Sunday, December 5, 2010

One year since we adopted Abbey...the first six months

A couple of months ago, Abbey's one year anniversary came around. I can't believe that it's been only one year since we adopted her, it feels like a very (very) long year!

This is really the first time I've put pen to paper to describe some of those memorable moments. However, to start, I should give some background as to how we came about adopting Abbey. The story really starts more that four years ago. After moving to California for Nigel's job, we had a zero credit rating and so buying a property was out of the question. In one way renting is great, if you get bored of where your living you simple give notice and move on. However, when you have pets, it gets so much more difficult, there's pet deposits and breed restrictions for a start. As a way to meet new people and find a way to spend my time, I started to volunteer at the local Humane Society (Humane Society of Silicon Valley). Initially, this volunteering was limited to socializing cats. As time passed, socializing cats turned into photographing cats which led to photographing dogs. In Europe, pit bulls have the same bad rap as they do here, and many people start to shake as soon as you mention the word pit bull. Although I was nervous about the breed, I did want to find out what the fuss was all about. One day while volunteering at the HSSV, I asked Anna if I could meet a pit bull, at the time Anna was fostering a blue nose pit bull called Tinkerbel. I can't remember much from the encounter, but what I can remember is a 55lb pit bull running towards me, knocking me over, she then preceded to lick me all over. This was the start of my love for the breed.

Fast forward a few years, the HSSV moved location and I was unable to volunteer at the new location, so rather than give up volunteering completely, Nigel and I started to volunteer and the San Martin shelter at the weekends. Whenever we could, we'd spend time socializing and taking photos of the San Martin dogs as a way to improve their chances of adoption. Secretly, we'd always try and focus on the pit bulls, I'm sure Bridget Wasson the shelters supervisor knew what we were up too. But anyway these dogs need all the help they can get.

Eventually, our credit ratings and savings improved enough for us to buy a property, we kept saying that we wouldn't rush into adopting a dog (over the last few years we'd adopted two cats from the HSSV). And then one day.......

We adopted Abbey when she was just four months old from the San Martin Animal Shelter. She seemed like a perfect little girl, sitting calmly at the front of her kennel, those large, soft brown eyes saying please take me home. It was a Saturday morning, Nigel and I we're meeting other volunteers at the shelter to take a number of dogs out for a short hike to remove some of their built up kennel frustration. We took Abbey along, not really knowing how old she was. She did fantastic on the walk, great walking on the leash, no reactivity towards the other dogs and from what we could tell, wouldn't grow much bigger (yeah, we got that a little bit wrong). She was very people oriented and would confidently greet everyone.

The first couple of weeks were quite tough, we adopted Abbey with the onset of Winter and the prospect of a couple of weeks of rain. Nigel had to go back to England for a couple of weeks, so I was left to house train Abbey. I had to set an alarm to remind myself to take Abbey out to the garden every hour on the hour to do her business. There were a few accidents in those first few weeks. In order for me to track when and what she did, I started to keep her potty schedule on a white board. Anyway, she did learn very quickly, in fact it became obvious, quite early on that she was definitely an intelligent girl. By time Nigel came back home, Abbey was pee'ing on command, could shake and roll over. Tricks I had to teach her to stop her going crazy. Oh, did I forget to mention that she couldn't go out for walks due to requiring a couple of extra vaccines.

As January rolled on, we were thinking we had the perfect dog, well trained, well mannered and loved by all who met her. And then overnight it all changed. Her personality became bratty, and she started to follow her own agenda and interpreted our commands in to whatever she felt like. Sit no longer meant sit, it meant jump up and mouth us. We lost count the number of times, we had to put Abbey on a tie down in the house for doing something naughty.

This is where we can't say enough for the training group we belong too. While Nigel and I were volunteering at the HSSV, we were introduced to Marthina McClay, the founder of Our Pack, a local pit bull rescue group. The HSSV, used Marthina to evaluate the behavior of some of their dogs to judge whether they were suitable for adoption. As soon as Abbey was cleared to go out side we enrolled her in the training course run by Marthina. The group 'dog training for people' doesn't focus on training your dog to sit, lie down, jump up and down and spin round and round, rather it teaches the owner how to manage their dog, and act appropriately in all situations.

We have to thank a number of the trainers at this stage, Marthina (obviously), Mary Campbell and Anna Morey Seekamp. If it wasn't for the advice these people gave, we would have given Abbey back to the shelter from where she came.

We were simple told, this behavior is expected!

All dogs go through this adolescent stage, where they act like a bratty teenager and simple want to push the boundaries (and the buttons of all those around them). It's simple part of growing up. It's a good job that dogs grow up several times faster than humans! We were told that we had to be more assertive, and Abbey had to understand what behavior would and would not be tolerated.

It was good to hear that Abbey wasn't turning "evil" and that she would grow out of this. This was tough for Nigel and I, neither of us, really raise of voice, arguments between us are rare and are often over before they  development into anything major. Now, we had to be firm, assertive and direct. All the things we weren't.

Over time, we became tougher or rather, more disciplined and consistent. Consistency was a key part. Neither one of us let Abbey get away with anything more than the other. Over time Abbey got the message, and started to behave and act more like she did when she was six months old.

These days, it's hard to tell that for around three months she was the worst behaving dog in the class. On one occasion we were about to quit, and were ready to through Abbey in the back car and drive off home. Marthina spotted us, stopped us and spent the remainder of the class teaching us techniques to deal with Abbey's behavior.

Abbey, still has her issues, she get's over excited very easily, she doesn't like off leash dogs or dogs fifteen feet in front of their owners on those retractable leashes (they are called retractable for a reason, maybe retractable should be capitalized on the packaging), but overall, she's making good progress in her development.

You'll have to wait for further posts relating to Abbey's continued development, adopting our second pitty (Jake) and where Abbey is today with her development. 


Renee G said...

Love it !!

Chris said...

Thank you for sharing. I've never had a pit bull but felt that the training was probably key in keeping them from being "bad" dogs. The reputation (as I gather) is because of the improper training that they receive from those who wish to have fighting dogs. I figured that they were intelligent and would learn whatever behavior they were taught and I am glad that you have confirmed that.

Dianne said...

Thanks for an excellent round-up of dealing with dogs in the "adolescent punk" stage!

cdhwk said...

My Cocoray will be 3 on Dec 20th. I got him when he was 7 weeks old. We call that time period his terrible
2's and trying 3's. He became quite rude and pushy. We had to constantly remind him who was the boss. He finally grew out of that stage and is the most loving and attentive dog I have ever had. I truly believe that whoever gave them the name Pit-bull meant to say Pit-i-ful. He's not just our dog but our family member.