Annie loved her crate. It was her safe place and she would go in there when she needed confidence and comfort. In the first few days she might venture out for a minute, but then return shortly after and settle back down into her bed. She would tuck her nose into the bumper and rub it around. I think she loved the feel of something soft on her face and this was probably her very first bed that was all her own. We didn’t close the door to her crate very often, she spent so much time in there, I wanted her to feel free to explore if and when she had the courage to do so.
We began calling her crate “home base”. When I called her, she would cock her head and consider what she should do. Eventually she would stand up, take a couple of steps out, but then return again to her crate. I’d give her some time, and then she’d try it again, coming out a little further and then return again to regroup. Watching her do this reminded me of my son when he played youth baseball. He’d lead off of the base with each pitch and then tag up again if the pitch was missed. Annie was “tagging up” at her base.
In the first couple of months it might take 5 or 6 tries to get her to come all the way around the house (she still refused to cut through the short hallway), whether it was to go out, eat a meal, leave the house for a walk, or try to get her into the yard so that we could then get into the car. At times it was frustrating but I was learning that she was willing to follow me, she just needed to take her time and some days required more time than others. Sometimes she would tremble in between tries, sometimes not. There was no predicting if she would come on the first attempt or the 9th.
When she began spending more time outside her crate, she would tag up if there was any sort of change. If someone came into the house, she would tag up before coming out to see who was here. If she heard one of us coming downstairs and she was outside her crate she would tag up. If she was coming around the perimeter of the house to get into the kitchen and one of us was standing in a place she wasn’t exptecting, she would get startled and turn around and tag up before she would try it again. She was gaining confidence, but she needed the comfort of her crate to give her an extra boost.
She was getting more comfortable with the leash so if we needed to go somewhere (usually the vet) and I was short on time I would give her 3 or 4 tries and then clip her on leash. Once on the leash she would follow me straight out the door. I wanted her to learn to come on her own so I didn’t do this often. After a couple of months I discovered that if I put her leash in my hand and stood outside her crate, she would follow me. Once in the yard she might pause a few times when she saw me heading for the car and I would need to use the leash. This usually meant that she and I would do a few circles in the yard before she would let me clip her on the leash. Eventually she got to the point that she would come all the way through the yard and to the car without having to be leashed. This is when I knew we were finally gaining her trust. She felt safe with us and was beginning to overcome her fear of the unknown.
I spent the next 4 weeks letting her do things as she wanted and tried to show her that she didn’t need to fear us. I only called her for good things, food and treats especially. When it was time for her twice-daily eye drops I always came to her. I would administer her drops in her crate but she didn’t seem to mind and eventually she would scoot to the front and put her head on my knee making it easier for both of us. Maisie and I continued to go for walks but I always announced it in front of Annie. I wanted Annie to see Maisie’s enthusiasm when the leash came out. Was I over thinking things? Maybe, but I know that actions speak louder than words so I was trying to exaggerate our actions as much as possible.
I wanted to ease Annie’s fear of leaving the yard so I would leave the back gate open and Maisie and I would walk up and down our alley when Annie was outside. We would always stay in sight of Annie. Annie would stand on our deck and I could see her head moving back and forth while she kept an eye on us, and a couple of times she eased her way closer, almost to the gate, but she never left the yard. If I started to approach her or call her she would run back to the deck. Sometimes I would clip the leash on while she was in the yard and just let her drag it around behind her, trying, trying, trying to get her to not hate the leash.
I tried to introduce the basement family room using the outside entrance. It was only a ½ flight of stairs and there was a big comfy couch that she could enjoy if I could just get her to go down there and through that door. I had tried to get her down there before but she put the brakes on and wouldn’t move. For days I sat down there with the door open, calling her name. She would look through the opening to see me, but if I got up or approached her at all she would run away. I didn’t want to pull her against her will, so I just kept waiting for her to do it on her own. It was February in Chicago so one day as I sat wrapped in blankets watching her watch me with cold air rushing through the house I decided to put the leash on her and give her a gentle tug, and she came down! Once I got the door closed I backed off, got on the couch with Maisie and let Annie take her time sniffing and exploring this new space in our house. Eventually she curled up on the floor next to me and went to sleep. Navigating a new set of stairs and doorway as well as learning about a new room had exhausted her but she was able to relax and had shown me once again that with time and patience she was willing to try new things. The very next day she followed me down with no hesitation, climbed up on the couch and curled up next to me as if there was never an issue.
I had postponed taking her to our vet for the first two weeks. I was trying to gain her trust and we were making some progress getting her to come out of her crate. She was getting more comfortable in the family room and she liked walking the perimeter of the yard. A few days before her appointment my husband and I tried to get her in the car just to go for a drive. I was hoping to show her that car rides don’t always mean going to new places. This was a no go. For an older dog, she is still incredibly strong. When I hooked the leash on her she would sit down and dig her feet into the ground. She was not moving! I would gently coax her, eventually she would stand up but after a couple of steps she would sit down again. I tried for about 20 minutes but we weren’t making any progress and she was getting more stressed with each attempt to move forward. I gave up and let her run away from me. She headed straight up the steps for the back door and right back into her crate. This was definitely a step backwards in earning her trust.
I didn’t sleep well the night before her appointment. I kept going over the difficulty of getting her in the car and I was trying to figure out what we should do. The solution I came to was to use the lifting sling that we had for Bailey. She had terrible arthritis in her elbows and for her last 6 months we used this to help her navigate the porch steps when she went outside. My husband used the straps to keep Annie’s front legs moving and I would lift her back-end when she started to sit down. We slowly made it down the walkway and then my husband lifted her into the back of the car. She did not like being picked up and let out a huge moan. I rode in the back with her but I wasn’t able to put her at ease. Once again, she put on her guarded expression and protective stance. We got to the vet and opened the side door for her, she leapt out of car and she was like a rocket on a leash. Fortunately my husband had a good hold on her and was able to guide her toward their door. She was so frantic she burst in and charged into an open exam room. It was a room they used for small animals because it didn’t have a lifting table but they were so kind and let us stay in there since she had picked it out. When the vet and the tech came in, we all sat on the floor with Annie while they checked her over.
She had been immunized the year before at the time of her rescue so she was due for shots and she had some lumps and bumps that were notated and measured. Her teeth were looked at and added to the list of items to keep checking for changes and signs of infection. We would need to watch her eyes closely because she has Entropian (a hereditary disease that caused her eyelids to roll inward) and there was evidence of prior injury to her eyes. She also has Dry Eye but she tolerated having her tear production checked and with the aid of her medication they were functioning normally. We agreed we would bring her back in about a month for a recheck. The three of us were quite a spectacle as we went through the same amount of difficulty getting her out of the office and into the car, but it was over and we could head back to the safety of home.
It’s no surprise she spent the rest of the day in her crate but she came out for dinner and lay in the middle of the floor that evening while we were watching TV so she wasn’t completely traumatized by her first excursion out of her yard.