Recently, I moved in with my fiancée and not only started my life with the woman I love, but also began learning what it takes to nurture and care for scared, neglected and abused animals that are considered man’s best friend. Through this process, I’ve learned a few things.
Our first dog is named Patti, a small 9-pound white poodle mix, and she is a rescue – and has the most adorable little dog face that you’ve ever seen. She was found nearly 6 years ago wandering around in the snow in Washington State. She spent her first few years of life enduring abuse and neglect at the hands of human dregs, and Patti’s life was forever changed. She is a fiercely smart dog. She wants to be loved. She wants to be unafraid. My fiancée adopted her 5-years ago.
She isn’t exactly a lap dog. She will jump up on the couch for some pets, but she is also never afraid to go find a comfortable spot in the corner and lay there, looking at you with her little puppy dog eyes. We think she is around 7 years old, but the excitement she feels when we take her for a walk, or the joy she gets when we are suckered into giving her belly scratches, is never limited by age. This simple love makes all the difference.
She is a loyal little pup and determined not to let her 9-pound stature effect her type-A personality. At daycare, she will often pick the biggest pillow to lay on despite her 80-pound K-9 companions vying for the same pillow. Though her previous abusive owners instilled a sense of fear within her of other human beings, she exerts the outgoing nature that she so badly wants to put on display all the time with other dogs. With K-9s, her true personality shines through.
Over the weekend, we adopted another rescue, Penny. She is a white boxer mix with big pit bull eyes and loves to lay next to you as you’re watching TV or doing work on your computer. She is very inquisitive, but also quite reserved. She is fearful of men who stand, perhaps because of her first owners who abused and neglected her.
Simply kneel down close to the floor and she’ll come walking over to you for some love and attention. Like Patti, she wants to be loved by her human pack, but she also wants to love her new family. She wants to feel safe and secure. She needs the comfort in knowing that she’ll never be left outside to fend for herself, abused or neglected. Dogs need to feel a sense of companionship just like humans. And like humans, it takes time to establish that bond.
She is adventurous, too. On the first day we got her, she put one of her paws down on the first step leading into our backyard pool. Both my fiancée and I were in the pool encouraging her to explore the water. Her willingness to break through her comfort zone came in batches. First, she’d walk up close to the water, then back up. A few seconds later, she’d walk a bit closer, then back up once more. Soon, Penny sniffed the water, then held one of her paws over the water and slowly made contact. Next, she finally submerged one of her paws until it hit the first step.
It is this comfort that she felt with us, even on the first day of her living in a new home, that encouraged her to take that first step into an environment that is new and exciting. She wants to explore. She wants to have fun. She wants to be a dog!
Through fostering dogs, I have learned how similar people and their K-9 friends are. 2-legs or 4, we all need a pack – we need to feel like we belong to a caring and loving family. Dogs need to be praised when they do something good, just like people. They need our support and undying love and attention.
Dogs, like people, need encouragement to step outside their comfort zone. The trust you build with your pet is the foundation of your relationship with them. Whether taking that first step into the pool, or finally eating that delicious treat out of your hand, a rescued dog’s damaged trust in human beings is the lifeblood of their future with you and their new family.
Find treats they love and reward them when they do good (sit, come, stay, shake, etc). If they aren’t influenced by food, they might just be too nervous yet to trust you giving them tasty rewards. Instead, find their favorite pet spot (chest, belly, etc), and give them pets as rewards instead. Show them the love that you want to be shown by your own family. Even though they have 4-legs, they possess the same wants and needs of their human family members.
They need to feel loved…just like you. Contact your local dog rescue and give a K-9 the warm and loving home that they deserve. What you will learn about life might just surprise you.