Baby Steps for Francie

Fresh on the heels of getting a successful home for Seamus/Buster, in my "out to save the world, one dog at a time" zeal, I decided to hone in on my training efforts with Francie, the young white pitbull at the shelter. All we know about her is that she's very smart and loves to snuggle, but she also tends to freak out and grab her leash with her teeth (which my poor thigh still bears testimony to from nips several months ago). She is absolutely ball-obsessed and INTENSE in everything she does. For example, Francie doesn't just drink water--she DRINKS water, frenetically lapping up everything in the bowl, splashing and dripping, as though she hadn't had a drop of water in the past week.

Because of Francie's intensity and unpredictability, I can't bring Francie home to foster. Until I know more about her, I don't want to risk my family, Cabana, our cat, or our home. Still, I felt I could do more for her than just taking her for a short walk and playing 20 minutes of Chuck-It with her until she was too pooped to go after the ball anymore, whereupon she would lay down in the dirt and gnash the ball into shreds.

white pit bull francie with pink inner ears and pink muzzle, light grey eyes, sitting behind the back seats of car, looking toward the frontSo yesterday, I asked for permission to take Francie offsite, to give her a change of scenery, see how she behaves in the car, and eventually, in weeks to come, maybe I could even take her to my house for an hour or two. After all, how a dog acts in a house is what potential adopters want to know--is she house trained, does she get on furniture, does she chew shoes, can she be left on her own, etc. We don't have any answers to those questions right now, so how many people are going to be willing to adopt her? Although I guess it only takes one.

Francie was okay in the car, definitely not as stressed as Seamus had been. I put her in Cabana's usual spot in the back of the car. Looking in my rear view mirror, I could see the top of Francie's back convulsing and convulsing. I thought she must be vomiting, the way her back was undulating like crazy--is she car sick? No--she was just humping the dog bed. Humping and humping and humping. What's with that?!

francie standing in front of camera with her green collar on and purple harness, standing on a gravel pathI made Francie a purple front-clip harness, to keep her from yanking the dickens out of my arm. At the shelter, Francie tends to pant and pace. If she's within 100 yards of the Chuck-It area, she pulls like a draft horse to get over to it. She doesn't sniff, rarely wags her tail, and can't seem to relax.

francie from the back, walking in front of camera, on a gravel path surrounded by foliage and yellow mustard flowersThe road in front of the shelter is super ugly, not many good smells, and lots of trucks. I took Francie to a nearby lake with a pretty path encircling it, where we ran and walked for 2 miles and then did a bit of training (sit, down, come) with a retractable leash. Francie heeled very nicely in the harness and seemed generally happy and calm to be away from the shelter. Good things!

francie standing in middle of a big green field with a baseball diamond in the distanceThat was yesterday. Today, I decided to change things up a bit with Francie. Again, I ran/walked with her for 2-3 miles, then we stopped at the park where I always take Cabana. It was raining, which was ideal because it meant the fields were totally empty. Since there's still a lot I don't know about Francie, I didn't want other dogs around to create potential problems.

I thought Francie would look at the big green field, full of soft grass, and think, "Wow, this is awesome!" But instead, she was tentative. She stuck close to me, even though I had put a 10-foot drag line on her so we could do some recall work (with me still holding the drag line, just in case something made her bolt).

After about 10 minutes of walking on the field and practicing "come", I let Francie have the frisbee that I had been holding. I didn't want to bring a ball since Francie is already so ball-obsessed, but I thought a frisbee might be a nice alternative for her. Holy guacamole, was I wrong!

Francie took the frisbee in her mouth, and it was like a switch went off. She became frenetic, growling and thrashing. She wasn't being aggressive toward me, yet I couldn't tell if this was her way of playing or exactly what she was doing. But it was undesirable behavior, to say the least. I got the frisbee away from her and hoped we could go back to just walking calmly...toward the car! But Francie started biting and pulling at the drag line, which suddenly became exceedingly long and cumbersome and impossible to pull away from her.

The one thing that has always made Francie stop this kind of behavior is a squirt bottle. A couple squirts of water in her face, and she stops whatever she was doing--so I ALWAYS have a squirt bottle with me when working with Francie. And I had a squirt bottle with me now--but maybe because it was raining, the squirt bottle tactic didn't work! After all, she'd been "squirted" by rain all morning.

Suddenly, I was vexed that no one else was at the park, since no one would hear me calling pitifully for help. Finally, I had to unclip the drag line, drop it and everything else I was holding, grab Francie by the collar and drag her to the car.

(Sorry this post is so long. Thanks for hanging in there with me!)

In retrospect, I don't know if it was the frisbee that triggered something. But what I do realize is that Francie is a dog who has done nothing new in the past 60-120 days (however long she's been at the shelter, I don't know how long she's been there). She's been looking at the same four walls for 23+ hours a day! I was being overly ambitious in exposing her to new things. A car ride and a 45-minute walk would probably be more than sufficient, and I should have been much more gradual in doing more. She's just so muscular and athletic, I thought she could handle and would be craving more physical activity--but I forgot to consider her mental capacity. Some dogs may have been fine with what I did, but since I don't have any idea what Francie's past was, I should have been taking baby steps, not leaping vaults.

I learned a lot today, and thankfully, I don't have any new teeth marks on me. And I've made it through to try to save the world again tomorrow...or not.

Tessa99999  – (May 17, 2011 at 2:11 PM)  

How do you go from helping my #1 favorite breed, German Shepherds, to my #2 favorite breed, Pitbulls?! I love all the awesome work you're doing to help other dogs in need! Frankie is totally adorable, and I know how dealing with some of those behaviors is. The squirt bottle works really well on Addie too, but sometimes when they get into the frenzies it seems like the only thing you can really do is just hold on tight and ride it out. I love hearing about your experiences with other dogs. This one actually feels like it relates a lot to me Addie and I in some weird sort of way. Keep up the awesome work! =)

Kari in WeHo  – (May 17, 2011 at 2:40 PM)  

she is adorable!!!!


JackDaddy  – (May 17, 2011 at 2:41 PM)  

What a great post! It reads just like a good novel!!! Now we're ready for the next chapter!

Briana  – (May 17, 2011 at 3:52 PM)  

Wow you are busy these days! ;) I wonder if Francie has high prey-drive "issues"?? Just a thought and I don't know much about Pitbulls, but from what I do know about the breed it would make sense if she had a very high prey drive. Hope you continue to have fun with her! :)
~Briana & Beto

A Company  – (May 17, 2011 at 4:57 PM)  

Mimi, I have no advice for you, but I do have words of encouragement! What you do with these dogs is AWESOME. Keep at it and I'm sure you'll see changes in no time.

Min  – (May 17, 2011 at 4:58 PM)  

Oops! A Company was me. I forgot to switch my account :)

Beth and Alfie  – (May 17, 2011 at 6:14 PM)  

Wow, that sounded overwhelming! I love what you're doing for these dogs. Poor Francie, she sounds like she's missed out on being a "normal dog" and has quite a bit of catch-up work to do. Hang in there, I can see you're making a huge difference.

Becky  – (May 17, 2011 at 8:16 PM)  

Wow. You are doing some incredible work ... love your motto - save the world one dog at a time :).

Amber-Mae  – (May 18, 2011 at 1:07 AM)  

Francie sounds like a tough cookie! What she basically needs is just plenty & PLENTY of mental & physical stimulation. She needs good training everyday & she needs to learn her boundaries too. Needs to be corrected firmly for unacceptable behaviours. I don't think I need to tell you this though. I know you know what to do! So keep it up!

Mango  – (May 18, 2011 at 4:38 AM)  

Good for you for working with her and learning about her behaviors and triggers. She sounds troubled and will need a very special home. Doesn't seem at all ready to be around other dogs. But she is beautiful and getting out is certainly going to help her a lot.

Mango Momma

Erin and Co.  – (May 18, 2011 at 8:42 AM)  

Sounds like fun! I wouldn't be too concerned about her excessiveness with those toys honestly... Rob was a lot like that when we first got him...(I know! Shocked me too at six weeks, my dog wanted to try to jerk my arm off) But we taught him to Leave it first, then worked on "Take it". So he only got the toy when I gave him the command, and than he'd worked on him "dropping it" on cue.

You could bring some treats with you next time, reward her for things like sitting, so she knows that you have something worth working for, and when you give her the Frisbee/ball after a few minutes, show her the treats or drop them on the ground if you feel more comfortable, maybe away from the toy so that she is distracted by them for a moment.

I don't know,just some thoughts. :)

My new motto since getting Rob has been.."What do I want my dog to do" instead of focusing on what I don't want him to do.

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