January, 2013. Next we fostered a big 2-year old pointer mix named Zion, who we decided to call Zorro. He was extremely fearful and anxious at the shelter and needed a confidence building vacation to become more adoptable.
After a couple of days of anxiety Zorro finally started to chill-out and seek affection. He got along well with Boomer and they loved running around the backyard together. Zorro also loved to play fetch.
I tried taking him to Petsmart after a few days, but he was too fearful to improve much. So a full week was spent just chilling out at home and taking walks in the neighborhood. On the walks his head was on a constant swivel, either looking (and finding) scary things, or wanting to chase after birds and squirrels.
After a week of being on a strict going-outside-to-go-potty schedule and no accidents we declared him housetrained. Other than keeping him off the couches and bed he didn't seem to have any issues inside our home.
During this time I started bringing my in-law's 3 month old puppy over each day for puppy daycare. Nami and Zorro really hit if off well, wrestling like they were lovable siblings despite the three-to-one weight difference.
For the next month I took Zorro to the shelter four or five times a week for an hour or two to get him ready for future adoption interviews. He became relaxed enough in some of the areas to play fetch, but was still nervous wherever people were coming and going. He finally started to take treats from new people so the decision was made to put him up on the website for adoption while we continued to foster him.
Our vet-student nephew spent the weekend with us and brought his beagle-mix, Cookies. Zorro had a great time playing with her. He was nervous of our nephew at first, but eventually took treats from him and let himself be examined.
Zorro’s original owner must have used an light pointer to play with him, because he became extremely interested whenever my flashlight or camera’s light dot came on. I was trying to take a picture of my model ship’s rudder and plans when Zorro spotted the green dot on the floor (see picture on left). Because that kind of thing can lead to obsessive behavior we of course don’t let Zorro chase the light.
After six weeks Nami's puppy daycare finally came to an end. While she was a sweetie and all three dogs really enjoyed and benefited from their time together, Nami proved to be a pretty exasperating doggie to housetrain. Fortunately her several accidents in the house didn’t influence Zorro’s perfect record.
The very next week, after fostering Zorro for almost seven weeks, a nice couple with a lot of experience with dogs wanted to adopt him. While he was still shy at the shelter during the meet and greet, they were able to see the wonderful dog we'd grown to love.
In fact, Zorro was such an affectionate and well behaved housedog that he really had become "our" dog while we had him. While I was happy to see him find the forever home he deserved, Zorro had become such a big presence in our home that having him suddenly go was, well, pretty emotional.
Thanks for all the love you gave us Zorro. We'll never forget you.
...OR SO WE THOUGHT...
It turned out our adventures with Zorro had not yet ended. He apparently did well at his new home until he was left alone. Then he had a major separation anxiety attack and destroyed his cage and some drapes in his owner's home. Despite doing everything right, they just weren't able to deal with this unexpected issue.
The more I thought about it, I realized that Zorro’s original owners had a dog and Boomer was always home when we were gone. So that might have been the first time Zorro had ever been completely alone before.
So Zorro came back for another stay with us so we could work through this new issue one day at a time. We're sad for Zorro and the previous owners, but glad nothing worse happened to him.
We had already started fostering Summer so our house became a three dog home. Zorro initially took a “special interest” in little Summer, following her around as if he wanted to mount. As soon as she started looking at all uncomfortable Boomer (faster than me) charged in to intervene. Such a gallant dog we have.
After a few play sessions Zorro and Summer figured out how best to play with each other and became best buds. It was highly amusing to watch the gentle giant Zorro wrestle and frolic with the spunky terrier Summer.
Since Zorro had destroyed one metal cage similar to what we were using, I got a large plastic one from the shelter. The plan was to gradually get him use to being in it alone for up to seven or eight hours a day.
First I put treats in the crate to get him used to going in on his own and getting rewarded for it. Crate = calm, happy place.
Once he was used to that I would signal him to go inside, but instead of giving him a treat I sat at the entrance and gave him a happy doggie head massage for a minute or so until he yawned. I left the door open at first, but made him stay inside hoping that would make the entrance seem more of a psychological barrier to him. Worth a shot.
After each crate session I would sit by the door and give him another happy doggie head massage before allowing him to leave. He ended up staying in the crate even with the door opened sometimes to finish his napping.
To not risk another destroyed cage, which could have dire consequences for Zorro's future, we decided to let him loose in the house when we left him alone the first few times and do the crate training while we were home.
After consulting with the experienced experts at the shelter I bought some large frozen beef bones, a "high value object", and started putting one inside the crate to give Zorro something to chew, and make it seem a more desirable place to be. He stayed calm and apparently content for the first weeks of crate training, spending two to five hours each day inside. So things were looking hopeful on that issue.
Walking Zorro, meanwhile, had always been a bit of a puzzle. He alternated from being in a fearful mode, looking around for threats, to wanting to excitedly chase after birds or squirrels.
I tried several approaches that had always worked with my other foster dogs to teach Zorro to loose leash walk. Treats to try to get and keep his attention, many changes in direction, stopping and waiting when he pulled, sideways corrections with the leash ala Cesar Millan, mandatory sits each time he pulled or wanted to chase something.
I even tried a few new things. For a couple of walks I brought an umbrella and held it out next to me to act as a physical barrier. Next I bought a doggie backpack and had him carry some heavy water bottles. Nothing seemed to work for very long as he continued to alternate between being on-guard fearful to wanting to chase critters, which our neighborhood has a lot of.
So for awhile Zorro ended up being my first foster that (gasp) I let walk out in front of me and pull on the leash. Eventually I found the best solution was to use a Gentle Leader secured around his snout with a two foot lead for both him and Summer.
After another six weeks with us Zorro was adopted by a family with an older dog, a stay-at-home mom and three girls to love him. We hope him all the best in his much deserved (and let’s hope final) forever home.