Tuesday, May 29, 2012

2010: I can haz do-over plz?

Blogger's note: I've been trying to write this post for quite some time now but it has eluded me. So I'm giving up and publishing it such as it is.

I'm about to venture into some delicate, perhaps even controversial, territory of Bella's history over the next few weeks and months. It won't always make her sound like a dog you want to take home and it'll probably make us seem like crazy people. Not everyone will agree with what we've done or will do but there's no sense in writing a blog about a fearful/anxious dog if I'm not going to be honest about all that fear and anxiety entails.

If nothing else, perhaps it can serve as a 'what not to do' for other folks who find themselves with an overly skittish and sensitive dog.

Those were halcyon days...
What are you talking about, Leslie?

Quite a few people asked what happened between Bella and her BFF Maggie that ended their friendship. I've been wanting to talk about that, as well as what we're going through with Bella in present time, but it all needs a bit of set up to understand. In fact, only in putting together some of this timeline have I come to realize just how resilient Bella has been in her life with us here and wonder now how she's managed to not be any more screwed up than she is.

2010 was a very bad year

But first, let me tell you, in brief, about a very good year: 2009

  • 2009 saw Bella making friends with our neighbor's Golden Retriever, Maggie, and engaging in daily playdates.
  • 2009 is the year Bella met Gus (still her best boyfriend no matter how long they go without seeing each other)
  • 2009 is the year we discovered Tufts Farm Field, 37-acres of fields and puddles and walking trails. Bella and Gus spent many Sunday mornings there playing and meeting other dogs and dog-folk.

Some things were brewing in the background in 2009 of which we weren't aware but overall it was a good year. Bella was beginning to come out of her shell with other dogs, she was getting good exercise and even the few mishaps she did face, like discovering a yellowjacket's nest and meeting her first skunk, didn't seem to set her too far back. Bella was still a crazy, scared-y pup but, aside from her increasing noise-phobias and thunderstorm fears, she appeared to be adjusting to her new home and family fairly well. Life was pretty good.

And then it all got blown to hell.

(Pardon my language. Also, please understand that some of what I'm about to talk about and how I choose to do so may come off as flippant and aloof. Suffice it to say I'm not really here to disect my feelings around these events. I'm just trying to provide context to some of what has happened in Bella's life with us so when I begin to discuss where she's at now, you'll have a reference point.)

So let's get the worst of it over with: Just before Christmas 2009, my father was re-diagnosed with a rare form of skin cancer for which he was given a very bleak prognosis. The following three months, I spent as many weekends as possible traveling to my family's home in Rhode Island to spend time with him. He passed away at the end of February. My father was my hero and his loss affected me deeply.

During this same time, my husband Jan, who had previously had a heart-attack and quadruple bypass surgery in 2007, began having issues with his heart and health. He was wearing a heart-monitor to try and identify what was triggering bouts of ventricular tachycardia while at the same time trying to help support my mom through some of the financial decisions surrounding my father's passing. Jan had two surgeries in about the span of a month right about the same time Bella and Maggie had their falling out.

2010 also saw the closing of the Tufts Farm Field due to some unsavory behavoir by pups and peeps so Bella lost her one real outlet to meet new dogs and get some great exercise.

Finally, I was also in the process of trying to leave a rather ugly job situation.

All in all this was turning out to be a very bad year and I'm sure, thinking back on it now, that Bella was feeling the strain it was putting on us, or more specifically, me. To be perfectly honest, I don't think I noticed at the time - I was just trying to get through every day.

What about the dog?

There was also one last piece of drama of which Jan and I were unaware happening in 2010. Something Bella was dealing with that we didn't understand at all until the following winter. This was concerning a neighbor's dog who was allowed to run loose despite the local leash laws.

We knew from our many altercations in our own yard with Bailey, our neighbor's rescued Black Lab, that she and Bella did not get along. We knew Bailey came into our yard routinely and we knew Bella felt the need to protect her people and her "territory" whenever she did.

What we didn't know until the winter of 2010 when we saw her footprints in the snow (and we finally caught her in the act), was that Bailey was approaching our house and "attacking" Bella through our sunroom windows.

Yes, Bella, your parents are oblivious

So my poor dog, who already had issues with other dogs, had lost her only socialization outlet, was feeling the strain of her mom's family's failing health, was also under siege in her own home and yard and we didn't even know about it. We would hear her bark (we can tell Bella's "Bailey bark" from Bella's "Oh look it's a squirrel" bark) but we didn't understand why Bella's "Bailey bark" was (is) so much more ferocious. Now we know.

At the time, however, we just thought Bella was being grumpy and over-anxious about Bailey. When we would get her together to play with Maggie, more and more Bella's attention was directed at the house behind us, Bailey's home, than towards her playmate.

Then one day in the early summer of 2010, while Bella and Maggie were playing and Bella was nervous about Bailey being out loose, the girls got tangled in their leashes and my neighbor moved to untangle them. Of course, Bella is also afraid of people, so when Ron reached for Bella's leg to untangle her, Bella freaked out and snapped at Maggie. (Thank dog, she snapped at Maggie and not at Ron!)

Maggie is a big, furry Golden Retriever with the thickest ruff I've ever seen so even if Bella had connected (she did not), she would have only come away with a mouthful of fuzz. And maybe a lesson that it doesn't pay to argue with fluffy dogs.

Understandably, our neighbors are now nervous of Bella and she and Maggie have not been able to get together successfully since.

Moving forward

So that's what happened to Bella and her BFF. We immediately signed her up for a Ruffians Class for Reactive Dogs at a local training center. We're blessed to have such a great variety of training options available to us. We've also made some big decisions and taken some creative action to help Bella adjust and live more comfortably in her own skin.

We're still hopeful that we'll get her and Maggie back together someday and Bella does, on occasion still see her sweetheart, Gus. The Tufts Farm Field has since re-opened with an off-leash, 'official' dog park. It's not an option for Bella any more but we still try to get her and Gus (and Gus's new Greyhound sister, Molly) together to walk around the field. It is good to see Bella enjoy the company of her old friend.

I've said from the start that we've done pretty much everything wrong with Bella. I consider it testing her resillience. ;) Please tell me we're not the only ones who feel we've messed up our dog with our own crazy lives. Do you have any regrets or things you'd like to "do over" with your dog? Do you think dogs are "fixable" when owners make mistakes?


  1. Wow that must have been incredibly hard for all of you and I'm sorry that you all have gone through that. 

    I would say to you, do not beat yourself up for not being aware of the Bailey situation, now that you know you can work with Bella, counter-conditioning her to feel she is once again safe in the sunroom.  I wonder if you could get some film where Bella could see out but Bailey couldn't see in? 

    Delilah was what I thought, a fairly well-adjusted, friendly dog.  Then one day she went after a Great Dane who was just sniffing her.  After that she became reactive with other dogs on leash.  Of course after the GD it didn't help that she was attacked by 2 un-leashed dogs at two different times while she herself was ON leash.  I've worked extensively with her on this and I'm happy to say that she is better. (Knock on wood).

    I think you will get there with Bella, it will take time and patience but it is possible.   Delilah is living proof. :-)

  2. I've got to say, you are being way too hard on yourself. Nothing is perfect and you've given Bella a loving home and a chance when a lot of people would have given up when faced with so many issues. I don't know about you but I didn't bother getting a doctorate in dog psychology before deciding to offer a rescue dog a home; I've just done the best I can! Dec's problems probably aren't as difficult, but as an example, he doesn't like being left alone. What I should have done, like I did with Flynn was MAKE myself leave him for increasing periods of time. But I didn't because unlike with Flynn, I no loner had a time frame within which I had to return to work. Stupid. It limits me and means he is still anxious about being left 10 months down the line. I've made a mistake. I'm human, I'm fallible - just like everyone else. You've done Bella proud!

  3. You've done an amazing job with Bella. Many families undergoing all the stresses you went through in 2010 would have dropped Bella off at the nearest shelter citing unavoidable circumstances. Your story shows both yours and Bella's resilience.

    As for regrets--I know we all have them. I could write a blog about nothing but regrets and bad choices. I'm trying to develop some resiliency myself by showing as much self-compassion as I try to show to others. 

    I hope you'll show yourself as much love as you show Bella. She is very lucky to have found you and Jan. And she's come a long way.

  4. Unless our dogs start speaking our language, we'll probably always be at least a step behind in what we should be doing/not doing with them. Given the incredible difficulties and stress you were experiencing during that time, it's no surprise you might not have realized some things about Bella! Just how things are sometimes. 

    I agree with Pamela - realize that so many people would have just given up on Bella, yet you continued caring for her even with all that you had going on. Her resilience is at least due in part to the secure feeling she has that you will always be there for her. That's no small accomplishment!

  5. Leslie!  I can't think of too many others that have done as much for their dog as you have.  In a world of rescues, overbreeding and bad dog owners, I'm surprised that there are as many truly calm dogs as there are.  You're *incredibly* aware of Bella's body language when we walk our dogs together, but so many things are out of your control -- it's not you not watching their dog's manners, or throwing the chicken bone on the street (sorry, thinking of us there), or putting their 10 pound fluffy untrained dog down, off leash, and then getting on the cell phone.  Training a dog well is tough and a dog with issues (Bella, Gus, Molly) even tougher.  It's easy to *train* a dog half-way and expect the rest of the world to deal with the mess.  

    Do we need a drink?   :-)

    Cindy (Mom to Bella's beau Gus -- of chicken bone on the street -- and Molly)

  6. I'm so sorry for all your stress and hardships! But I'm glad you shared this with us, it makes your journey with Bella even more admirable.
    There are a few things I wish I could "do over" with Nola, except I don't know exactly what went wrong. Nola doesn't particularly like new people. She isn't scared and she isn't aggressive but if someone new comes to close to her (or me) she lets them know. I really wish she didn't do that, as she loves going places but her issue makes it difficult. I've tried all kinds of training with her, but nothing's really worked. With Nola, if she likes you she loves you and if she doesn't like you she HATES you LOL
    Nola's MOm

  7. I do think that we all mess up our dog, our kids, ourselves ... I think everybody has things that'd love to do over. We ourselves are all results of somebody else's screw ups. I think that's a fact of life.

    For the longest time I felt bad that Jasmine was really a guinea pig in my hands, because when we got her I knew nothing about nothing. I was learning as fast as I could. But you know what? Nobody else would love her like I do. Such things count for something too. While I might not have done the best job training her, she certainly did an amazing job training me.

    I do believe that most things can be fixed. And to end with a quote: "... love covers all wrongs." Proverbs 10:12

  8. You know, one of the blogs I love reading is yours. So it doesn't matter if you right a post as long as  a day to read, it just keeps my attention right where it should be.

    Now, don't worry about talking about your woes. The moment we've typed in your link, we already know what to expect from it. After all, it wouldn't be titled bringing up bella if it weren't about her and your experiences with her.

    Anyway, I'm so sorry for this unlucky streak you've had, especially with your father's passing and the closing of Tufts as well as the Maggie incident. I would want to say Bailey is evil as it should be the owner's responsibility to take charge of their dog's welfare.

    We actually have the same dilemma with our dogs. The neighbors dog are wondering all around the streets so every time they visit our turf, my dogs would bark at them in a whiney whimpery voice while BD would have that "Attack them" bark command. It's annoying but I have to deal with it. Sometimes at the middle of the night, I would wake up and get out of the house to drive them off.

    Huggies and Cheese (but more Huggies this time),


  9. You are definitely not alone! Not in the slightest. I've made a ton of mistakes with my dog and I'll probably keep making new ones with future dogs. The thing is, they are all so different from each other and from us that it is really hard to figure out the right way to handle something. Considering all your family has been through in the last few years, I think you have done a tremendous job with Bella. The main thing is, you haven't given up hope for her, which is a much easier thing to do, is even the expected thing to do.

    I do believe dogs are resilient and most are fairly forgiving. I used a lot of methods with Shiva early on that I am not proud of today. Luckily, she didn't hold a grudge or become more fearful as a result. It is never too late, in my opinion, to start again.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I know it was difficult but you never know who you may have helped by doing so. And thank you for taking such good care of Bella. I am sure she knows just how lucky she is to have you.

  10. Oh, Leslie, that sounds like an awful lot to handle in such a short time. I really think you've done an outstanding job regardless. Bella is not alone in having to deal with clueless owners who are unknowingly making situations worse--I surely did it with Desmond and his reactivity. Thank you for being willing to share all of that with us. I, for one, really appreciate getting a look at what goes on "behind the scenes" of all the dog blogs. It helps me to know that we're all just doing the best we can--and none of us are perfect.

  11. My gosh you have had it rough! Yes we can get sidetracked with our lives, but our dogs live through it with us and I don't think there is anything wrong with that.  Stuff happens, that's life and there's no right or wrong way only the way that works for you.  Every dog and every person is different so don't ever feel guilty thinking you haven't done enough. You did what you had to in your situation. Bella has you and your love and I'm sure things will come around again! After all you have each other. :)

  12. You really couldn't have known how much Bailey was harassing Bella until you caught her at it. I would definitely let the neighbor know that they need to get their dog NOW the next time she is in the yard, and that you will not be held responsible if Bella tries to eat her face, which is what Maggie would try to do. Maggie and Duke would not tolerate another dog being a jerk in their yard! 
    You were going through many extremely stressful life experiences at once, it's no wonder you missed what was going on with Bailey. So sorry for the loss of your father. I hope Jan has been in good health since his surgeries. 
    Is there a fenced area where you could take Bella and Gus or eventually Bella and Maggie? Bella might do pretty well if she doesn't feel trapped by a leash. It doesn't sound like you've done anything wrong with Bella, finding and taking the Reactive Dogs class was a great idea. Walking with Gus and his sister should help Bella socialize without the stress of another dog in her face, the Chicago SociaBulls walking group has really helped a number of reactive dogs. 
    I know how hard it can be to deal with Satos' issues. Maggie and Duke seem like normal dogs if they're just with me, but can be nervous wrecks around new people or situations. One of the reasons I started their blog was so people could see what they're really like at home! 

  13. Awww....it just sounds like one big unfortunate accident. So sorry Maggie's owners are afraid to take a second chance, but also understand why, since they are protecting their baby too. :-( Sorry you had such a bad year in 2010. Hope 2011 and on into this year have just gotten better and better for your family all around.

  14. Ah, Jodi, thank you for this.  It's always nice to hear others have faced similar issues and dealt with them successfully.  

    Your idea about the film is a good one.  We set up a temporary fence to keep Bailey from getting close to the house (and give Bella a play area) which has been working well.  We also, finally, ended up calling Animal Control about her (after the last tumble I took while walking Bella in my own yard because of Bailey being in it) and the neighbors are, thankfully, taking things more seriously now.I didn't know about Delilah being attacked.  That's really horrible and I'm sorry for her.

  15. Thanks friend.  I lol-ed re: your doctorate comment.  Sometimes I feel that's what I really need here.  

    I didn't really mean to sound like I was beating myself up.  Like you, we're just muddling along trying to figure things out so you know, sometimes it's 1 step forward, 2 steps back. (But the pep talk I received from all you lovely folks hasn't hurt.  ;)

  16. You've done so much for Bella. Given the year you had in 2010, I agree with Pamela - some people would have just ditched her as too much trouble. It speaks to your love & awesomeness that you've remained dedicated to her no matter what. 

    I've had my own version of 2010 (2006 for me) and have made my share of mistakes with my Bella as well. My vet and I were just talking about this the other day - they can't just tell us what's going on, so there's no use in feeling terrible when we don't figure things out right away. The key is just to learn from it and try to figure it out next time. 

  17. Thanks for an interesting perspective.  While you might want to hold your compliments until full disclosure of some of Bella's less-than-spectacular behavior comes to light, it certainly never crossed my mind to give up on her. (Not sure my entire family would say the same...)

    There's just something so very sweet deep in my crazy critter that makes her worth the effort.  Thanks for the pep talk and head smack. I need that sometimes. ;)

  18. I can't imagine going through so many horrible things & in such a short time.

    No one is perfect, but you are without a doubt trying much more than most people would. Bella is very lucky to have found such a dedicated family.

    Hopefully some day Bella will be able to make up with Maggie.

  19. I forgot to mention that my list of wrong doings is much much too long, but you just have to keep learning & growing & doing your best :)

  20. Bella is very lucky to have you as her pawrents. Just finding someone with the love and patience it takes to work with a dog with a good amount of baggage is difficult. Bless your souls for loving your wonderful Bella.

    Uh...Mom says she thought all peeps made oopsies ;) Us dogs kinda count on that fur our entertainment and rather like the extra attention and treats their guilty conscience brings to us ;) Pawfect is boring :)

    Waggin at ya,

  21. I just wanted to say that I just recently found you guys here in blogville! Bella's so cute & I love her story. I think that it sucks what happened to her. Hopefully your neighbors have been proactive about the whole thing. My neighbors dog comes over all the time which I don't like he's sweet and my Trinity loves to play with him but I sometimes have my friends dog over whom dislikes large dogs bounding after him, hes a small terrier mix. Hopefully Bella will be able to play again with other dogs soon. Also, I've never heard of the Tufs grounds before, I'm gonna have to check it out one day. Thanks for informing me of a dog friendly area! And I'm happy to get to know you guys to!

  22. As others have already written, I, too, think that you are being too hard on yourself.   I have been following your blog for a short period and even still, I know how diligent of a dog owner you are and how much time, work and effort you have invested into Bella's development and happiness --- really, at the end of the day, what more can be asked of you as her owner?  I am glad that you included the list of goods and successes from 2009 --- that is the important stuff, the reminders of how far she has come and here is to looking forward to even more goods and successes to come.    

  23. Boy, it's taking me forever to reply to these comments.  You all have been so kind responding in depth to my insecurities. ;)  Unfortunately, this is only the first of several posts to come explaining how missing what was going on with her at this time impacted her anxiety, confidence and behavior.  

    You are, of course, right in that until they figure out how to talk to us in a language we understand, we're all still just guessing.  It's just tough when you see her take 2 steps forward but 3 steps back.  :(

  24. You're a doll, Cindy. Thanks for the pep-talk.  I know you know what it's like.  Don't think I heard about the chicken bone incident though. Yikes. 

    Sounds like drinks are in order all the way around. (Maybe after the 24th?)

  25. Aw, thanks, Nola's mom. I think Bella and Nola have a lot in common and it's tough when you're trying everything you can think of and it still doesn't work.  Sometimes I think we're working against "type". I mean, herding dogs are going to herd.  Not that Bella's a particular type like Nola is.  I wonder if Dachshunds are just a little more finicky about who they like?  (Hey, I don't blame them for being a little nervous of folks when they're way down under foot like that. :)

    Luckily training has definitely helped Bella (even with the really nasty stuff I haven't disclosed yet) but I admit, we only got really serious about training when things got really serious in her behavior.  Ah but that's a post for another day... :)

  26. Hi Jana, Thanks for that.  It's true, we're all just doing the best we can most of the time, aren't we?  I guess dogs have learned to be resilient around people because we're always doing something to mess them up.  ;)

  27. Hi Haopee.  Sorry, I do tend to ramble, don't I? lol  This is why I don't post every day. ;)

    I'm sorry you have the same situation where you are.  I don't understand why people don't consider those around them when they do things like let their dogs run loose.  It's so frustrating to try and teach Bella that she's safe here only to find out, she really isn't and there's not a lot we can do to protect her.  

  28. Thanks, Kristine. Coming from you, I might even believe I haven't screwed Bella up beyond repair.  ;)

    Thanks for saying you think you did some things wrong with Shiva.  Seeing what you've done with her since is a real inspiration. One we're hoping to emulate.  

  29. Thanks Lauren.  It's really encouraging to hear from folks who are either going through the same things or have come out on the other side with relatively well-adjusted dogs.  We're all learning, aren't we?  And yeah, I do think we're "all just doing the best we can".  That's been a life motto of mine for a long time.  Funny how I forget to apply it to myself sometimes. ;)

  30. Oh Janet, you have no idea.  My mom says I have a little black cloud that follows me around. ;)

    I know I shouldn't feel guilty and in my heart, I'm sure Bella will come around.  To be fair, her problems aren't with me - she's my little sweetheart and we read each other very well.  If she and I could just go off to a little island by ourselves somewhere, we'd have a very happy little life.  (That IS part of the problem though. More on that coming soon.)

    Thanks for the kind words. This community is really something special when it comes to supporting each other.

  31. Thanks for the pep talk and kind words, 2PD. Part of why I'm so happy to have found your blog is that I finally have someone else who understands the Sato part of the equation.  

    We're working on getting Maggie and Bella together at a local recreation center.  We'll start by leash-walking them but not letting them get too close until they're comfortable with each other again.  Then we'll see about off-leash opportunities.  To be honest, there aren't that many places around here that we could do that and not run the risk of bumping in to other dogs.

    Additionally, we have since "dealt" with Bailey and her owners.  (Interesting how asking nicely produces no results but calling the police does.)  Either way, I'm just glad Bella is beginning to trust being in her own home and yard again.

  32. Thanks Donna.  We've never faulted Maggie's folks for being scared.  Like you said, they're responsible for protecting their dog, not socializing ours.  Things here have been better and we are starting to see a great deal of progress with Bella.  She'll keep me swimming in blog material for a long time to come. ;)

  33. Oh, I didn't know you had problems with your Bella - she seems like she has always been the perfect dog.  It is tough when we know something's wrong and just can't figure it out.  All we can do is keep trying.

    Sorry you had a year like that yourself.  I hope we never have another.  :\

  34. Thanks PJ, it was a tough time but we all got through it. We'll keep working things through, too.  No one's giving up on this dog while I'm around. ;)

    We know we'll get there with Maggie.  To be honest, her parents have had several years that were way worse than my 2010 so we all have dog issues to deal with now.  Kind of levels the playing field.  :)

  35. LOL - I can't believe that.  But yes, as long as we keep learning, we're heading in the right direction.  Thanks!

  36. Hey Roo.  Thanks for that reality slap from your mom. ;)  I'm afraid Bella's getting so many "guilty conscience treats" at this point, the next issue we're going to have to deal with is her being overweight. lol  (We do actually keep an eye on her weight, I'm just kidding.)

    We knew were taking a dog with "baggage" as you say, so we shouldn't be too surprised when it comes bubbling to the surface. She's worth every (frustrating) moment. ;)

  37. Hi Keri!  Thanks for letting us know you were here.  (We've added your blog to our reading list, too!)

    Our neighbors have been very difficult about the whole thing.  We finally got the matter resolved (we hope) but it did take going to law enforcement to make them take it seriously.

    Tufts used to be an awesome place for Bella to go.  Now that's it formally a real dog park, it's a little small for her to be able to get away from dogs that frighten her so we can't go any more but lots of people still do and love it.  There's a Facebook group for it if you're interested in learning a bit more about it.  https://www.facebook.com/groups/73122599068/

  38. Hi Sherri, thanks for that.  

    I didn't mean to sound so negative - Bella's done really well for where she started and I don't mean to diminish that in any way.  She just has some issues and we're going to help her work through them.  She had a bit of a slump and I'm going to talk about that here but then I can get to where we are now and how well she's doing on the other side (well, almost on the other side) of it.  Stay tuned.  I promise, 'it gets better'.  ;)