17 November 2014

BlueBelle just asked to go outside!

Three cheers for Belle's milestone moment! She just came to the door of my home office, looked around the corner at me, and whined. I asked, "Outside?" and she whimpered, looking in the direction of the back door. When I opened the door, she walked right out and peed. A celebratory shower of treats followed her return, as she bunny-hopped around the living room at the sight of the treat bag. Miss Belle rocks!

Why am I over the moon regarding a simple action that other dogs perform multiple times per day? It's not the house training. Remarkably, Belle has been house trained for months now, thanks to routine, the example set by the other dogs, routine, teaching her the "outside" cue, and routine. Treats were actually not involved, but that's another post. Cautious herding was involved early on, but that's yet another post. Belle's house training is so reliable that she is trustworthy loose in the house alone and now even during rainy days. (I think I just heard a gasp of disbelief from fellow Rat Terrier butlers.)

What is causing my elation is that semi-feral Belle has just accorded the human in the house another measure of relevance. Woo hoo, I'm finally relevant. Sort of. A little bit more. She's still too scared to come close in most situations. But in more and more tiny ways, Belle is perceiving this human as useful. We are ever so carefully building a relationship.

09 November 2014

"Some changes are cool," says BlueBelle

Belle has a veterinary behaviorist on her team, along with the rest of us at New Rattitude. UGA's Dr. Crowell-Davis and her staff have been an essential part of helping Belle adjust to the world of humans from her semi-feral starting point. The last few months have included highs of bouncy doggie happiness and lows of health and emotional challenges. She spent some time on a complicated pharmaceutical cocktail from both of her vets, but is now down to very low doses of antianxiety meds and a few supplements. Belle is currently fairly stable and doing well.

One of Belle's challenges is neophobia. She's frightened, and sometimes terrified, of anything new. Once she gets used to me wearing a certain type of shoe or pants, she will run away if I switch to clothing she hasn't seen before. Once she gets used to a routine, if one of the steps changes she will begin to pace anxiously or run away. She was afraid of even small additions or object placement shifts in her environment, but she has learned to adjust to those small changes. This is probably thanks to a low dose of fluoxetine and plenty of practice being safe in an environment that rarely changes fundamentally. Her foster mom values tranquility so Belle can take advantage of quiet time and space to acclimate to changes that are usually incremental. We're creating a history of emotional security that is also helping her to recover when changes are more abrupt.

Belle has discovered that at least one new thing can be beyond fabulous -- meat! She had a preference for poor quality puppy mill rations and it has taken months to entice her to accept better and better foods. While I track down the source of her possible allergies, she needs to be on the best food with the fewest ingredients, which, in my opinion, is raw food. I would put tiny pieces of raw meat in her bowl and leave it for her to try after feeding her kibble and canned food. Huh uh. No way. She wouldn't go near it. Enter corticosteroid treatment for her severe itching. Little Belle was so hungry from the prednisone that she ate whatever was left in her bowl, and then anything I hand fed her at mealtime, and then she started hanging around for more. She's off those drugs and still loving her new foods. Her dental misalignment prevents her from eating even the softest raw meaty bones, but she has given it a good smacking try. She enjoys scooping up ground raw foods from my hand and prompting me to hurry up with the next yummy mouthful. Fabulous!

Belle has decided that she quite likes central heat and warm comforters fresh from the dryer. This living in a house stuff is not half bad, even if it does involve humans. It is the human who serves her ground quail, after all.