Friday, April 6, 2012

Five Months of Finna

It's hard to believe that Finna has lived with us for five months now. It seems like we've been on this roller coaster forever. Finna and her raft of issues have taken over our lives. Sometimes it is extremely hard to see where she is improving because there are so many areas that are still problems. And often it seems like each new day reveals more problems and more areas of concern. At the same time there are days when she's just a normal dog that needs training. It helps to look back as well as to look at where she still needs help.

Improvement: Finna is having fewer incidents of barking, growling and lunging at my husband.
Concern: When Finna has an incident it is a more intense episode of barking, growling and lunging. She's letting him move around more freely without reaction but when she does react it is bad. And for some reason that I cannot figure out when he goes to bed she reacts very aggressively, leaping off the futon, running down the hall, and chasing him up the stairs snapping at him. I can't make any sense of this behavior since she is on the other side of the house and he is going away from her. I can't think why this would be scary and I don't know what she thinks she's accomplishing. It looks as if she's trying to prevent him from going to bed and yet once the bedroom door closes she relaxes and hops onto the futon to sleep. At this point we take her outside until he's safely up the stairs. If nothing else we're making it harder for her to practice this undesirable behavior.

Improvement: Finna is better able to ignore noises, barking and shouting in the distance.
Concern: Finna has developed an intense dislike of the neighbors on the other side of the fence. In some ways I don't blame her. I'm not terribly fond of these loud and inconsiderate neighbors which no doubt contributes to her anger with them. Unfortunately, she discovered that she could slip under the fence to confront them directly. We've been working hard to find places where she can slip out and to fix them and we've started using abandonment training. Whenever she heads toward the fence with intent to make a scene we immediately tell her goodbye and head into the house. So far she'd rather be with us than escape to bark at the neighbors. In good news though, on the first day of Spring Break it happened to be sunny and nice, one of the few days of real spring weather we've had. Lots of kids were out playing in the street and Finna was able to ignore the shouting and excitement and to stay calm and play ball or wrestle with Ranger. These were much more appropriate outlets for her as the noise revved her up. Ranger is a big help with this part of Finna's training. When she starts to bark he immediately runs to her and does his best to entice her into a game of wrestle and race. It gives her a safe outlet for her excitement.

Improvement: Finna exhibits much less intense separation anxiety.
Concern: Now that she's moving beyond being a velcro dog it turns out she has a pretty poor recall. We're working on it. It's gotten pretty good inside but outside it's a lot harder.

Improvement: Finna is generally more relaxed.
Concern: When she does get spun up it is more frightening. I'm not sure whether this is due to her freak outs being more intense or whether it's simply the contrast between her relaxed self and her out of control self. I suspect it is the latter but it's hard to be sure. Still, on the upside, more and more often it's becoming possible to interrupt the spin up cycle and keep her more relaxed.

Improvement: Vastly improved house manners.
Concern: There aren't really any concerns about this one. She's not perfect yet but she's gone from a dog that has no idea how to behave to one that understands sitting politely is the gateway to everything she loves. She can't wait very long at the open door yet (five-ten seconds) but she can wait. Not bad for a dog that arrived with the idea that an open door must be bolted through immediately. And as an added bonus the more she learns to wait the more self-control she is learning. She's also finally learning the "down" cue. She's not great at it yet and has to be lured still with tasty treats but when you think about it down is a pretty vulnerable position, it's much harder for her to leap up and frighten something away. It's tremendous progress that she's able to assume that position at all when asked.

Living with Finna is living with constant stress both hers and ours. It's hard not to be stressed living with a dog that has so many arousal issues. Among other things she is a distressingly accurate emotional barometer; reacting to everyone's moods. If my son is frustrated when playing his video game or my daughter is stressing out over school work Finna is going to have a freak out. If I'm tired and grumpy Finna is going to be more spun up. When my husband trips over a box left on the kitchen floor and reacts negatively she's going to go after him. Living with her is definitely a crash course in learning self-control and how to not let things get to you. Reacting to her reactivity only makes her worse so we're learning not to do that.

Sometimes I know I make it sound like life with Finna is a constant hardship. That's not entirely true; there are some things that I love about Finna. She's very smart and she's picking up on more and more cues. It makes me laugh that I can say to her after she's released to go out the door "meet me at the throwing place" and she will make a beeline straight to the place and wait for me to get there with the chuckit and the ball. And I'm amused by her determination to carry the ball back to the porch when we're done playing. It's delightful to watch her learn to control herself at the door. She'll often still jump up as my hand starts to reach for the knob but you can see her correct herself and plant her bottom back on the floor. She is making progress. If only she didn't have so very far still to go.

She's so sweet when she's asleep. 


  1. You mentioned once that she came from a very traumatic background, essentially raised with little to no human contact? Maybe part of her difficulties arise from post traumatic stress.
    Also, is she jealous of your husband's relationship with you? Maybe that's why she doens't want him going to bed?

    1. My husband goes to bed first so she's not protecting me from him; he's going away from me when she goes after him. That's what makes it so hard to understand; he's going away from me and from the kids and from Finna. I could understand if she was trying to prevent him from joining me but not the way it happens.

      It's hard to tell what went on before she came to live with us. I know she had no socialization to speak of and I know she has fear issues but I only know that because I live with her and see the way she acts. I'll have to think about the PTSD idea.

  2. When I read your posts about Finna, she reminds me so much of my old dog Jessie as they have so much in common; and yet my dog is no longer with us.

    We had so many problems with Jessie to start with. She ran away once and nearly got hit by a car - that was scary and never happened again! Then, we figured out that she had been chased with a broom when she couldn't cross one when we grabbed one once to sweep up and she attacked the head of it... talk about funny (well to us at the time).
    Time and again, she came around to all these things that she didn't like: skateboards, bicycle wheels, cars (getting into them and getting out of them... we never figured that one out), trailers (we found out that she was thrown from one when she was a pup; but as time went on - and years passed - we'd often find her snoozing under the axle of the trailer down the back of the yard. Or waiting for Dad to go to the dump in the front seat of the old red ute... so those things to pass when a dog figures out those things aren't going to hurt them with new humans).

    I found something really weird helped Jessie's fear of the dark. You're gonna laugh out loud, so if you've just drunk some coffee, swallow it now and put down your mug.
    We get some really bad storms hit our city; bad enough that our lights got out. So, of course, we'd all have our own personal torches handy in case it took all night for the power to come back on afterwards. Well, I'd normally be the one Jessie would wrap herself the ankles of when the lights went out... as I'd normally be the only human around to talk to about her being scared out of her mind. Normally the thunder freaked her out and she followed me around like a bad smell, tripping me up when I checked the windows with a torch in one hand and constantly looking around for her and trying not to stand on her.
    Once everything was okay, I would track down my copy of 'Lord of the Rings' by JRR Tolkien, put on my reading glasses and get her to lay on her mat/bed in the dining room and put on a headlamp. Then, I'd open the massive volume to any page and begin reading the first chapter I found as she snuggled up to me and I sat there on the lino of the dining room. The next thing I knew, Jessie would be sound asleep!

    Strange - but true! Tolkien's work put my dog to sleep! :D