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Annie the Labrador

Annie

On the fifth of August 2010 we picked up our new foster dog – Annie,  a four-year old Red Fox Labrador who’d been used as a breeding bitch.  A snapped collar saw her disappear into the twilight before we’d even had chance to get her home (Disaster strikes) and so began a two-day roller coaster.

The panic, the despair,  the guilt and worst of all, the agony of wondering what this sweet but terrified girl must be going through to be lost in a strange place but tempered with the humbling kindness of the strangers who helped us find her ( Little (Big) Dog Lost & Breakthrough).

It’s hard to believe that was two years ago. Watching her now, stretched out, paw over nose, twitching in dreamland on the sofa, it’s almost hard to believe that this was the dog so shut down that she refused to even toilet for three days. The dog you could send scuttling under the dining table should you accidentally look her in the eye. The dog so seemingly ‘aggressive’ that she’d erupt at the sight of a dog a football pitch away and who would charge the patio doors on sight of Little Bear or Camden Cat in the garden.

Overcoming fear

Now that the fear isn’t doing quite so much of the talking we’re seeing the real Annie. She loves Little Bear and she and Camden have come to an arrangement based on mutual respect that even extends to polite sniffing. She can still be wary of some people, but will also cheerfully approach complete strangers with a relaxed wag if she likes the look of them.

Her dreams are more peaceful now too. I don’t know what dogs dream of, but I know for sure that they have nightmares. Seeing her run in her sleep, her face contorted as she whimpered and whined was once a regular occurrence.

We’re still working on the on-lead dog to dog reactivity but that’s coming along steadily too. She’ll get there. Just as she learned to let go of the other fears that racked her life, so this, in time will pass too.

Lesson

I’m not know for my patience, but dogs don’t work to our ridiculous, artificial schedules. Annie will continue to learn and grow in her own time and our job is to help and encourage her along that path. My knees still go a little weak when I see her run because a part of me will never fully get over that fateful first day, but I can’t help wonder whether it didn’t do me a favour.

In losing her I gained a valuable insight – I now know what real fear feels like. We are all so hounded by the imagined fears of our over-active minds that real fear, the type that comes from immediate danger is blessedly rare. Maybe, in order to help her overcome the very real fears she has to face, I just needed to walk a mile in her paws.

 

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Our school motto was ‘Manners maketh man’. Now I didn’t go to a posh private school, quite the opposite in fact, but we, my peers and I were brought up to understand that manners were important. They’re not just social norms, they’re a way of conveying respect for one another. Sadly, I often see far better behaved dogs than I do owners these days.

The other week we were walking the dogs on the large football pitch near the house. It’s a vast space with multiple exits so for reactive dogs like ours it’s great. You get plenty of warning of other dogs and can make a quick calm exit if needed.

We’d just arrived at the field this particular time when I noticed Annie had dropped her collar torch. It was getting dusk so OH back tracked to look for it. This left me in the field with both dogs on waist leads, which we prefer as it gives you two hands to sort out clickers, treats or poo bags. It started when Annie, much worse than she is now almost dislocated OH’s shoulder and now it’s sort of stuck.

Just as he went out of sight a woman came the field with two dogs and was soon joined by another lady with three dogs. Annie and Bear, until then doing okay with their sit stay and watch me got a little agitated so we moved to a safer distance.

They were walking directly towards us, all five dogs now her off lead. I moved down the field, zig-zagging to a spot I was sure was safe as it was off their trajectory. They changed direction and headed once again, straight towards us.

Lunge
By this point Little Bear and Annie had had enough. They lunged, they barked and clipped around my waist, were doing a great job of cutting me in half. The women looked up to see what the commotion was, shot me a ‘god, your dogs are awful look’ AND KEPT COMING!

Now any normal person seeing that would recognise a fear reaction in a dog. Even if they’d never experienced it, who in their right mind would walk their own dogs towards dogs who are lunging and barking?!

I was incredulous. How could these women not realise that their presence and that of their mob of dogs was seriously upsetting mine? They had an entire football pitch to walk on but seemed intent on hounding me out of it. Thankfully, their dogs had more sense than they did and gave us a wide berth, but the damage was done. By the time OH returned a few minutes later they were extremely agitated and despite trying to lighten the mood with some chase once we were free of our stalkers, Little Bear walked home with his tail down.

I thought of this yesterday. We were out in the woods and spotted a couple with four dogs coming towards us on a narrow path. We called our dogs, they called theirs. We had them sit and wait. So did they to the point that for about a minute nobody moved.

When the stalemate became apparent we walked ours on past them, only to find their dogs sitting patiently just off the track. We exchanged a round of thank yous and all went on our way. To my deep joy our two looked but continued on their way without a murmur. I couldn’t have been prouder or more grateful that there do seem to be some owners out there with manners as good as their dogs.

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