I tried walking Cricket around the block again the next day. I’d spoken to Alicia to get her thoughts, and the main bit of wisdom to add to my own assessment was to cross the street if Cricket was afraid of something like the stroller. It hadn’t occurred to me at the time. Partly because there is no sidewalk on the other side of that particular street, and partly because it felt like retreating was teaching Cricket to run away from things that scared her. But Alicia explained that, as with horses, you bring them to the distance where they feel comfortable with whatever scares them. When they can handle that distance, then you start bringing them closer.
Her advice was on target, but it didn’t help. Cricket was so overwhelmingly afraid of everything. Crossing the street might take her away from something that terrified her enough that she wanted to bolt, but she was still a very tense, frightened dog. Her tail was still plastered under her belly, and she just didn’t want to be out there at all.
If there’s one thing I learned from Ray, it’s that a dog overwhelmed by anxiety first needs to learn how to calm down. And to help them do that, you need to figure out a situation where the anxiety is at a manageable level. I realize that seems circular, but who can learn when they’re terrified? Cricket’s anxiety was simply too high for a walk around the block to be productive. She was too trapped in fear to notice that nothing was harming her, and I had a feeling that from her perspective, she was spending the entire walk running away until she could get home. So we were right back to why I didn’t think to retreat from the stroller–I didn’t want to teach her that running was the solution.
I began considering that lack of socialization wasn’t her only problem. Had this dog been stray for an extended period of time? It was sure starting to seem like it. I’ve seen loose dogs before, crouching to make themselves smaller, scurrying around aimlessly while peering in all directions as if something might attack at any moment. And when Cricket wasn’t running, she was snatching up and eating every stick and bit of mulch in sight. We couldn’t go more than a couple of steps without her chowing down on something. That seemed like a dog who’d faced starvation.
Half way around the block, I stopped and crouched down so Cricket could rear up and rest her upper body on my leg. She needed a breather, and a chance to stop racing with fear. She calmed while she was plastered against me, but once we got walking again, she immediately resumed the stray dog scurry. Dang, I wish I knew something about her past. It would be so much easier to help her if I understood what she’d experienced in life. That something really seemed like being stray, but I longed for confirmation and not guesses.
Another conversation with Alicia, who had a flash of insight. Cricket had been a country dog, not a city dog. Alicia’s Doberman is a country dog. Get her into the city, and she’s a bit paranoid too, with the relative chaos. What I think of as a nice “quiet suburban neighborhood” is actually quite busy compared to the country. That alone could overwhelm Cricket.
OK, so the thing to do was to take Cricket to a park and see how things went there. A suburban park would still be different than a rural area, but I knew one where there wouldn’t be a lot of people, and that was large and open enough to be less stimulating, perhaps. First, though, I needed a safe way to get Cricket there. We’d made it home from the shelter with her loose in the back of the car, but we just barely made it. She didn’t like being back there, and only stern “uh uhs” every few minutes kept her back there. Talk about distracted driving. I needed a crate small enough for the car.
So I headed out for one of my soon-to-be eighteen million runs to Target, Petco, and PetSmart. In addition to a crate for the car, I picked up baby gates, toys, food, dishes, and Nylabones. It’s a good thing I’d waited until I paid off my car before getting a dog, because getting set up for dog ownership again cost me about a year’s worth of car payments, if you count the adoption fees.
By the time I got home with my purchases, I was worn out. So no more excursions off the property with Cricket that day. I just walked her on leash in my backyard when she needed to relieve herself. I couldn’t let her run around and play for seven days, anyway, because of the spay. And I couldn’t let her run loose in the house, even when I was there, as the house wasn’t dog proof, and she clearly had no socialization or training regarding houses, either, save for housebreaking.
Someone had done a beautiful job of housebreaking Cricket, though. She only went in her crate once or twice during those early days, but that’s to be expected after living in shelters. She quickly learned that I’d take her out on a schedule, and she much preferred that over soiling the crate, even though she had plenty of room in which to make a mess without being forced to lie in it. But that only added to my confusion about Cricket’s past. How did she come to be housebroken, and with absolutely no hangups around that, when she clearly hadn’t been trained to anything else? People who can’t bother to train even the most basic of commands generally are not good at housebreaking, and you end up with a dog who has all kinds of issues resulting from heavy-handed training methods and punishments.
Other problems were beginning to emerge, but I’ll save those for future posts. And lest I make it sound like this dog was nothing but trouble, I should mention that I was still utterly head-over-heels in love with her. Whatever she’d been through, I’d help her heal. And most of the problems were because nobody had ever taught her boundaries and good doggie behavior. She would learn–it would just take time and effort.
That love is what pulled me through all the problems, and kept me committed to working with her. In fact, I heard Sara Bareilles’ “I Choose You” on one of my many runs to the pet store, and adopted it as my theme song for Cricket. It fit us perfectly. OK, so the song is about a couple getting engaged, and not about building a bond with your dog. But it still works, because “then [she] found me, and everything changed. And I believe[d] in something again.”
Cricket and I had chosen each other. And what I wanted most in the whole world was “I will become yours and you will become mine” to happen for us. I still cry when I hear this song, thinking of how much I love my little Cricket-dog: