We started handling the pups when they first came home. Several times a day, we would lift them out of the box they were in, snuggle them, scritch them, and talk to them. T would hold Red against his chest or snuggle her under his blanket with him, in a way that was amazing in a three year old. He was very careful to be gentle and kind, kissing and loving on all of them. By the time their eyes opened, they knew us by sound and touch and scent. I began working with them as a group and as individuals. They were taught to sit and wait for their soft food every morning and every night. They were taught to sit or lay on the floor mat by the table while we ate dinner. At four weeks or so, I spent some quality time with each pup, teaching them the proper way to take food from a human hand without snapping, grabbing, gobbling or otherwise. By six weeks they were all close to ten pounds and started learning to walk separately and in a group. (By the time Spike was a year old he was completely reliable off leash. The two girls never really got there.) We took them to the dog park at night (after dark) when there were few dogs there and let them run. I walked them every morning and every night to socialize them with people and dogs in the neighborhood. They were very well socialized and with the exception of one event, never got into trouble.
That one event? It was totally my fault. I was stupid. It was late, like after 10 pm, and I was running the dogs for the final time. I ran them down the sidewalk to the grass off leash. I had Joey on leash, because she would take off for Kansas if not contained. The pups, however, were about nine months old and we had been running them up and down for months. Usually, J would help me, with one of us at our condo door and the other down at the grass. This night I was alone. I really didn't expect anything to happen. As we were finishing up and started to head back, a man walked up the road next to the grass where the dogs were. He was dressed in a black leather jacket and a turban. Red and Guinness started barking at him. Now, they were still ten feet away from him, but they were pushing 50 lbs and sounded very menacing. I was hollering at the dogs to come as the man, within 3 seconds, whipped off his jacket and began using it to hit the dogs. (All I can figure is he had a bad experience with a pack of dogs in the past and panicked.) My dogs went nuts. I had a hold of Joey, but had no way to control or contain the pups. I was screaming for J to come help in between bouts of yelling at the guy to stop whipping his coat at the pups, while also shouting at the pups to stop. I was placing my body between the man and the dogs, but the pups were darting around me as the guy whipped his jacket at them. He was screaming in a high pitched cry that added to the cacophony. (The dogs barked but not one of them put their teeth on him.) I finally got the guy trapped behind me against a landscaping bank. I grabbed the jacket from him and got him to finally stand still behind me although he was still screaming. At that point, my neighbor had come down the sidewalk to see what was happening (thank god for Jared) and grabbed Joey from me. I managed to grab the two girls and with their mayhem constrained, Spike obeyed the command to leave it. I dragged the dogs back to the sidewalk and then turned and asked the guy if he was okay. He said he was and I said I would be right back. Jared and I hustled the dogs back to our place and then I went out to check on the guy. He was gone. Like completely vanished. I never saw him again. He didn't call animal control (which I was expecting) and as far as I know, there was no damage to his jacket. It did teach me not to let the girls off leash, however. I had no voice for three days, I had strained my vocal cords screaming for help. J was upstairs oblivious to the disturbance in the force that I was trying to create to get her attention. (That doesn't really work, BTW).
So, now we jump forward to the recent past. We had just lost Joey and Spike in a span of three weeks. Guinness was depressed and starting to fail. The house was so incredibly empty and I felt lost. J and T were both so sad. I started looking for a new dog. I knew I didn't want a pure boxer again because of the shortened lifespan we had experienced (Guinness just turned ten and she is a hot mess. She is also the oldest boxer we've ever heard of.) We had been watching the drama "Person of Interest" and T had been talking about wanting a Malinois. I found a listing for Boxer-Malinois pups in south Denver and the picture of Lily took my breath away. I told J I wanted to go look at them.
We brought them home. Them, because when we got there Skittle climbed into T's lap and didn't want to leave. Them, because what is two when you've had four? Them, because two provides company and companionship when we are at work. Them, because they both stole our hearts.
What we didn't know then, is that these two pups had NEVER been outside the house. Not to the back yard. Not on grass. Not at all. They had been raised inside on puppy pads and only exposed to the three people living in the house. Not socialized. Not trained. Not connected. Nothing. We took them home at ten weeks old.
Skittle is very loving and cuddly. She stresses about strangers, the fly swatter (I'm sure they were hit with it when they were little), loud noises and anything out of the ordinary. She refuses to go to the bathroom on grass, unless we are camping. She won't go to potty if it is raining, although snow doesn't seem to phase her. She has no problem going in the house (this is her preferred spot) but is good when left in the kennel. She is a rapacious chewer and loves socks, cardboard, empty OJ cartons, bones, hooves, and basically anything she can get in her mouth. Talking to her in a deep voice will cause her to hackle and bark at you, in between bouts of wagging her tail uncertainly. I have never had to raise my voice in discipline, all I have to do is ask her in a deep, stern voice "Is this yours?'
Her favorite place to sleep is on the bed, cuddled up against our legs. When she climbs on the chair, she always does it from the side. We call her Slink-a-dink for that move. She prefers to sit on my chest or on our legs. Every morning she jumps up on me and investigates all of the buttons on my shirt, while I give her armpit scritches. She is a sweet, sweet dog. She loves her kennel and feels completely safe there.
Lily in our bed. Might be the only place she is calm
Then there is Lily. Lily is a hot mess of emotion. If it were possible for a dog to have OCD or some form of autism, I would believe she does. She has severe separation anxiety, that seems to have gotten worse after T spent the summer at home. She understands our routine and begins to tremble, pant and pace an hour before we leave in the morning. She barks non-stop when left alone. Being in the kennel does not calm her. She is frantic and hysterical when we get home. She chews as much as her sister and sometimes in her hysteria, will seek out and destroy anything she can find.
Absolutely focused on the cat. Always. Obsessively.
I got some advice from Saiph, and we implemented it immediately. Basically, she advised that we not make leaving or returning a big deal. That we remain calm and quiet, not making a production out of anything. That helped a lot, but wasn't addressing Lily's overall stress level.
I ordered a calming supplement from Smartpak called Grand Tranquility. It will be here on Tuesday. In thinking about stress and what we do for our horses, I remembered Linda Tellington-Jones using a body wrap to relieve stress for dogs. So, we bought her a Thunder Shirt.
Lily seems fine with the shirt and T said she was incredibly calm last night when he got home from school.
The combination of changing our behavior and adding the shirt to her routine seems to have helped somewhat. She still shakes, but not as bad and not until right before we leave the house. Last night she was beginning to get herself worked up and anxious. She came to me and asked for the shirt. I put it on her and it helped her calm herself down. She spent the night calmly laying with me in my chair. I'm really hopeful that the calming supplement will take the last of the edge off and she will be more relaxed and less stressed in during our morning routine.