Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Progress with Finna

Sometimes you can't help but wonder if the Universe has a sense of humor. All my frustrations with Finna and all the agonizing and obsessive observations trying to figure out what the trigger is that has her reacting so badly to my husband, two calls to the behavioral helpline at Kitsap Humane Society leaving messages asking for help, trying this and that, reading everything I can get my hands on and countless hours of frustration, finally having a hypothesis and then suddenly everything starts falling into place.

First came the lovely phone consultation with the wonderful behaviorist at KHS. Not only did she remember Finna but could look up her records and give me a bit more of her back story giving me a couple more pieces of the puzzle. Knowing that Finna was surrendered from a semi-hoarding situation where she was raised from puppyhood by a pack of dogs with very little interaction with people makes it easier to understand what she's going through. I probably wouldn't fare all that well if I was suddenly dumped into an alien culture with no clue what was going on. And if I found someone that I could sort of communicate with I'd be pretty reluctant to let that person out of my sight. Not to mention how anxious I would be to control everything I could and to keep away all the confusing and scary things I could. I loved talking to the KHS behaviorist she gave us lots of reassurance that we're on the right track and some more ideas to try and a promise to be there to help and I was feeling a lot more positive about our ability to cope. Talking with her I felt competent and empowered. As a trainer that's the same feeling I want my animals to have.

After the consultation was done I hung up and relayed what I'd learned to my husband and we talked about specific ideas. You have to remember that my husband can be considered a living saint when it comes to life with Finna. It would be completely understandable if he wanted her gone now and didn't have any desire to try to rehabilitate this crazy thing. Fortunately, for her, he's made of better stuff and is committed to turning her into a civilized member of our family and society. Armed with our new ideas and a new commitment to working with her he equipped himself with treats. Some of the training techniques and philosophies I talk about have clearly rubbed off. Since one of the specific ideas we'd discussed was that Finna's behavior of running toward him barking ferociously and then sitting politely for a treat might be creating a chain in her crazy little head--run, bark, sit = get treats--we want to break that cycle. I suggested more just tossing treats in her direction before she even started to move. He took a different tack. When she comes at him barking he's turning his back and totally ignoring her, when she doesn't bark she gets hot dog jerky and training time with Dad. He has her sit and makes eye contact with her, bends over her slightly and talks to her. By the time we went to bed that night he was being shadowed all around the house as he moved about getting trash and recycling collected to go out with very few episodes of barking and no lunging or charging behavior.

The next day there was some barking and growling but again no lunging or charging. Clearly, we've had a major breakthrough. Not that there isn't still plenty of room for work and lots of issues that aren't yet resolved but my confidence and optimism is again high that given time she is going to be an awesome dog. In the struggle to figure out her issues and find her triggers it was pretty easy to lose sight of the things that attracted us to this dog in the first place. But the last few days we've been seeing those things again. Finna is bright, eager, and underneath her complete lack of socialization a confident little bitch. While deploring her way of dealing with things she doesn't like I've appreciated her willingness to face up to what frightens her and deal with it using the only tool she has. Since she's come to live with us we've been working hard to give her better tools. As the saying goes, "when all you've got is a hammer; everything looks like a nail." We want Finna to have more than just the hammer of ferocious behavior, we want her to have a whole toolbox of useful tools and a whole range of ways to approach the world safely and enjoyably. We want her to know that sitting politely without barking is a good first step when approaching someone and that when she does that good things happen for her. We're working on teaching her that if something scary occurs on a walk it's OK to whirl around and walk away very fast. And most of all we want her to know that she's not all on her own, that we're there for her.

I still need to take a some new photos so here's another one that I like.


  1. Wow, that's a BIG piece of puzzle! I'm surprised that they didn't tell you before that she had had little human contact!

  2. Hurray for you! As said above, that is excellent info to find out. I really like your words, "talking with her made me feel competent and empowered. As a trainer, that's the same feeling I want my animals to have." Amen, sister!
    I also appreciate that you remembered to step back and appreciate the qualities of Finna that you admire, that are sometimes obscured by her obnoxious/difficult behavior (happens with teenagers, too ;-)).
    Thanks for sharing the journey with us, Kat.