When I got a call from Jonathan, a potential new client who had just adopted a dog from Moosonee Puppy Rescue, I was a bit skeptical it would work out. Nevertheless, I agreed to meet with them just because he was so nice and Cami, their new dog, sounded like a lovely gal.
No one is completely sure of what went on in Cami’s past, but it’s believed she lived mostly outdoors, tied to a porch. She was rescued with her litter of pups and that’s about all we know. Dogs who’ve had this kind of start in life are often difficult to integrate into city living and into a dog walking group, as they often come with a lot of “baggage.” They can be very fearful of loud city noises, aggressive around food, or lack the social skills needed to get by in a dog-park setting. (don’t get me wrong, sometimes they’re perfect.)
Upon arriving to meet with Jonathan, Eryn and Cami, we were all pleasantly surprised that Cami greeted me a the door. Until this time, she was still shy and kept her distance from guests.
We talked for a long time about the structure of my walks and how I would help Cami acclimate to life in the city. All the while she laid between the three of us soaking in the affection and belly rubs.
After the first week, I didn’t really know if Cami was benefiting from the walks or even enjoying them, but she wasn’t miserable and I knew Jonathan and Eryn badly wanted her to get out during the day and interact with other dogs. I stuck with it. On each walk, she would go off on her own and sniff the perimeter of the park and then eventually plant herself someplace and look off into the distance. I would approach her at least 20 times on a walk and offer her a small treat. She took about 8 out of 10. If there was another dog too close, she refused the treat, or if there was a strange noise coming from somewhere, she would spit it out.
One day, a couple of weeks in, Cami played with a dog who was not in our group and it warmed my heart. I knew in that moment she was having fun and, there was hope. As the weeks went by, I continued rewarding her for things like making eye contact and just for “being.” She was however, still completely ignoring me when I called her to “come.” But she wasn’t running away from me and she was happily getting into the car when it was time for her walk … I thought, she can’t be hating this so I’ll keep trying.
Then about 3 or 4 weeks ago, Cami began playing with Gus, a dog from OUR group. My heart nearly exploded. Especially since Gus’s owner doesn’t think he really plays with other dogs From then on, I made a point to walk them together as often as possible. The first few days was just wrestling and bouncing, but then it really started! Cami began running big wide circles, and Gus couldn’t resist chasing. A week later, Rueben, a 4-month-old Ridgeback joined the gang. For whatever reason, they welcome him into their play sessions, encourage it even. They’re like the three musketeers, still.
Here’s where it gets really good: About 2 weeks after Cami started really enjoying her walks, I thought “this is a good time to start trying out her recall again.” From a large distance, no response. So I began to close the gap. Finally from about 2 feet away, “Cami come” actually worked. I know, you’re thinking “who cares!?” I CARED
Once I had her happily coming in for a reward from 2 feet, I gradually increased it to 3, then 4, then 5…. and now, from across the park! This process took about 4-5 walks.
And here’s where it gets totally awesome: Not only is she happy to come when called, she follows the pack as we move around the park and constantly “checks in” on her own. She’s loving it and she likes me and the rest of the dogs! Which is good, ’cause we adore her.
What brought Cami around and gave her confidence? A loving home with loving, patient, calm, owners and positive conditioning. Never doubt the power of positivity.