When I first meet a dog, I assess their initial behaviors and start formulating a plan in my head to start easing their way: I ask myself “How do they approach me?” “Do they approach at all?” “Are they skittish with me?” “Do they stay away?”
For example, I recently (August 18th, about a month ago) met and brought home a Very Old (16+ yr old female Pekingese named Bitser. Her owner's daughter happened to talk to my sister Tina in Walmart (of all places), she explained that her father (Bitser’s owner) had recently passed away, and no one in the family could take her. She was Really Old, going blind, picky with her food, and had issues with diarrhea, for starters. Her 2 yr old sister was adopted to another family, but they couldn't find anyone willing to take on all Bitser's issues, so she would go to a shelter if I couldn’t take her. I agreed to take her (I’m a sucker for the Geriatrics), got her owner’s daughter's number, and made arrangements to pick her up the next day when I was off from my nursing job.
In meeting Bitser, she was very stand-offish with me, but very loving with the owner’s daughter. So, my initial assessment was that she was undersocialized (normal), and I can work with that. (She’s not a candidate for re-homing, and I was confident that she’d be okay, living out her life with us). I sat for a bit in the living room to let her get used to my voice, and noted that she spent a lot of time across the room, sitting with her back to me in the corner (turning the back is a classic stress posture… I can work with that, too.)
Then, in my head, I had to reassess my own assessment tools… so, Okay. There’s no help for it… I don’t have time to make her love me. She’s grieving for her owner, her sister was adopted to another family (so she’s grieving that too). She’s leaving her home (more grief), all I can do is make the transition as quick and painless as possible, and just work with any little offerings of behavior that she gives me. When all the initial Yucky Stuff is over, we can work on her Love for Me (as keeper of the Food Stuff).
I had the owner give me all her belongings (more for the smell than anything else), food, dishes, chew toys , blankets, collar, leash, etc. The owner had already had her vet records faxed to my vet, and I had an appointment for her the next day with my own vet. Bitser had had a very serious (and obviously long-term) bout of diahrrea, and her tail was glued to her little bottom with old excrement. As a result, she was v-e-r-y guardy/snappy if anyone even accidently touched “back there”. I swaddled her in a towel so that wouldn’t happen, and called my sister on the way home… we made plans for my sister to come to the house first thing in the morning, and I shaved her little behind while Tina held her. Again, there was no help for it… no way to “ease myself in”. It had to be done, so that I could see what I was dealing with. She was very red and sore, but I got almost all of the excrement off, and then washed her and applied some salve to at least start the soothing process.
Up until this point, I didn’t attempt friendly overtures… I wasn’t mean, but I also didn’t go out of my way to associate myself with Good Stuff (as I normally do), because I didn’t want to inadvertently associate myself with all the Crappy Stuff that was happening to Bitser (that I was making happen, but hoping to somehow mitigate in the end.
At the vet’s office (her appointment lasted for 4+ hours), I learned that, aside from the flaming infection caused by the excrement, Bitser was also entirely blind (not even shadows), and that she was infested with fleas, and anemic as a result. So, okay: this is stuff I’m used to, too (well, not the blindness, but how hard can it be? Lol) The staff was amazing with her, they spent over an hour bathing her, getting the residual excrement off her behind, and working out all the flea dirt. She was very good, and seemed to enjoy their efforts. I never heard a sound out of her, and she leaned into their hands as they worked. I had to transfer funds from the vacation account to my checking to pay for everything, but it’s all good now. This tends to be a “thing”… every time I get near $1000 in the vacay account, someone needs something Vetty done. lol
Bitser isn’t overly interested in my other dog (Tory), or in the 3 cats… although one of them (Mohammed) wants to lay on her really bad. So, everyone just acts like she’s not there, and she interacts with me and Johnny, and wanders around in the yard when I let Tory out to potty. Bitser is using Puppy Pads in the house, but she seems to like going outside too, so it’s something to break up the monotony of her day. She enjoys training (which consists mostly of orienting to her name, following my voice, reinforcement for using the Puppy Pads) I have an area in my dining room that's X-penned off to make her potty area, and she's confined there overnight and when I can't supervise. She's very good about using the puppy pads there, and she also potty's outside. She chews on store-bought chewies in her X-pen when me or Johnny can’t supervise her, and she seems perfectly content to do this.
All in all, she’s getting more comfortable. Her blindness is something that I have to “navigate” in teaching, but it’s not anything that we haven’t been able to work around. She’s very happy and wiggly when she hears “food sounds” (sounds that mean she’s getting food. Lol) She also loves to hear Johnny’s voice (Johnny Coming Home is a big event for my animals… he’s the keeper of the Snack Foods, after all, and he shares.
Bitser passed away suddenly on 10/2. She'll be missed.