Shelter dogs Update: Paisley, Cedric, and Mowgli

Time’s been getting away from me a bit, so here’s some catching up –

I met with Paisley six times. What a sweet girl! She was clearly stressed out by being in the kennels, and my wish that she wouldn’t be there long enough to have to adjust came true! Paisley’s been adopted – yay! I didn’t work with her long enough to teach her to play with a ball, but I bet she’s learned by now.

It didn’t take long for someone to discover and fall in love with Paisley.

I really liked Paisley, but there was just something about Cedric that really got to me. Maybe it was that he was so afraid when I met him, but he had the bravery to match that fear and the spirit to learn to trust someone.

Once his fearfulness calmed down, Cedric’s playful spirit got a chance to break loose and romp!

It’s probably pretty common for shelter volunteers who, like me, have no intention of adopting a dog, to have a little “what if” tally system going on when they work with a dog. As in, “what if” I were to adopt a dog, how likely would this be the dog I adopted? I won’t be adopting a dog, but if I were to adopt a dog . . . yeah, Cedric would fit the bill. I met with Cedric six times, too, and I’m now out of danger of taking him home – because, more good news! Cedric’s been adopted.

And what about the other dog I’ve been working with? Well, a couple who came to look at Cedric wound up taking Mowgli home instead. But it wasn’t the match they hoped for, and Mowgli’s back.

I thought it was hard when I found out that Mowgli had been adopted – but it was harder when I found out he was back.

The day Mowgli was adopted was the day of our 17th visit. That’s by far the most I’ve worked with a dog. (The previous record was held by Belle, and I met with her 9 times.) So of course I felt a bit of “Oh! Mowgli!” when I heard he’d been adopted. But I think that reaction of sadness when I hear a dog I’ve been working with has been adopted will be forever tempered by the memory of the regret I felt when I heard he was back.

I understand why Mowgli wasn’t a match for the older couple who adopted him, but I don’t understand why Mowgli hasn’t been adopted by someone. He is shy at first, and I suppose many folks are looking for an instant connection that tells them ‘this is the one.’ They won’t get that from Mowgli. When I first met him he was very aloof – I think he would have spent our 20 minutes checking out the dog park and not checking in with me at all. But I set about teaching him to not be so aloof – and that effort paid off. But how do you sell “he’s great once you get to know him?” But I know potential does pay off – look at Cedric. I’m betting he didn’t cuddle right up to the people who took him home. But another strike against Mowgli is that he’s big. Maybe people can imagine a shy, small dog will warm up, but can’t quite see that in a shy, big dog. Whatever the reason, I’ll keep working with Mowgli – I’ve actually already worked with him ten more times. I’ve been working on a post just about him, and I’ll get that posted soon. Till then – thanks for reading.

Shelter Dogs: Meet blue-eyed Paisley

Paisley came in to the shelter with a related group of dogs. I haven’t spent time with any of the others, but from Facebook posts it’s no secret that before they got to the shelter they all had a hard life. Despite that rough start, Paisley is a sweet girl who seems to somehow still believe in the potential of humans to return love with kindness. She was extremely timid with me at first, but responded well to a slow approach. When I first met her, I had to nudge the kennel door open, pushing it gently to move her enough so I could get inside. I squatted near her and spoke softly. Very shortly, she came over to snuggle.

Being with a person reassures her. Often when we are in the dog park or the adoption kennel at the end of hallway, she trots off to investigate, then turns and comes back to me in a beeline to check in for some physical contact and encouraging words.

Paisley’s affection for people comes through loud and clear

I’m not great at judging weights, but I’d guess she comes in around 25 pounds. She has wiry fur and a curly tail. But her most striking physical feature is her blue eyes.

Paisley’s eye color is striking, but even more impressive is her ability to communicate with those eyes.

Paisley could be the poster child for the kind of request for attention that’s called “passive influence.” While this kind of staring might seem intense, it is a signal that she’s hoping to engage attention and a signal that the attention should be as passive as the request. And that means she’ll be most responsive to a passive approach to training. And with Paisley, for now, make that a very passive approach. Here’s a lesson she taught me when I thought I’d get her to sit so I could take a better photo of her –

Most dogs know the cue “sit,” but the one time I asked it of her, rather than sit she slunk away and then ran to the dog park door. I had to gently coax her back by speaking to her in a very reassuring voice across the full distance she had established. I thought I had used a gentle voice when I asked her to “sit,” but no doubt I changed it slightly and she picked up on that small shift of tone. Perhaps her strong response – putting distance between us – harkens back to a bad experience with that cue or that shift in tone of voice.

I’ll never know, and it doesn’t matter. What I do know now is that it will require time and patience to earn a level of trust where I, or any one who works with her, will get to the point of “teaching” Paisley the meaning of cues. Given that clear information from her, I decided to just focus on love and leave anything else for another time.

Fortunately, putting off any training can work with Paisley – while she doesn’t respond at this point to any cue but coming when called, her manners are excellent. She has been gentle and courteous. Paisley won’t be competing in obedience or agility trials anytime soon, but she’s solidly in competition for Best In Show in the “open-hearted, willing to love” category.

Paisley gently takes a treat

Paisley is very aware of other dogs. She is one of those dogs who are pretty stressed out by the barking of the dogs in the shelter kennels. Even in the dog park, which is across a wide lawn, hidden in a small woods and well out of the sight of the shelter, Paisley is worried when the shelter dogs take up a chorus of barking. They’re probably just barking because a car has pulled into the parking lot. The first time I took her to the park and the dogs barked, she paced along the perimeter of the fenced area closest to the shelter. I put her back on leash and that was enough to reassure her – with the leash forming a bond between us, we wandered the dog park together. Paisley, if she stays at the shelter long enough, will learn there is no reason for alarm. I’m hoping she won’t be here that long.

Paisley, alert to the action in the public dog park next door.

In my few visits with her, Paisley has exhibited common signs of stress/anxiety – cowering in her kennel, panting, carrying her tail tucked down. But she also has moments when she seems to relax.

There are times when I’m not sure if that open mouth is a sign of stress, or just Paisley breathing . . .
. . . but there are moments when Paisley seems just like any other dog – curious about her surroundings, checking things out.

According to the shelter’s summary information on Paisley, she’s not a good candidate for a home with cats or small children. From my experience, she is a good candidate for a person who can provide her with patience and affection. Paisley hasn’t shown much interest in toys, but on our third visit when I rolled a tennis ball by her she did respond by putting a playful paw on it.

From what I’ve seen of Paisley, she will get there – relaxed, good humored and playful. She just needs someone to invite her on the journey.

Here’s the link to the webpage on adoptable dogs at the Potsdam Humane Society