Monday, July 16, 2012

The One Where Things Get Serious

After last week's cliff-hanger, I knew I couldn't keep people waiting too long to learn why Bella's constant company after I broke my arm last year turned out to be not quite as cute as we initially thought. This is not, however, a post I have relished writing.

Mistakes were made and bad behavior happened. But lessons were learned and that's why we're here now anyway - so that maybe others can learn from our mistakes. I also hope to encourage people not to give up on their dogs if they start to have problems and to seek help (sooner than we did) when needed.

Because, for as bad as it's about to get in Bella's story here on the blog, in "real life" we are living on the other side of it all with a really wonderful, more confident and much calmer dog. She may not be perfect but she's still our little girl and we will never give up on her.

So what could possibly be wrong about Bella not leaving my side after I broke my arm?

Well, let's take a look at the events of that fateful day through her eyes:

Bella, our insecure and fearful dog, wakes up happy in her nice comfy bed that Mommy bought her when she first came to live here. "Here" is a warm house with a big yard where she is protected from the scary thunderstorms and Daddy is always home to make sure nothing bad happens.

Hmm, except today. Where are you going Dad? Today Daddy went somewhere and left Bella and Mommy alone.

And then BANG! something happened to Mommy! Something bad. Something Bella couldn't fix with her kisses and play-bows.

And then something even WORSE! happened - some really scary stranger came into Bella's house and took Mommy away. But it's Bella's job to keep Mommy safe.

And then she waited.

And waited.

And waited.


I'm sorry.
I'll be a good dog.
Do dogs feel loyalty and love or are those traits really just a display of their own self-preservation? Did Bella stay by my side because she knew I was hurt and wanted to comfort me or because she saw me as her key to the warm and wonderful life she's come to have and wanted to defend?

What did run through her head in those hours she was left alone after her "rescuer" was injured and taken away? Did she think we were never coming back? Did she think she was trapped? Did she think she think she failed me?

Whatever she thought, Bella was obviously traumatized by the event in ways we didn't immediately recognize. It wasn't until she lunged at Jan when he tried to approach the bed that we began to understand.

You read that right: Bella attacked Jan. She didn't connect - this time. But she did bark and growl and lunge at him. It was terrifying.

Over the next several Mondays, I'll go in to some of the details of the events, how we tried to address the situation, when things went from bad to worse and what we've learned in the process.

It's been a long haul and we made a lot of mistakes. But we also got help - from a variety of sources. We'll talk about all of that and finally, finally bring her story to where we are today: succeeding in her agility class for reactive dogs, much more comfortable in her own skin, living a happy, almost downright normal dog life. So stick with me through the rough spots ahead and we'll celebrate her wins on the other side.

There have been some difficult times and I have to give my husband all the credit in the world for not walking out on us or giving up on Bella. Jan has probably learned more about dog behavior and communication than he ever wanted to know. He reads the blog (and is our silent partner) so I just wanted to say "Thank you." I do adore you.


  1. I just spent the past few days reading a book about human fear--what causes it, who rises above it, and how to manage it. It was interesting to read about how the amygdala causes humans to immediately feel anxiety in certain circumstances, even before the rational part of the brain kicks in.

    Anyway, all this is to say that the brain is so complex. And dogs don't have the benefit of all the higher reasoning we can use to help us manage our "animal instincts." 

    I think it's amazing that you've been able to empathize with Bella so much that you've been able to piece together some reasonable explanations for her behavior. By working through the issues together, it's bonded all three of you more strongly than ever.

  2. Dachshund Nola and her MomJuly 16, 2012 at 10:16 PM

    It's amazing that you both have been able to stick by Bella

  3. Incredibly fascinating, I can't wait for the rest. Impressed with what you've done, and most certainly with Jan - but it's also a bit selfish, as I'm wondering if we can learn from you on how to best help our Chester. He just lunged at my (grown) son tonight. No connect, but it was just as real. 

  4. Oh boy. Since you probably don't want to wait for this story to play out here, we should have a convo offline. So many details to factor in. I can tell you this much - when Bella did finally connect, we got professional help and Bella is on medication. I'll drop you anote tomorrow (sorry, fading fast tonight) and we can talk.

    It is scary. I feel for you. Kind of strange that it happened after you broke your wrist, too. What do they have against wrists?

  5. Ah but that is the point; you've come out the other side! Maybe I'm a romantic and I do accept that any sensible dog will have a strong sense of self preservation, but I do think there is a very strong bond of love loyalty and understanding. When I first had Flynn he was a real puller on his lead. My then-partner had a big op and was a long time in recovery. When she started to go for short walks Flynn went with her - as gentle as a lamb. I took him out and he'd wrench my arms from their sockets!

  6. The best part about Bella's story is that the three of you are still together today to tell her story.  I have to give you credit for standing by her, getting her help and working through this with her.

  7. We are glad that you have been able to stick with Bella. We have had a few trying incidents here & are still constantly evolving. Looking forward to learning from your story. 

  8. Georgia Little PeaJuly 17, 2012 at 5:25 PM

    I've always wondered what dogs really mean when they do certain things. If we're interpreting their "intentions" and actions completely wrong, and from a human perspective. Personally, I believe that a lot of what we see as "love" is probably something closer to "acknowledging dependence". For example, is Georgia a great cuddler because she wants to be close to us? Or because she's trying to keep warm? I put my dollar on the latter because she's not a keen cuddler in summer! Dogs are master manipulators, as children are.

    I also think every dog has the potential to snap, just as we humans do. I'm glad we already know Bella's story has a happy ending :)

  9. Hi Y'all,

    So many people just "dump" their dog when it proves difficult.  Bella is so lucky!

    Thank you for visitin' me!

    Y'all come back now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

  10. How scary. So glad that you both made the commitment to work through it, and help Bella be the best dog she can be. 

  11. Bella's story make me smile and tear up all at the same time. Gotta love a rescue. 
    Passing the sunshine award to you!

  12. I was a tad confused on the cliffhanger thing. Is this what you were pertaining to

    Alright, Bella Daddy! Husbands, partners, boyfriends, they are certainly patient and understanding. I am lucky to have mine put up with me and the dogs as well.

    Don't give up. We are all rooting for you, Bella, Leslie and Jan.

    Huggies and Cheese,


  13. Hi Guys,

    I can only imagine how confusing it all was for Bella, so happy though that you were all able to take the time and effort to work it out and stay together as a wonderful family - Bella truly has a loving, forever home! :)

    Wags to all,  

    Your pal Snoopy :) 

  14. Hi Bella and Bella's mommy and daddy! Gosh, that DOES sound awfully skeery for EVERYBUDDY. You prolly know that when I first got adopted, I was super duper fearful, too. I never reacted toward mom and dad but I would go off and hide in my condo. Sometimes it seemed like everything would be going along just fine and then WHAM! Something would happen that would skeer me all over again. We had a nice trainer-man who said that he really thought that dogs can have PTSD and that some events can bring back all the bad stuff. Maybe that's what happened to you, Bella.

    Anyways, I know that you and me - we're both REALLY lucky that we adopted humans that look past all of the stuff on top to see the real dog on the inside. I can't wait to hear the rest of your story!

    Wiggles & Wags,

  15. I'm so very happy that you didn't just assume she was a bad dog for lunging and do something dire.  Many people would have.

    She is lucky to have found you and Jan, and your compassion and understanding. 

  16. Oh Pamela, I would love to know the name of that book. :)

    One of the things Jan and I talk about is the fact that Bella does not even seem to realize what she's doing when she goes into these "fits".  It's become obvious to us that she is reacting out of some very base level fear and, as you say, "animal instincts".  It's been a fascinating journey.

  17. I tend to ride both sides of the fence.  I believe that dogs are capable of higher emotions but also believe that we don't understand how it all fits together.  I think in Bella's gut she felt she was defending me but I think the instinct that drove her to want to is her own survival.

  18. I often wonder what goes on behind the scenes at your place with all the dogs.  Surely they can't all get along ALL the time.  :)

    We've learned so much in the past few years.  I hope I can spell it all out properly.

  19. Dogs are indeed "master manipulators" and Bella would not have survived the streets of Puerto Rico had she not honed that skill to the extreme.  The whole thing is fascinating to me (although I'm sure Jan hasn't found being on the receiving end of this investigation so. ;)

  20. We've often talked about what would have happened to her had Bella not ended up here.  I have to admit, the shelter who gave her to us did a good job in her placement.  (I used to volunteer there and they knew me.  They knew I wouldn't give up her.)

    Oh, and we love visiting you.  :)

  21. It is scary but we really are blessed to have the quality of help around here that we do.  

  22. Thank you, Mallory!  You're very kind.

    Thankfully not all rescue dogs are quite as traumatized as Bella and we certainly had a hand in 'screwing her up'. ;)  But she's making great strides and we're in it for the long haul.

    Thanks again for the award.  I hope to post about it very soon.

  23. LOL - yeah, sorry - that was the post I was referencing.  At the bottom of it I made a quip about having to come back here to find out why her "staying with me" wasn't quite as cute as we originally thought.  We live and learn.

    And don't worry, we're not giving up on her. No way, no how. :)

  24. Thanks Snoopy.  We think she was very confused and quite frightened.  She's such a little sweetie most of the time, it had be real trauma that made her react like this.

    And yes, she has a forever and ever home. :)

  25. I read somewhere recently that PTSD is a very real thing for dogs and I wouldn't be surprised if Bella suffered from it.  I'm really sorry to hear you have to deal with it, too.  But you're right - both you lovely pups have peeps that aren't going to give up.  

  26. She was lucky but she was also pretty deliberately placed.  I used to volunteer with the shelter we got her from and they knew I was familiar with Satos as well as a pretty experienced dog handler.  Admittedly Bella has tested (and humbled) those skills but they also knew I'd never give up on her. :)

  27. I like that - we are ALL here to continue her story. I promised her I'd get her help and I intend to keep that promise for the long haul.

  28. It's been dicey but she's a good girl and she's worth it.  She's just scared.  We'll keep trying to understand her as best we can and hope someday she's not as scared any more.

  29. poor Bella! that sounds like a horrible experience. I don't think my dogs would cope with me being injured and then being left alone when the ambos came to get me either, and they are pretty well adjusted... even though Bender has some fear issues.. If I could the first thing I would do after calling the ambulance would be to call someone to come and look after the furkids.

  30. This whole story makes me want to come up there and hug you. You've done so very much for that pup, and I know she improves her outlook on life every single day because of you guys.

  31. I really admire that you were able to see past the lunging and snapping in order to help Bella and figure out what to do. Many people wouldn't even make the effort.

    When I was younger, my childhood dog used to be very protective of me, even growling at my parents sometimes when they would come too close. It wasn't all the time and luckily it lessened over the years, but when I look back I do think that there were so many other ways we could have handled it and tried to figure out the root cause.