sleeve and trying to drag me places for example, I can come up with effective ways to communicate that this is not an appropriate way to behave (grab my sleeve and I stop moving, release my sleeve and I'll follow you--now she only grabs my sleeve if she's very excited). The barking, growling, lunging I don't understand; it seems too inconsistent to me. I'm obviously missing something.

    Finna is about 50 lbs, Catsby is about 10 lbs but cats are excellent at spreading out to take up much more than their fair share of the room.

    And to answer your other question, if I disappeared tomorrow my son would become Finna's safe place no problem followed closely by my daughter. I don't think she'd bond with husband. Maybe if there was no other choice she might but I expect it would be pretty rough until she gave in.