Time for my monthly reflection on life with Finna. We've finally figured out a few more clues in this never ending puzzle that is Finna. We've discovered that Dad by himself is not frightening. He came back unexpectedly one morning because he forgot something and she just met him at the door with no barking, or other negative reaction. Since then we've experimented a little bit to see what does set her off and what does not. Dad with no one else home is not scary; Dad home with one kid is only a little bit scary; Dad home with two kids and no Mom is somewhat scary; Dad home with Mom and both kids, well, then Dad is often but not always very scary. We're not sure what's going on in her crazy little head. When she barks at my husband when he talks to me I'm pretty sure she's reacting to the fact that his baritone voice sounds, to her ears, like he's growling at me and she's trying to protect me. When she's barking at him as he tries to go away from me up the stairs to bed the protecting Mom hypothesis doesn't make sense. It does seem, however, that taking care of me is somehow involved and that the more things that are going on the worse she reacts. Our standing joke at this point is that Finna thinks everything is Dad's fault.
Since Finna's issues with my husband seem to be related to me we've switched our training protocol. Rather than him spending time dropping treats and generally trying to make being around him a positive experience I'm using Look At That from Leslie McDevitt's Control Unleashed. When she looks at him I click and treat. Knowing that a treat is associated with the click she automatically looks back to get it. We're building up a connection in her head that looking at Dad is a rewarding experience and since she's being rewarded before she comes unglued she's 1) not having opportunities to practice coming unglued at Dad and 2) learning not to come unglued. It was very encouraging the other night when she started barking at my husband and then remembered that she could be rewarded for looking at him and turned back to me for treats (I'd put the clicker away while I was eating dinner.) I think the steak scraps she got were a satisfying reward.
Finna has come a long way. The dog that was so conflicted both craving petting and finding it over-stimulating and too much to handle is now soliciting petting and leaning in for more. The dog with severe separation anxiety who needed to be physically restrained if I needed to go out the door can now be told "Finna, no" and will move away from the door so I can leave without any trouble. The dog whose wild leaping, mouthing, and jumping when I came home was actually scary doesn't even greet me at the door all the time now and when she does she comes outside quietly and asks to play ball. I do still need to make sure I have a tug rope with me when I go to bed since mornings are still pretty exciting but by giving her a tug rope and playing a brief game of tug first thing she's no longer grabbing my clothes and trying to drag me down the stairs and outside. We play tug for a little bit then she wins and I ask her to take it down stairs. It gives her something to mouth, shake, and chew making it much easier to get her outside in the morning. And the dog that was regularly pottying in the house at even a raised voice--calling for a kid upstairs to come down because it was time to go--hasn't pottied inside in months. The dog that made it hard to open the door with all her jumping and leaping on it and when the door opened bolted outside now waits politely at the door. And best of all the hyper-vigilant, wildly stressed out, wound nearly to the breaking point dog is relaxed enough to give me genuine smiles.
This week, I'm pretty encouraged that Finna can recover enough to be a safe happy dog. But this is the Finna roller coaster. Last week things were sufficiently bad that we actually had a family meeting discussing whether she should be returned to the Humane Society as unmanageable or even whether she'd be better off if we had her put down. All credit to my family, they were unanimously in favor of not giving up on Finna. Their dedication is very commendable and those moments when I despair and wonder if there's any chance that this profoundly damaged dog can ever be safe and happy are getting further and further apart.
Finna still has a long way to go. I pray she doesn't get sick or hurt since taking her to the vet at this point would be a real problem. She's able to tolerate a couple of people we know in the driveway but we don't invite them inside the fence at this point. She still only goes for walks when I'm fairly sure no one else will be out. It isn't easy living with Finna and the constant vigilance we need to exercise to keep her and everyone else safe can be very wearing. I'm learning not to look too far ahead because it can be too overwhelming. It helps to look back and see how far she's come and to celebrate the small victories savoring the moment.
One day at a time and patience, patience, patience that's life with Finna.