This blog is a tribute to Belle, and all the dogs who have come before and after. They are my friends, my companions, my teachers and my students. They bring me both joy and heartache, laughter and tears. There is nothing as sweet as the smell of puppy breathe, and nothing as sad as the final goodbye.

The Flax Chronicles

The Flax Chronicles

Day 1 September 30, 2017

Surprise, the little creature not only remembered me but gave me a wagging tail greeting as soon as he heard my voice. Encouraged, I looped him and took him outside where he promptly landed in my lap.
Back home was another matter. Naturally, every unfamiliar sound was cause for alarm as was the presence of Timo and Ruby if they dared to get too close to the crate. After late bathroom break I decided to put a bed by my chair and let him hang out. It didn’t take long before he visibly relaxed…until the cat walked by. Tomorrow I’ll buy him a harness and have him take a walk or two with the gang as he begins to learn the rules. I expect he’ll be spending a lot of time in his crate in the next few days where he will feel safe as he slowly acclimates to his new surroundings.

The Flax Chronicles

Day 2 September 30, 2017

I’m happy to report that the little man has noticeably relaxed. He’s showing interest in the environment, exploring both inside and out. He’s more accepting of the other dogs, letting them sniff and sniffing in return.
I am hand feeding him for the time being as a way to begin to address the food guarding. So far I haven’t seen any sign of it but that could change. I fed him cookies along with my other two. Like them, he had to sit to receive the treat, which took a bit of luring to accomplish. He’s still not free to roam at will and won’t be for a while. He’s very affectionate towards me. I have to be careful not to encourage dependency by balancing affection with compliance. We took a few short walks with the other dogs in tow. Flax was stiff and scared as expected. To the disappointment of the others, the walks were short, just a house or two, before returning home. I had him looped and clipped as a precaution. To my delight, after dinner and our short walk, he actually played a bit, grabbing some random toys off the floor and tossing them around. I see so much potential in this little dog buried beneath layers of fear. I am excited to help him shed those layers and watch him morph into the sweet, intelligent creature buried inside.

The Flax Chronicles
Day 4 October 2, 2017

Never Give Up On Hope

Just to clarify, all is not peachy keen over here. Flax comes with a lot of baggage. He attacks when startled, is mostly on high alert, is suspicious of everything, is willful and known to be a little terror when the mood strikes. As I write this he is laying comfortably in his crate after being out for a good three hours or more.
This morning for some reason he was very tense, snapped a few times at the dogs and cat. He is always leashed so he can’t do any harm. Fortunately my dogs are very easy going and are, more and more, approaching me slowly and cautiously when they sense his discomfort. I had him on a raised platform bed and gave him a firm “no” when he pulled that crap. When I see he is relaxed, I call him over and pet him for a bit, which he enjoys. I always end our little love-fest before he loses interest. I try to give him attention when he is calm and relaxed and ignore him when he’s tense. My other dogs are close by as well to help him begin to associate good things happening in their presence. I also at times try to break the tension by starting a new task. I may call him off the bed and lure him back on with a treat. I repeat a couple of times and soon he’s jumping on the bed eagerly waiting for his reward. This seems to help break the tension and additionally, as a bonus, he’s learning the ‘place’ command. At other times I may take him outside for a little walk in the yard. Sometimes he explores, at other times not so much. I thought long and hard before I took him. I’ve wanted another dog for a while. An older puppy seemed ideal. Someone I could train and have fun with, another lab or maybe a golden this time. When I saw Flax’s face in my newsfeed back in August all my dreams of getting a puppy disappeared. His eyes called to me and I knew I had to get him out of there and give him a chance to succeed. I’ve been down this road before. First with Noah, my sweet black lab, who had almost no human contact and who lived in an outdoor enclosure on 35 acres of swamp land in Suffolk, VA, and later on with Ruby, my sweet pit who was left at my curb after being badly mauled by another dog. Both were unsure and ill equipped to deal with the world. So I have no illusions that success with Flax will be easy to accomplish. I am certain that there will be moments, even days when I will regret this decision. But I look forward to the journey and welcome the challenges that await us.

The Flax Chronicles
Day 7 October 6, 2017

Flax is beginning to settle. Yesterday was pretty amazing, not once did he lunge or growl at the other dogs or cat. In fact after sniffing Timo’s mouth and ears he lay down beside him and rested. He was no longer hyper-vigilant; he paid no attention to me as I went about my business, though he looked at me quizzically while the blender was on. (And yes, he got a taste of my banana-strawberry smoothie). This may not seem like a big deal, but for a dog usually on high alert around humans and any change in his environment, this is a breakthrough. Since he seems to really enjoy being pet, I am using it to my advantage by touching him gently but firmly in new places like his paws and his tail.
Today is our one week mark. What I learned: #1. I thought housebreaking would be a major issue. I visualized Flax marking everywhere and dirtying his crate. To my surprise/delight, he hasn’t had a single accident in the house or his crate. #2. I thought he would take to my dogs before allowing me to get close to him. Wrong! #3. I figured he would freeze up on walks. Wrong again. He loves his walks and for sure, with his tail held high, trots along like the big dogs. Guess it’s true Flax, size doesn’t matter! #4. Although I knew I was going to address his food guarding by hand feeding him I was worried that he’d snap if any of the other animals got too close. Nope, he shows no concern though I do keep him on a short loose leash when I feed him just in case my food crazy IBD cat decides to partake.
For the most part he is a delight to have around. For those that know him you might find it hard to believe that he is mostly 10 lbs of sweetness. Today on our walk as a tractor unexpectedly came rolling around the corner he tried to go after it. It reminded me of his fence fighting at the shelter. Of course I told him “no” and pulled him back, but I swear, there was a twinkle in his eyes and a proud look on his face for a job well done.
I don’t pick him up and I don’t let him sit on my lap. He has more freedom in the house but he’s still wearing a leash. I’m letting him figure things out on his own. I do pet him almost every time he comes to me and will continue to encourage him (memories of having to towel him to get him out of his stainless still remain). As of today I do not have a plan of action. We will take it day to day for the next few weeks, hoping for the best but prepared for the worst.
*** I am terrible at taking videos when walking 3 dogs, my hand, poop bags all get in the way. This is the best I can do, and that's not saying much

The Flax Chronicles
Week 2 October 13, 2017

I’m sorry I haven’t posted for a while. A bad head cold knocked me out early in the week and I’m just now starting to feel somewhat human. It’s been a quiet week, mostly because I’ve spent most of it in bed, which means Flax had to spend most of his time in the crate. Whenever I was up and about, Flax was tethered to me, (though when I drop the leash, he pretty much stays close by anyway). He is more relaxed, less likely to startle at sudden sounds or movements, and has made friends with the cat. We’ve made progress with the “place” command, he understands what it means and only sometimes has to be reminded not to get off. He also understands “sit” and we are working on “stay”. While his progress may seem slow to some, I am pleased that he has relaxed enough to think and learn. Obedience work, using a lot of positive reinforcement, is a wonderful means to teach a fearful dog to engage in more thoughtful behavior. The more the front brain is used the more the dog becomes conditioned to think rather than react. The goal is through training, using both obedience and behavior modification, to increase the use of the frontal brain and shrink the usage of the reactive part of the brain, or the hind brain. For sure, we’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve taken the first steps and I’m proud of the little guy.

I fitted him with a teeny, tiny martingale and bought him a lightweight leather leash with a small brass snap. I guess I will have to buy him a coat or heavy sweater for the winter. I hope all the touching I do to him will help when it’s time to dress him! But seriously, being able to physically handle my dogs is a non-negotiable requirement of mine, and Flax will not be the exception, though it will take time, patience and persistence.
I am still hand feeding and will continue to do so for quite a while. I feed him treats along side my other two dogs and he has been polite. I noticed today that although he seems to love to be pet and seeks affection often, it is not reciprocated. By that I mean he makes no attempt to lick me. I’m sure in time that will change, as he is a very affectionate little thing. He has started to play with me a bit. I have him out on a very thin, lightweight 10ft rope the width of a heavy shoelace and call him to me in a silly voice when he’s a good distance away. He gets all silly and comes running back, tail wagging wildly and stops to give me a play bow on his way back. We do this 5 or 6 times and for some reason he gets a kick out of it. (and he’s learning a recall…sort of)

I would like to change his name. I’m kicking around Chico, Bernie, Lobito, Rambo and Fang. I’m partial to Chico or Bernie but would love some additional suggestions to try out. So if you have any ideas please share! I love this old picture of Flax and Fawn and will always think of him as part of that cute but devilish twosome. Thanks Jessica!

The Flax Chronicles 

2 Months

“How you live with your dog determines how your dog lives with you” - Larry Krohn

It’s been an interesting two months with Flax. He’s a bundle of contradictions that I’m still trying to understand. Affectionate one moment, anxious and on high alert the next. He spends most time out of his crate, though the door is always open for him if he needs to retreat. For sure, the crate is his safe place. It’s been his safe place for too long.  At first, many a morning, with the door wide open, he would choose to remain inside the crate, sometimes for hours. I started keeping a lightweight tab on him overnight, just long enough to reach outside the crate. I would coax him out simply by picking up the tab, using no pressure at all. He would come bouncing out, tail wagging as he jumped to greet me.  For the last two weeks I’ve stopped tabbing him at night and now he pretty much comes bolting out after I open the door.

He has growled at me a couple of times. Once, after I filled his water bowl and just finished hooking it up, (he had gone into the crate while I was getting the water), he tried to nip my hand just as I finished attaching it. He got a very stern “no” for that. Another time, he jumped up at me as always, and as always, I went to pet him. He quickly turned and tried to bite. After that, I put the indoor leash back on him and had him shadow me some more. Admittedly, afterwards I was hesitant to pet him for some time, though I did, but only very briefly. These incidences occurred about 8 days after he was completely weaned off Gabapentin, (he continues to get Soliquin daily), which may have contributed to his unusual behavior or it just may be coincidental. He hasn’t growled at me since.

I still hand feed. I have tried placing the bowl on the floor for him to eat from but he won’t. I’ve tried using a plate, thinking it was the bowl itself he was wary of. My guess is that he’s always eaten in a confined area (crate or stainless at the shelter) and feels vulnerable eating in the open. I won’t feed him in his crate due to his guarding issues. Yesterday I added a bit of sardine to his food and he actually took a few bites from the bowl. Another small victory!!

There is a fun side to him too. He loves to race with the big dogs and often initiates play. It is heartwarming to see him forget his fears while racing around like a lunatic, acting like, well, just acting like a normal dog! Soon we will begin training in earnest. For now, socialization is the priority and is the precursor to future formal training.

I try to be firm yet fair with Flax. I don’t tolerate any signs of aggression and quite frankly call bullshit on those who say do not correct a growl or you will teach a dog to bite without warning. He has learned that his bite and growl are an effective way to keep away those he fears. Behavior is changed by consequences. Slowly and steadily he is learning new ways to cope, and in the process he is also learning to trust, and as a result the fears and behaviors associated with it are diminishing. I ask for a little more from him each day and slowly he is conquering his demons and surprising both of us with his small, but significant achievements. It takes the patience of a saint, consistency and a commitment to forge ahead to help this dog become the best dog he can be. We are nowhere close yet though we are making some headway. I admit, at times it’s frustrating and there have been those moments when I’ve questioned my decision. I’m no saint and I’ve daydreamed about taking in a different dog, perhaps another Lab, without all the baggage. But I made a commitment to Flax and intend to honor it knowing that with time I will see more and more improvements and ultimately, a happier, more balanced little dog.









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