Wednesday, May 21, 2014

More than a Simple Game of Fetch

A Boy and His Dog…"Buster Brown" has sold,
but seems appropriate for this blog entry.

(Note: I refer to Floyd as the latest dog…I wrote this before Ed brought River Dog home on Saturday.)

As a kid (and adult for that matter), I hated being forced into situations where I was unfamiliar with the other children or the activity taking place. I'd much rather sit on the sidelines and carefully watch until I understood the rules and felt comfortable engaging. Throwing me into the fire resulted in pure panic (I was good at hiding it, but inside, yes, definitely pure panic) and I'd be much less inclined to participate again…EVER. This is common in introverts.

Fortunately for our latest dog Floyd, an Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix, both his parents are introverts. I have taken in many abandoned and abused animals from dogs and cats to parrots and even a lizard over the years and have never seen an animal as terrified as Floyd. He believes that he is about to be punished every second of the day. I do not know for sure what his first family did to him, but it was bad. I'm just thankful that once he managed to escape, they didn't want him back. I think he's an introvert by nature, but the abuse compounded it by making introversion a survival mechanism. When everything you do is wrong, it's best not to engage at all. He is gaining confidence, slowly, but has a long way to go. 

Floyd and I on his first day with us.

Floyd had no idea how to play. No idea what toys were and had to be convinced that it was okay to take a stuffed animal that was handed to him. He'd almost immediately drop it and you'd have to give it to him again. He's realized the phrase "it's okay" means nothing bad will happen. We say it a lot. Also if I hold my arms a certain distance apart stretched toward him that it means hugs. He didn't have the concept that something could belong to him. Anything he took, he acted like it was stealing, even when given to him. With the aging of our Border Collie, Ed desperately wants another ball dog. Our previous adoptee, Archie (mini Aussie and no telling what else mix), is easily distracted and prone to wandering off rather than focusing on the ball. Floyd should be a perfect playmate for Ed if we can just get him over his fears, but being an introvert, Floyd needs to learn on his own timetable, not ours. Pushing him results in not just 2 steps back, but more like a mile of regression.

We are teaching him the perennial classic game of fetch. 

Step one. 
Ed throws the ball for our other 4 dogs as they, en masse, race across the yard barking excitedly and vying to be the first one to snag the ball. Floyd watches, intently focused on the game and finally runs with them, but does not get the ball. Fortunately, Floyd loves other dogs and is not in the least aggressive, which would be understandable given his background. He's trying at this point, but doesn't seem to have the entire concept down. To be fair, with 4 dogs playing, the game isn't all that consistent. There's a lot of stealing, running off with the ball or not completely bringing it back depending on who gets a hold of it first. 

Step two. 
One-on-one time. Tossing the ball to Floyd results in the poor guy being bopped on the nose repeatedly. Adding the word "catch" before the toss seems to pin down for him what action he is supposed to take, but it's a little while before he's coordinated enough to open his mouth and get the timing right; not closing it too soon or opening too late. No one had tossed this dog ANYTHING before he came to live with us. Nearly everything a house dog should normally know by adulthood was a foreign concept to him. 

We repeat steps one and two. Then something remarkable happens. I'm sitting watching television and Floyd comes racing through the dog door from outside with the tennis ball in his mouth. He leaps onto the sofa and begins tossing the ball onto the floor, chasing after it himself, leaping back onto the sofa and repeating. He reached his comfort level with the game and not when we were actually playing it. He tried it by himself first. Something I completely understand. I got him to bring the ball to me and I tossed it a few times which he readily chased, but needed a little encouragement to return it after each throw. I was so happy for him. To see that kind of joy instead of constant fear brought tears to my eyes.  

I lived that fear as well, not due to extreme abuse, but because I was different and bullied as a result. Because I wasn't interested in girly things and would rather sit and read my books or explore the woods, climb trees and catch frogs and of course sit by myself and draw for hours on end. Fortunately, I had friends that understood and had similar interests. I couldn't have survived without them. Still, it took me a very long time to find my confidence. To realize it only mattered what I thought and that I shouldn't let other people define me. Unfortunately, it took falling into an emotionally abuse relationship and pulling myself out of it to begin to realize this. Maybe this is why I'm drawn to lost and abandoned creatures.

I want Floyd to find himself and be happy. It brings me a lot of joy to watch his progression. Yes, I do know he's not human, but that's irrelevant to me. Dogs have emotions, perhaps purer than our own. They are thinking beings and don't deserve the horrific treatment that many humans inflict upon them. 

Now I see him playing by himself with other toys in the yard. Tossing them in the air and catching. He even recently made a flying leap to catch a ball Ed threw much to Ed's surprise. We are still nailing down the details of the game with him…such as not running out the dog door with the ball when we play in the house, but I'm just thrilled that he can be happy and forget his fears, if only for a little while.