Foster Dogs


Gunner Pictures

September, 2013.  Gunner was one of two super scared and shutdown 5 month old Beagle mixes.  Gunner was terrified of leashes and people and had to be carried out of his cage to go outside.   I spent five days working with him at the shelter.  The first two days I couldn't get him to do anything but sniff treats.  The next three days I brought Boomer, who helped gain me some trust.  We worked on "follow the pack" and Gunner would eventually come sit next to me and semi-relax for awhile.

The first day home he followed Boomer out of the car, into the house and outside to the backyard.  Gunner eventually came and sat next to me as I sat in the grass, and then followed us back inside like he had done at the shelter.

The second session though he decided he didn't want to come back in, so after an hour of waiting I finally had to catch and carry him inside.  Rats. The next day I had him drag his leash with a 20 foot rope on the end while outside until I was confident he'd come back in on his own.

After another day of having to lift him from cage to go outside he finally started to come out on his own.  Occasionally it took awhile to get him back in, but it improved each day and I never again had to resort to catching him.  I can't overstate the importance Boomer played in these first few days in making Gunner less terrified of me and his new home.

Once outside I would walk along the perimeter of our backyard.  He followed behind for the most part, but was always wary of getting close enough to get grabbed.  He would run around outside with Boomer and play happily with sticks so I at least got to see his happy side.

While inside he spent all his time in his crate with the door opened, apparently content to chew his toys or nap.  He'd occasionally come out, grab a new toy or see where everyone was, and then dart back inside.  So lots of time was spent sitting, offering treats, and being as non-threatening as possible.

Gunner made slow but steady progress the first week with us.  While still wary of letting anyone get close enough to grab him, he continued to follow me around the backyard, take treats if I was sitting, and loved to frolic with Boomer.

To prep him for leash training I started playing fetch and eventually tug of war with a stick with a 12 foot rope attached.  I was hoping to get him used to having someone standing and walking nearby with a rope in contact with him.

After two weeks with us Gunner still did not completely trust me and hadn't come to me seeking affection.  I had never had a dog take longer than a few days for that to happen.

On a few occasions he would come lay next to me if I was on the floor and let me pet him when I had treats, but it was more him tolerating it that enjoying it.  When standing or even sitting inside he was still wary of any motion that looked as if you might grab him.  Outside he did much better, but once let in he would dash back into his crate.

So our foster dog #37, despite looking so adorable and happy when he played, was proving to be by far the least trusting doggie we've dealt with.

After three weeks Gunner was finally ready to get leashed up and go for a slow walk in the front yard.  The next day we crossed the street, and by the end of the week we had built up to a normal one mile walk through the neighborhood.  He was wary and occasionally got spooked, but for the most part did ok for such a fearful dog.

We then sadly learned that his brother, who was reportedly even more fearful than Gunner, had been deemed just too far gone to make progress with.  I have to admit that I was having major worries about Gunner myself, who though he had made progress, was making it much slower than any of our previous fearful dogs.  No one wants to adopt a dog that is afraid of you and that you can't pet.

Gunner had still never come up to me seeking affection, although he would warily come for a treat.  I think this foster dog got more treats than all of our others combined.  During the fourth week I started laying inside his cage and giving him 10 to 15 minute doggie massages until his stiff-as-wood body finally started to relax.  After a few days he started licking my hand and arm and seemed to finally be enjoying human contact.

He finally started to spend more and more time out of his crate, often laying in whichever room we were in.  But once you stood up he would bolt back into his crate.  He also started sleeping in the bedroom with us, but again, once someone got up, he'd dash back to his crate.

If I laid on the floor, I was able to play fetch with him with a Wubba, and eventually a little tug-of-war.  We could also play fetch outside with sticks, but his number one favorite toy was the stick with the 12 foot rope.  Gunner loved to chase it and zoom around the yard with it while I clapped and ran around with him.

After four weeks we started making daily visits to the shelter.  I had to pick him up to get him in the car the first few days, which terrified him.  By the third day he started following Boomer in and out of the car without my assistance.  Much better.

He was pretty fearful at the shelter, but slowly became a little more accustomed to the sights and sounds.  After a full week of visits there he would routinely sit next to me on his own and actually started putting his head on my leg when we sat on a couch and let me pet him.  That only took... five weeks!  Almost cried.  

The next couple of days Gunner really started to warm up.  When I went in his crate to give him his doggie massages he licked my hand and arms.  He slept next to me on the floor and would lick my hand if it was draped over the edge.  He was doing better on our daily walks.

When I took him to the shelter at the end of the week before we left for a week vacation he actually climbed into my lap for comfort for the first time.  Handkerchief please...

He stayed with a staff member while we were away and spent most days in an office room at the shelter.  He didn't warm up to anyone, but didn't seem to have backslid at all once we got him home.

Over the next few days we had some small improvements.  While still wary of us standing up and facing him -- he would usually zoom back into his crate -- if I laid on the couch to read he would trot over and expect to get petted.  If I laid on the floor to watch TV he'd bring over a toy to play fetch and tug-of-war.  But he was still very fearful at the shelter and would have made a pretty bad adoption interview.

Unfortunately as the weeks went by Gunner stopped showing any more progress, and in some ways he started to get worse.  Despite the hundreds of hours I'd spent working with him, I still couldn't walk directly toward him without him darting away from me.  I still had to crawl into his crate to leash him up.  He'd dug 14 holes in our backyard, chewed up our workout mats, damaged a chair and some other things, so I really couldn't in good conscience recommend him to anyone else.

And I certainly couldn't foster another fearful dog while I had Gunner, which meant other dogs that I could have rehabilitated to an adoptable state weren't getting that help.

I'd talked to the behavior experts at the shelter many times for advice and had done a ton of new research on working with fearful dogs, but at this point I couldn't envision Gunner making any future progress with us or realistically see him ever becoming adoptable.

I shed more tears for this dog than any other in my life.  But after three months I had to finally accept the reality that I just couldn't fix the behavioral issues his lack of socialization in those first critical five months had created.

Once the gut wrenching decision had been made Gunner got to enjoy a "Make a Wish" couple of weeks of all fun and no stress.  Off leash running around the neighborhood, suspension of all house rules, beef rib bones, extra treats and new toys were the order of the day, with no more leashes, trips to the scary shelter or training sessions.

It snowed the last week and one day our infamous neighbor dog "The Brown Roamer" escaped and came over for a marathon running and play session with Gunner and Boomer.  It was beautiful to watch three dogs so thoroughly enjoying themselves in a winter landscape.

I stayed with Gunner until the end, holding him as he fell asleep for the last time.  I'm sorry I couldn't do more for you GunGun.  We’ll never forget you.

I have to admit, a year later, to still being haunted by Gunner.  While I don't second guess or regret the decision, I still feel a deep sorrow when I think of songs like "You Are My Sunshine" or "Don't Give Up On Me Baby" and remember that beautiful face and gentle nature.