Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Finnaversary Number Seven

It's been seven months now since we adopted our profoundly damaged dog Finna. My kids like me to quantify things in numbers. I'm not really sure how that started but the question "on a scale of one to ten, how good was I today" and similar variations have often been heard at my house. I can't remember now who first asked that I quantify Finna's mental health but I remember they knew she was so bad that we needed to use a big scale so they asked where she ranked on a scale of one to a hundred. I think I gave her a -50. Since then the question has been, "is Finna still in negative numbers." I'm pleased to say that Finna has finally left the negative numbers behind; currently I'd put her at a 2 on a scale of 1-100. Ranger, for comparison, is probably 97 out of 100 and my goal for Finna would be to be at an 80 out of 100.

Two is a pretty lousy rating until you remember just how far she's had to come to get to that two. It's difficult to notice the changes except by taking a long look back. I recently described observing Finna's progress as being akin to "watching a flower bloom in real time." The changes on a day to day level are so minute that they are pretty much invisible. It's only in hindsight that it is apparent that she is making progress. Originally we adopted her because we sensed that inside the prison of her fears there was a good dog waiting to get out. Occasionally we see that good dog now and not just the possibility that there is a good dog in there.

Over all Finna is much less tightly wound than she was in the beginning. She's always going to be more high strung and intense than Ranger but she's learning some tools to manage those traits. Finna carries her stress and tension in her hips and recently I was delighted to observe that her gait has become smoother and less stiff. She's moving more freely because there is less tension being carried in her hips and lower back.

Finna is still a dangerous dog and I was dismayed to learn in the last couple of days that her air snaps and inhibited grabs are actually considered bites albeit at the lowest level of bite intensity. I live in terror that she'll escape the fence and get herself into real trouble and wind up seriously hurting someone.
With the family she still takes issue with my husband sometimes although he's allowed to move through the house more often with no reaction from her. We've also discovered that part of her problem with him is that she's guarding me. If I'm not home she is much more inclined to ignore anything he does. It's something we continue to work on although it helps a lot to know that these days I'm the key factor.

Strangers are still a major problem although she's getting better about tolerating them outside the fence as long as they're there before she goes out. If they come up while she's out she loses it. She recovers faster these days from an emotional upset and has fewer upsets than she used to. Her self-control is a lot better. She's learned to wait at the door until she is released. We're always amused though at the fact that when she sits to get the door to open so she can go out she sits with all her might. There's plenty of drive in this dog if we can only add some brakes and steering.

Finna has been on Chinese herbs, specifically Shen Calmer, for four months now. We've been taking her off her herbs every couple months for a week so that we can see how effective behavior modification alone is. I can definitely tell a difference between Finna on her herbs and Finna off of them. It's clear she still needs the support the herbs give her but the behavior modifications are having an effect. Now when she starts getting wound up she doesn't just fly apart in all directions. Instead, Finna bugs me and bugs me until I'll go out and play endless games of fetch. She's figured out that she can work off some of the stress and anxiety she feels by chasing the ball which is encouraging.

Finna is still a pretty tightly furled bud but some color is starting to peek out around the edges and someday she'll bloom.


  1. I love reading your Finna updates. She really is making progress, thanks to your kindness and patience.

    We were in Alaska and learned about the sled dogs. They are very high strung! Once harnessed to a sled (or tractor in the summer), they have to be firmly restrained to keep them from pulling until the musher is ready!

    1. I once heard an iditarod musher speak. Rule one is never walk behind your sled. No matter how far you've tamped your anchors into the snow or how many you've put out if your team decides to go they are going and you'll never ever catch them if you start from behind the sled.

      Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. Some days it seems like she's never going to be a reliable dog and that we're idiots to keep trying. That's why I do these looks back. Without a sense of where we began and how far we've come I couldn't keep doing this.