17 Hours With The One That Got Away

On Friday night I had the privilege of watching Johnnie Cash while her parents were out of town (I know, right!). I picked her up after a long work day and dropped her off early the next morning, so I literally had her in my care for about seventeen hours. But it was sixteen and a half more hours than I’d spent with her since she got adopted almost exactly one year ago.

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After work I drove to Johnnie’s house and opened up her front door to find a groggy, sleepy-faced pup awakening in her crate. At first she was wary of this person entering her home that wasn’t her mom or dad, but then when I exclaimed, “Johnnie girl!” she immediately perked up and seemed to be excited to see me. I have no idea if she remembered me or not, but we spent a good five minutes rolling around on the ground giving and receiving kisses with exuberant tail/body wags from Johnnie. I forgot how wiggly she gets when she is excited!

Everything about her and our time together came immediately flooding back. Her happy greetings. Her amazing manners (she sat for me right away). Her gentle but excited face licks. Her general enthusiasm for just about everything. When she calmed down I petted that soft spot on the top of her head that I feel like I’ve petted a million times. It’s crazy how even though she hasn’t been with us for over a year it still feels like I know her so well.

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I harnessed her up and took her outside to go to the bathroom, and she immediately sat at the door and then checked in with me while we were walking. I was floored by her perfect manners. A year later and she has improved so much; it is quite evident how much work her family has done with her. With every learned appropriate behavior she demonstrated – checking in, sitting politely for her next cue, controlling her enthusiasm – my heart swelled. Wow, I thought, this dog is so special… how did we let her get away?

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A few months ago Mark moved to New York City for an amazing job opportunity, so unfortunately he wasn’t able to be with Johnnie Cash for our brief reunion. But I know that Johnnie means as much to him as she does to me, so I sent him pictures starting from when I first picked her up. With every photo we reminisced a little more about the ten weeks we spent with her. It seems that with Johnnie Cash the more that changes, the more that stays the same. She still sits like a goof ball, she still loves to sleep in the car, she still bounds around the house like a happy-go-lucky pup and she still trots along like her knees don’t bend. So much about her is still exactly what it was when we said goodbye twelve months ago.

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After just watching Paco for ten days, I am reminded again of why I don’t want to have a dog of my own at this time in my life. But being with Johnnie also reminded me of the bond I can have with a dog, and how special that can feel. It was nice to get that feeling again. I could not be happier about Johnnie’s family and all they do for her, and I don’t think I could have written a better outcome for her. At this point I am appreciative that she has continued to show me what it can feel like to make what seems to be a life-long connection with a dog. I know I have that with all my fosters, but Miss Cash is so much like what I envision in my “forever dog” that it’s nice to get that I can have this bond with my own dog one day feeling.

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I sure do love you, Johnnie Cash! Thanks for everything you’ve done for me, including turning me into the trainer I am today. I owe ya one, pretty girl.

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It Might Not Be Us, But It Sure Is Perfect: A Visit With Johnnie

Johnnie’s visit was the last to come about for that exciting Saturday of foster reunions. I knew we’d be in the area for Zee/Medivka’s visit so I cautiously asked Johnnie’s new family if they would be up for a get together. I hate feeling like I am pressuring my adopters to hang out, so I braced myself for them to say they weren’t around or even that they weren’t interested (which would have been fine!). To my delight they said they’d be happy to have us come by to see her. I could not contain my excitement!

Unfortunately I made it so that I could not share my excitement with the one other person who I knew would appreciate it like I would: foster dad. I decided to make our visit to Johnnie a surprise for Mark. After we left Medivka’s house, I told him we had one more stop. He was confused, but then so excited once I told him our final destination. That is when the butterflies set in… we were really going to see our little Johnnie again!

Her owner came out to meet us (love her) and brought us up to their condo. She opened the door and there was Johnnie, wiggly as ever! I think we both melted to the floor in a flurry of dog tail, human smiles and bouncy paws. Everything felt familiar: her bouncy greeting, her soft, spotted belly, that spot on her forehead between her eyes that I think I’ve kissed a million times. She kept ping-ponging between me and Mark, settling briefly in our laps before joyously running over to the other, sometimes even stopping at her people as if to say, “My old friends are here!”

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I soaked up her Johnnie-ness as we caught up with her owners. They gushed about her and told us how they have adjusted their lives to help her be the best dog she can be. They have play dates with friends’ dogs, they have taken her to training classes, and when they went on a 10-day vacation they found a boarding place that set up a playgroup for her with a few suitable dog friends. Her mom even takes her to work sometimes! They love her. It’s perfect. She’s perfect.

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This visit really (really) made me miss her again, but it also reminded me how lucky we were to have found this family to adopt her. They certainly love her like we love her; how we would love her if she had become our own. Seeing that in person is so comforting. Since she can’t be ours, we couldn’t be more thrilled about where she ended up. So good to see you, Miss Cash!

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Slow and Steady Wins the Playdate

Well, as usual, your feedback on yesterday’s post about Johnnie’s feelings towards other dogs was really awesome. I hope anyone who is reading this and has a reactive dog – at whatever level – realizes your dog is not the only one, and in fact there are so, so many dog owners out there dealing with the same thing you are! Johnnie is really not that bad in terms of reactivity, but she has her struggles and it feels so great to hear everyone’s own stories.  Just last night I posed a question on our PLF Facebook page about taking Johnnie to the vet while we’re still working on ourselves, and so many of you responded with fantastic advice almost immediately!

At the end of yesterday’s post I mentioned that I finally scheduled a playdate for Johnnie. Often times a really good off-leash romp with another dog can alleviate some of the frustrations your dog is feeling around other pups. These should of course be well-supervised and held between dogs with similar play styles, and I always recommend reading up on dog behavior and appropriate play so you’re versed in recognizing behavior or body language that might be a red flag.

Many of you guessed correctly: our playdate was with Charlie! Charlie has stayed with us and therefore been featured on the blog twice, once as a Jasmine’s House foster dog and once as an adopted dog after his foster family foster failed! He’s a total doll. He was sick for a long time, but since I last saw him he has gained about ten pounds and his coat looks phenomenal. He looks like a different dog, really.

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By the Sunday afternoon when we had the playdate, Johnnie had already succeeded in a few challenging situations with other dogs. Two that I mentioned yesterday – playing with the puppy and doing well during the adoption event – and then Sunday morning she met an off-leash dog while we were walking in the woods. I had noticed the dog with his person a couple hundred yards behind us, made note of them, and started to think about where we should go should they begin to follow us more closely. All of a sudden I heard a reactive-dog owners worst nightmare: “He’s friendlyyyyyyy!” I turned around to actually see a reactive-dog owners worst nightmare: an off-leash dog literally flying full speed towards us. Thank goodness Johnnie was just exuberantly wanting to play and did not care in the slightest that this dog just ambushed us. In fact, that dog was rather sassy towards her (probably because she’s an energetic puppy), but his growling did not bother her.  Anyone reading this who walks your dog off-leash, even in areas where you don’t think you’ll see many other dogs: please, PLEASE make sure your dog has a good recall! This could have ended so poorly. Thank goodness it did not!

After she passed the off-leash dog situation with flying colors, I felt very confident that her and Charlie would hit it off no problem. Cue my guard being let down – uh oh. Charlie arrived and I asked his mom to take him around back so the dogs could meet and move to the backyard. Unfortunately Rojo was in his yard as well (we live next to each other, remember), had seen Charlie, and was making a huge, vocal fuss over it. This set Johnnie off, and the initial greeting with Charlie was about as far from polite as you can get.

I’d like to pause here to talk about the one thing I want you to take away from this post: you can never, ever go too slow when introducing two dogs for the first time. It is so important to set both dogs up for success by making the intro as stress-free as possible. Face to face greetings are tough and unnatural to dogs, tight leashes increase stress and discomfort, and lots of changes and quick movements at once can be overwhelming. Keeping these factors in mind and aiming to make the meeting low key and relaxed will really help to increase the chances of the two dogs getting along.

So, despite the fact that Johnnie was basically telling Charlie to F off in a very not nice way and Rojo was in the background egging her on, Charlie’s mom and I remained calm. We immediately removed the dogs from the stressful situation and walked to the road, which was much quieter. We began walking them up the street parallel to each other. This was huge in letting both dogs get comfortable in each other’s presence without the pressure of actually meeting. I continually asked Johnnie to check in and rewarded her with treats when she did, so she was much more willing to move her focus from Charlie to me. By the top of the street we had them walking almost touching each other without much fuss. Because things were calmer and they were more used to each other, Johnnie initiated actual play instead of just telling Charlie off. The difference between her body language was clear – her body was loose and relaxed, she was play bowing, she was not vocalizing – and Charlie responded well. It was time to let them play.

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We let them go in the backyard, leaving their leashes on initially in case we needed to pull them apart. It became clear pretty quickly though that the dogs were getting along beautifully. The play was pretty even between them with neither dog being too pushy towards the other. The play was also not getting either of them too worked up, which was what I was worried about. The tough thing about play between dogs is that it can go from really fun to really not fun in a matter of seconds.

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Charlie and Johnnie are actually two fabulous playmates. They have a similar rough and rowdy play style. Neither of them mind getting a little dirt or beat up. They don’t get offended when the other takes it a step too far (that’s what the humans are there to watch out for though). We were so happy to let these two play for nearly an hour!

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They both got so much energy out; it was really great. By the end of the session they were both able to just chill out in each other’s presence – a far cry from where they started. Because of the slow, patient introduction that lead to successful results, we can easily say Charlie is a pup we will add as a go-to friend for Johnnie. Thanks to Charlie and his mom for coming over and helping out with our learning experience – we had a blast!

09To adopt Johnnie Cash & help her find friends to play with, check out her Adopt Me page.


Long Weekend. . . with Charlie!

I know you all remember Charlie, the adorable perma-pup from Jasmine’s House that crashed at my place over Thanksgiving weekend. It’s all coming back to you now, right? The handsome markings, the big, dreamy eyes, the pint size body. . .

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Well, he’s back at my place for a couple days over this long weekend, and we are loving it! Except there’s one thing different this time around: he’s now adopted!!!

When I introduced Charlie in November, he was looking for his forever home after finally overcoming some nasty health issues thanks to the hard work of his fabulous foster family. After going through a few applicants and having them fall through, his foster family realized Charlie wasn’t supposed to be anyone’s but theirs, and they decided to keep him.  When I saw him interact with their family – including his two six-year old human brothers – I knew all along that he was meant to be theirs, and I was beyond thrilled when I heard the news that he was home forever.

They’re enjoying the long weekend out of town, so I get the pleasure of having Charlie hang out at my house again! It’s only for about two days, which naturally means we’re going to squeeze in as many adventures as possible ;-).  Hope you’re ready for some cuteness this week!

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P.S. Yes, that bottom photo has purple in it to celebrate last night’s football win. . . GO RAVENS!!! While I’m a Skins fan at heart, I obviously love to see a Maryland team make it to the Superbowl – especially when it’s full of UMD Terps and pit bull advocates!