Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Finnaversary number 16

Let me start by saying I love our trainer. She gets me and she gets Finna. That counts for more than I can say. We have a dog that is genetically predisposed to be a pessimist whose early upbringing reinforced her expectation that whatever happened it wasn't going to be good for her. Ranger by contrast is predisposed to believe whatever happens next will be good and his early upbringing reinforced that belief. One of the things that frustrates me the most about Finna is that her pessimism can be tempered by experience. If it was new to her when she began living with us she's fine with it. A dog that is hardwired to be afraid of everything would have a hard time learning to use the treadmill or tolerating the vacuum cleaner. Finna mastered treadmill use in about 10 days and she'll let me vacuum to within about six inches of her before she gets up and moves. She didn't immediately embrace these things with enthusiasm but we went slowly and gave her room to think about it. One slow step at a time; the first step was just being in the same room as the moving treadmill belt. From there we asked her to be a foot away, take treats with her head over the belt when the treadmill was running, to touch the moving belt with her paw, to step onto the moving belt and eventually to trot at speed. If we'd had her from the time she was a puppy and she'd been introduced to everything in the same slow deliberate fashion she wouldn't be the mess she is today. Imagine if instead of introducing the treadmill one small step at a time we'd dragged her over to it, turned it on, tied her so she had to run on it and bumped it up to a goodly speed. I'm afraid that's the way most things happened for Finna in her formative years.

Finna is a very conflicted dog; like all dogs she's hardwired to want to be social; to be part of a group. Unfortunately, she's also a dog that is pessimistic about the outcome of social interactions. This means that she both craves and resists contact. She'll beg for petting and ear rubs but mouth at my hand while I'm delivering the petting (harder to mouth the hand that's rubbing her ears plus ear massage is relaxing). Where it really gets frustrating is in terms of Finna's relationship with my husband. She'll lay there next to him with her head in his lap but will snap at him if he tries to pet her. She wants to be close to him but her genetic pessimism and her early experience are totally at odds with what she wants. Talk about conflicted--she wants to be touching him but not to have him touch her.

In great news Finna has found a way to not get protective when my husband wants to bring me something or talk to me. She grabs a rubber ball and chews it like a piece of gum. She finds it sufficiently relaxing that she even lays down while chewing it when he comes near! He's learned to pause for a bit while she finds her chew ball and all is well. If he forgets to pause she gives him what we've dubbed the wait, wait, let me get my ball bark, he pauses she finds her ball and everything is fine. And best of all now that she's found a way to soothe herself when he's moving around I'm noticing that she's needing to do it less all the time! As you know if you've been following this blog you know this has been an ongoing issue so I'm totally thrilled that she has something that works for her that allows him to move around the house freely and even come close to me without Finna behaving badly.

And for bad news I realized today that Finna has been such a velcro dog for so long that she never learned a solid "come." Guess what we're working on now. ;-)

All in all though, 16 months into this adventure we have a different dog than the one we started with. The dog we have now can usually think and can make better choices for how she wants to behave. Finna is now taking group classes for reactive dogs and at our last class she was so good that other participants wanted to know why she was there!! She's come a long long way from the initial meeting where our trainer tried very gently but clearly to warn us that not all dogs can be rehabilitated.  Here's the dog we adopted in a photo taken very soon after we got her home.
This is not the dog we still have. The Finna of today is more relaxed and confident. She still has a long way to go but I think she really can become the dog she was meant to be.