Custody Dogs

The Story of Doris

Doris was a shy, sweet Cocker mix who’d gotten loose from her home one morning. By the time she was picked up by Animal Control in the afternoon, the dog was so scared and disoriented that she bit the officer on the hand when he reached for her collar. Doris’s family was hoping to claim her that day, but because of the bite, by law she had to spend ten days in quarantine at the county shelter.

Under normal circumstances, Doris loved the touch of humans, and this sort of isolation was particularly hard on her. Fortunately, she also loved to eat, so to ease the boredom, we taught her the game “find-it.” She caught on quickly, and her little nubby tail would start to wag at the first rustling of the treat-filled baggie. The quarantine kennel was typically small, so any exercise — even just racing from the front to the back in pursuit of the tossed kibble — was welcome activity.

We knew from talking with her family that Doris also adored belly rubs, but the benign wooden back-scratcher was a tougher sell. At first, she didn’t want it anywhere near her, unless there was a bit of hot dog involved. It was several days before she grasped that this was the key to tummy tickles; when she finally understood, she’d roll on her side invitingly and sigh as we “pet” her through the openings in the kennel gate.

Doris may not have had the best ten days of her life at the shelter, but at least she knew during her stay that she wasn’t forgotten. There were enough play sessions and bouts of mental and physical stimulation to ensure that Doris didn’t go crazy. Her human mom was relieved to see that Doris was essentially the same dog who’d gotten lost the week before. “I was afraid she’d think she’d been abandoned,” Doris’s mom told us. Nah, we wouldn’t let that happen!

Contributed by Leslie Smith, GADAB Enrichment Consultant, from a  shelter
in New Mexico

Sage & Chili — The Right ‘Seasoning’

You have to wonder how two little puppies end up in a shelter – especially two puppies as adorable as Sage and Chili. They were both light brown with freckled noses, happily chubby, clumsy as could be, feisty, playful; and… unfortunately, by themselves. Puppies learn a lot from their littermates and their moms – social skills, bite inhibition, hierarchy and more. Play increases dexterity, social interactions and teaches boundaries. If a puppy fails to acquire these skills, the prognosis for becoming a behaviorally sound adult decreases dramatically.

So it was up to us to get Sage and her pal Chili up to speed on what being a good dog was all about. Since they were only around 7 weeks old and hadn’t had all their shots, they couldn’t really be out and about on any floor surfaces, but we did need to begin socializing them right away. And socializing puppies is about as fun as it gets!

It’s a real world out there, and it was up to us to introduce our two tykes to sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch, always making these experiences as positive as possible. We started in-kennel – handling them, touching body parts, playing with them, giving them different toys with different textures, hand-feeding with slightly different foods and textures. After a few days of this, it was time to venture out of the kennel.

We started out with both of them in a sling around one person’s neck, since they were used to being together. A walk around the shelter for us was a trip around the world for them! Turning on water faucets, meeting and greeting different people with sunglasses and hats, watching/hearing the washer and dryer, seeing/smelling a parrot, looking out of an open window – all of these sights, sounds, and smells of life that we barely notice were huge for them. We watched them carefully for signs of stress, fed them favored treats, and kept the ride positive and short the first time out. Our trips lengthened daily, and eventually we separated the two of them, with two of us walking side by side so they could still see, smell and hear each other.

Next, they came out of our arms and into a stroller, with repetitions of the known and many more introductions to the new – such as sitting outside and taking in the sensory reality of wind, sirens, car sights and sounds, horns, other animals, new people, and a million new smells. We were always careful to gauge how Sage and Chili were handling these new experiences, and to end the sessions before it all became too much. Soon we were practicing things like putting on collars and attaching leashes to the collars; watching opening and closing of umbrellas; and the mysterious sounds and movement of, say, a skateboard. All of it designed to enlarge their exposure to, and comfort level with, the big wide world.

After their shots were complete, another whole world opened up for them. Now they could run around on the floor, learn about stairs, practice puppy agility, join puppy play groups, roll on the grass, pad across cement, feel the rain on their noses, and encounter skateboarders. Were they scared? Were they nervous? These particular puppies were not, but every puppy is different. We all amble at our own pace.

We’ve only touched on opening the doors to puppy needs. Loving Sage and Chili, and getting them up and running brightened our days, and now that they are in great foster homes, they’re busy putting other folks through their paces!