Friday, November 30, 2012

Riley Revealed

One of the things I like best about bringing a new dog into the house, whether it be a foster dog, a friend's dog, or an addition to my family, is the process of getting to know them.  It is like watching a sunrise - first there is just a hint of what is to come, then each moment (or, in this case, each day) reveals more and more to make me smile, and eventually they just become a part of my world - never taken for granted, always full of surprises, but with a certain rhythm that is comfortable and fairly predictable.

Getting to know a new dog
is like watching the sun come up. 

When I have knowledge of the dog's customary schedule, as I do with friends' dogs, I initially keep to that schedule as much as possible - walks of the same length and same time of day, meals at the same time, etc. - and any changes which need to be made to accommodate either my preferences or the other dogs in the household are done gradually over a period of several days.  For example, if a dog is used to being fed the evening meal at 7 pm, but my other animals have tummy clocks that go off at 5 pm, we gradually shift the time for each animal by fifteen minute increments until we are all on the same schedule.

Leaving the dog alone is also done gradually - five times for five minutes the first day, working up to a half hour, an hour, two hours, four hours (which is about the longest my dogs are ever left alone).

Dogs are as varied as people in the way they react to new experiences, in how they feel about being in strange places among strange people and critters.  Some jump right in, confident and happy.  Most take a few days to orient themselves and figure things out, and then settle into the routine and begin to show they are enjoying themselves.  Some, like my Sadie who first had her home burn down, then lived in a car, then ended up in a shelter, are so traumatized by the absence of the only family they've known that they take months to really show their happy inner pup.

Riley is in the middle group.  The first day she was anxious, pacing back and forth, looking at the door or the garden gate for Deb to return.  The next day she settled down a bit, but still was on alert.  By day three she had chosen her favourite spots and by day four she'd taken over the couch and the futon and knew exactly where her food was kept - the sound of the pantry door being opened brought her trotting down the hallway even if I was just getting out the fixings for coffee.

Today, day five, she made me laugh.  After their morning walk, I left the dogs at home while I ran into town to do a bunch of errands.   I was gone almost three hours - the longest Riley's been left here so far.  When I arrived home, she didn't just mosey into the mudroom to say hello like she usually does - she came prancing in, hips wiggling, tail wagging and a smile on her face.  "Hiya, Auntie Jean, you're home!".

After letting the dogs out for a pee, and giving them a treat, I sat at the computer to check my email.  Suddenly, I heard "thump thump thump" - something bashing about in the hallway.  I turned around to see Riley, mouth firmly planted on a cardboard box, plodding into the office to show me her treasure.

Hey Auntie Jean, look what I found!

Riley is not customarily a dog who plays with toys.  The box, which once contained foil packages of Ritz crackers I handed out at Hallowe'en (marginally better for kids than sugar loaded chocolate bars, I reasoned) had been sitting on my bedroom floor for weeks, a repository for some audiobooks I was passing on to a friend. I doubt it smelled of food.  Riley just seemed to be having fun tossing it around.

You didn't want this for anything, did you?

I went to the dog toy box in the mudroom - I keep it for visiting dogs, since none of the dogs who have been part of my family in recent years have been the least bit interested in toys.  I pulled out a few favourites and showed them to Riley.  Riley checked them out but they weren't as much fun as the cardboard box, which she proceeds to shred.

Hmmm...boring....not a treat ball. 

I went back to the computer.  Half an hour later, a pointy-nosed collie bashes my leg with the I-Cube, a cloth puzzle toy with holes in the sides through which one can stuff balls or other objects which the dog has to figure out how to get out.

Ha!  This is easy!  I can solve the I-Cube! 

I showed her how it worked, she popped all three balls out in no time at all, tossed the toy around for a while, and then took it back to the mudroom before returning to flop down on the office futon.

I think she was saying "Okay, this will do as my home away from home".

Good job, Riley.  So nice to see the real Riley revealed.


georgia little pea said...

You are such an amazing dog carer X

Dom said...

What a great analogy.

Mark said...

We have been lucky with the couple of dogs that stay with us, they get right into the routine. I think it has a lot to do with King they always play chase in the yard with him. The only toy he is interested in is a ball which he loves. Duchess is the toy lover teddy bears and soft things like stealing our slippers. princess Molly is more like Riley no toys, but loves to shred boxes and paper. she does pick up the pieces afterwards which helps us to tidy up.

Anonymous said...

Lovely analogy and gorgeous pic. of the sunrise.

Anonymous said...

LOL, I neglected to warn you that Riley would raid your recycling bin for any stray cardboard. It's by far her favourite thing. The princess will also methodically shred any Kleenex she might find.

I have to say it's heartwarming to see my girl enjoying herself while I'm so far from home!