Friday, April 30, 2010

Keep Your Chin Up

For the first time this week, Kona and I headed out on a longer run. To cover more distance and not run in circles, we have to go somewhere other than our two neighborhood trails. While Kona is most comfortable on these "backyard" fireroads, I was feeling hopeful about challenging Kona. We have taken on nose work, a new calming supplement, and daily relaxation protocol work. I thought we could put the confidence boosting work to the test. Out the door and to the Creek we went.
Alright, I got my reality check. A couple weeks of a new routine doesn't cure a scared dog's worries. Our run was rather predictable. Kona did alright on the way up, although she spent most of her time slinking on the trail.
She relaxed into a bit of exploring and treat eating at our peak.
Then our descent just wasn't fun. Some of you have asked why Kona is more afraid when we head back downhill. I think it's two things. First, she's scared of "human world" things. As my trainer describes her, Kona is semi-feral. The litter I adopted her from may have been truly feral. While the shelter wasn't sure of the litter's history, I got to see all of Kona's sisters, and Kona didn't just get the "scared gene." I also adopted her from a rural shelter that sat off a dirt road—a far cry from even our quiet city neighborhood. Her hyper vigilance and fears seem so innate and ingrained that I really believe that her mother lived under serious stress while Kona was in utero.

All that to say, Kona's fears surround "city civilization" and when we turn around on a trail, we face the city. All our trails bump up against neighborhoods, so we can both see and hear street activity as we descend. The closer to the car we get, the closer to the streets we are. This makes it hard for Kona to relax, even when she's hanging out by her favorite creek.

Second, because it's later in the morning, we run into more people on our way downtrail. Kona has gotten so much more comfortable about meeting strangers on the trail. As long as they ignore her, she's willing to take treats, or just keep exploring. Even though she has improved in this area, any trail activity can increase her stress and the repetition of people encounters slowly makes Kona more and more uncomfortable.

Having a stressed Kona Dog with me this morning made me sad. I had a sense of defeat. This wasn't a city street. This wasn't a hospital visit or a trip to the vet. This was a jog on a quiet trail, and Kona was looking for a hiding place.

When we got back to the parking lot, I sat next to Kona's crate and let my legs hang out of the open car door. I felt grief that such a beautiful morning was lost in fear and frustration. I sat there until I found that voice that told me to keep my chin up. Only work and patience will help Kona learn to be an ease. And only then may we be able to soak up our mornings together.


LauraK said...

Kona is so lucky to have you. I'm sure with more time she will get better, you have such great patience with her :)

Beautiful creek pictures! And I think your theory about Kona's early days in life (even in utero) is interesting, and probably pretty accurate. I'm sorry you feel defeated, but it sounds like she's come pretty far as it is. Like you said, keep your chin up, and you've got all your blogger friends cheering you two on :)

Priscilla said...

Hi AC.
I agree with Laura. Kona is the luckiest dog to have you, and although you told us that she's your first dog, I gotta say you did an amazing job with her! The patience and love you have for her, the time you take to get her more comfortable with life, and all those little things you do for her, I'm sure she appreciates it.
One day, I'm sure Kona will be fine. The trails you take us on are amazing, and I loved the creek pictures today!
Keep your chin up :)

Sara said...

I know those discouraging moments all too well. It is such hard, hard work to help these fearful dogs.

Keep doing what you're doing. You've seen gains, and will continue to do so.

I had a great day with Oreo today, and want to blog about how confident he was, but am afraid to write it down. I fear tomorrow, he will be a nervous wreck again, and then I'd feel like an idiot.

What a rollercoaster it can be living with fearful dogs.

Barb said...

Poor Kona - though the fear exhibited is a protection response. Hopefully, with continued exposure, treats, and nothing bad happening, Kona will run with head held high and tail wagging! Will she accept treats from strangers? Good Luck and keep YOUR head up!

Kathy said...

I hope you have been journaling or blogging since she was small and maybe lookng back it will be easier at times like this to see how really far you have come. It has to be so hard to watch her and see her feeling uncomfortable. When I was starting out with reactive dog work with Skyler that is what killed me was when I knew how uncomfortable he felt in places I wanted him to just enjoy and he should have been able to enjoy. Know though, while Kona is not feeling as comfortable and relaxed as you would like her to feel yet, you have increased her enjoyment of life, and the things she could do soooo much and she is so lucky. Think if she had went home with 90% of the population she would have been left in the back yard and ignored ;-(, she is a special girl and ended up with you-she is so lucky, and it is obvious how much you care and you have come so far....and as long as you both keep getting up every day and working a little more, she has made so much progress and she will continue. You guys really are a great team and Kona has a great life, you guys have come a long way. Guess knowing how hard it can be for her is what I am sure makes all the little steps she makes so much more special for you. I really admire both of you, you for the work and love you have put in and Kona for her courage in coming as far as she has.

Sam said...

I totally know the feeling - you plan for an awesome outing, think you're going to have a great time, take cute pics of your dog having fun and then come home and write about it on the blog - only for everything to totally go to the crapper.

The one good thing, though, is that it makes the progress so much sweeter.

Have you noticed any differences since she's been on the L-Theanine? It's probably too early to say, but I figured I'd ask anyway.

KB said...

I agree with Kathy about Kona being SO lucky that she found you. Many other people wouldn't be committed to working through the fear. I have to believe that it will start to improve with your diligence.

K has a fear of bustling urban places, and my trainer once pointed out that I almost seemed scared in anticipation of K's response. She just wanted me to try to act relaxed and not focus on K too much in the "scary" urban situations. I'm not certain how much it helped but I think that it did a little.

I agree with your title "Keep your chin up!". Think of how far Kona has come with scent class and that type of thing. I hope that she can transfer that kind of progress to trail running.

My Sons Mum said...

Adoption is a wonderful thing. I think you were meant for each other. Theres nothing like a challenge hey? Mum and I are only still just finding our groove. x

Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart said...

"A couple weeks of a new routine doesn't cure a scared dog's worries."

Very, very true. Hang in there.