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Shirley Zindler
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Making Friends
With a Stray Pup

I sat down in the grass, leaned against a post in the sunshine and took a deep breath. It was easy to relax here. Other than the occasionally distant cry of a bird, it was utterly quiet on the remote ranch. A slight breeze tickled my skin and I felt peace descend over me. The reason for my being there lay quietly watching me from 10 feet away. He was a fuzzy-faced mutt of uncertain lineage and completely adorable. I had been called to pick up a stray on the ranch and was told that no one would be home but that the dog had been hanging around the barn for a few days. He seemed friendly but no one had been able to get a hold of him. Sure enough, the dog ran up wiggling his whole body and thrilled to see me but afraid to be touched. I offered cookies and he took them and then darted away.

I had to change my initial demeanor from one of capture to one of friendship. Dogs are often so good at reading our body language that sometimes they pick up on the subtlest of cues that we aren't even aware of. After I allowed myself to totally relax, I could see him start to relax too. He lay down near me and we both gazed over the surrounding hillsides. He glanced at me occasionally, and studied my face briefly before turning away. I watched him out of the corner of my eye. If I reached toward him he scooted away. Every few minutes he would get up and approach for a cookie before retreating again. He sniffed my outstretched legs and boots, studying them thoroughly for clues to my suitability as a friend. Each time he would check me out for a few moments and take a cookie before his fear overcame him and he would retreat again and lie staring into the distance. It was as if he wanted to contemplate the situation for a while before deciding what to do.

Each time he returned he came a little closer. I rewarded every overture of friendship with treats and finally he let me tickle his chin while he ate his cookie. Over the next 20 minutes or so we progressed to stroking behind his ears and scratching his neck as he tilted his head back and blissfully closed his eyes. A couple of times I moved too fast and he shot away from me. Don't be a rookie, I reminded myself. I was starting to feel the pressure of spending so much time on one call but I knew that a few minutes of patience would be more likely to be rewarded with success.

Finally the time came when I was able to stroke his whole body as he cuddled as close as he could get. When he climbed into my lap and leaned his head into my neck and closed his eyes and sighed I knew we were friends. After another moment or two of the love fest, I slowly, carefully eased a slip lead over his head. He panicked and fought the leash until I scooped him up and soothed his fears while stroking his sweet whiskery face. “It's ok hon, you're gonna be ok.” I crooned. A glance at his teeth showed him to be a baby of about 5 months or so. It always frustrates me to find dogs like him who are unsocialized and have obviously never even had a leash on. The good thing was that at this age he would likely come around quickly. He certainly had delightful temperament.

The pup wasn't claimed and he passed his temperament and health evaluations with flying colors. He was vaccinated, wormed and neutered in the shelter clinic and it was no surprise that he was adopted quickly.

I would love to hear reader's experiences with coaxing scared dogs or taking in a stray in need. How long did it take them to feel safe and what made the difference?   
 

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Shirley Zindler is an animal control officer in Northern California, and has personally fostered and rehomed more than 300 dogs. She has competed in obedience, agility, conformation and lure coursing, and has done pet therapy. Zindler just wrote a book The Secret Lives of Dog Catchers, about her experiences and contributes to Bark’s blog on a regular basis.

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Submitted by Terri | February 11 2014 |

My girl, Samantha, was purchased by a family as a companion to their aging German Shepard. The elder pup don't care for the rambunctious little girl and mauled her; she had numerous punctures and her left ear was torn in half. The owner left her at the vet's saying he couldn't risk bringing her back. Samantha stayed there throughout her formative puppy months living in a crate with very little interaction with humans or animals.

When my husband first heard about her he began visiting her, taking her for walks, just playing with her. But she was constantly in fear, shaking with her tail between her legs at any noise. Rustling trees, cars driving by, anything would cause her to cower. She was fine with us but no other humans. We still saw it as progress that we could get her to some level of comfort.

We kept her from our police dog, Leo, afraid of another violent encounter that might send her spiraling. After hitting a wall in her "treatment" - she was still cowering at any loud noises - we decided to introduce Samantha and Leo.

To our surprise Leo immediately pounced on her... Then let her up. And they began to play! He let her play with his toys and sleep on his bed. And when Leo slept we often caught Sammy staring at him. After a while she started laying her head on his torso. And he let her.

Samantha immediately gained confidence in the form of a big brother who taught her some things she missed out on while living in the vet's crate. And while she yells at him (barks) if he doesn't go outside with her, she is a much more confident and secure dog. And they're the sweetest siblings ever.

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