I’m having a trust issue with Nora and it’s kind of breaking my heart. I’ve watched all the symptoms of her anxiety over the past year, but I didn’t really get it until now. For reasons I’ll never know, Nora is easily triggered into a kind of frantic behavior that manifests in feral like behavior, excessive jumping or the extreme alternative of always staying just out of reach. She presents herself for touch infrequently in these periods which then triggers me into a weird shame that it is my fault, whatever I am doing or not doing is all wrong, and she is rejecting me. Then six nights ago she never came upstairs and chose to sleep on the couch downstairs instead of the end of my bed as she has been doing every night faithfully for the past year. Oh the heartache!
But this isn’t about me. It is about her, and helping her learn to trust that I will always love her and keep her safe in the way she needs. This is my opportunity to practice patience and persistence. And to ask for help.
When it became clear I was facing an entire day away from home shortly with no resource for help with Nora, I set the intention for establishing a support system. Driving my new route home I had recently seen a sign out of the corner of my eye for dog day camp and boarding. Next day on my way into town I watched for the sign, drove up to an impressive facility that clearly had large enclosed grounds for dog play, and a large indoor training room. I was told they weren’t used to walk-in’s in this out of the way location and the owner would call me to discuss what I needed.
I went home and waited for over a day for the call. Interestingly enough, in that time the reason I needed to be away for a whole day was cancelled. So when the owner of the facility finally did call, my motivation for help had shifted. With skilled questioning on her part, and without the immediate need for boarding, I was able to get right to the heart of my issue of Nora’s anxious behavior. We talked for 45 minutes and made an appointment for me and Nora to meet her at the facility the next day.
I intuitively knew what was coming. I knew I would be told I needed to create a container of safety for Nora in a way she, the dog, could understand and trust. That in my desire to have this wonderful new land and context for her to be ‘free’, I might need to consider just how wild this new context is. It is beautiful and sacred without question. It is also home to wildlife that is unseen and unknown. Especially in the dark of night and early morning. After several weeks now I am all too familiar with the feeling of the wildness that lives out there and clearly Nora feels it too. She will race down to stand at the edge of her new learned boundary in the pitch dark barking into the woods. The new invisible fence serves a really good purpose, but only in a limited way, and I am having to adapt ways to accommodate Nora’s needs in the dark in other ways. Fear of what can come through the fence from the other side has settled in.
So, adaptations are being made outside which are not too difficult. It’s the adaptations inside that are challenging. For the same reason I avoided the perceived trauma of ‘ferberizing’ my young kids at bedtime, I have avoided effectively crate training Nora. Marking clear boundaries with resolve has never been a strong suit for me. But I left that appointment with knowing it was time, not just for Nora, but for me too. I was given simple clear instructions for how to work with Nora in order to establish trust. I cried the whole way home for the relief of it all, knowing I can do this.
So, it has begun. Needless to say, Nora is a little confused at my new resolve, but even after two days I can see a difference and my heart is singing again in this commitment to better my relationship with her. Even with her new freedom, I can see what she needs is engagement and variety and fun. She can self entertain by running impressive figure eight’s at an astonishing speed in the meadow. She spends an inordinate amount of time with her nose in the grass finding grubs. But having the run of the meadow by herself eventually only serves for a short period of time before she finds a new place to dig another hole. Smile. Really, these holes are so deep and she does it so fast, it takes my breath away.
Or she’ll focus her attention to the exact place we enter the woods together
and begin communicating with whatever is out there. The barking feels more like a call to connect rather than a warning. Instinct or boredom?
Our time in the woods together continues to be a clear time of bonding and mutual respect and I love to watch her engage so intensely…
We are also exploring the new neighborhood on leash with her new harness and collar. We practice together the simple things that the help of a trained eye have taught me. We will begin training classes again in a few weeks. I cherish Nora’s freedom and instinctive feral ways. But mostly I cherish her and will hold my intention for her to know what it feels like to engage without anxiety. I know now that there is room in an open heart for tough love too.