If you’re new here, welcome! The Elsie diaries is dedicated to my foster dog, Elsie, who moved in with us quite unexpectedly on Friday 13th November 2020.
Elsie was adopted from The Pack Project, and aged just 4 months was transported from Romania to the UK to start a lovely life with her new family in South-East London. It was clear from our first interaction that Elsie had a huge number of anxieties and behavioural concerns, and though her family were fully committed to working with her, as time went on those concerns didn’t improve and it was agreed that the home wasn’t the right fit for her and she needed urgent rehoming.
Though wholly impractical to have three dogs in a tiny South-East London flat we have made it work. Elsie has put my skills and knowledge to the test on a daily basis and I am so incredibly proud of how far she has come. She is a truly wonderful dog with a loaded armoury of coping mechanisms for her anxieties, and solid communications and reactions. She’s a fantastic example of how you can work with the most reactive of dogs using positive reinforcement techniques to get the very best outcome.
I kept a diary of her first couple of weeks with us, and though this is just a snapshot it's what life with a fragile rescue looked like:
Friday 13th Nov
2:30pm collected from the family. Pleased to see me, wiggly bum, listening. Nervous in the car, only her second car journey since adoption. Did a wee on the back seat and cried, ALOT! She wouldn't get out of the car until I brought The Beags out to see her which encouraged her to follow them into the front garden. The Beags were already known to her as I'd been taking them on our training walks previously. Took about 20 minutes to get her through the front door from the front garden.. Gave her free roam of the flat and she chose the back garden as her safe space. Spent many hours out there even when it got very dark. Refused ALL foods. Did not take her fluoxetine. Slept in the lounge on the rug alone, Beags came to bed with me.
Saturday 14th Nov
She was at the bedroom doorway to greet me upon waking, the baby gate was closed so she could see us but not come in.
Refused breakfast: Butternut Box, metal bowl, placed on rug.
I left the house at 10am until 11:15, left her in lounge, Beags in bedroom, small bit of crying but max 2mins.
Terrible timing but the drainage engineers arrived at 12:00 so I barricaded us all into the lounge using furniture and houseplants. Elsie would bark but quickly turned her attention to me when I used the clicker. Took kibble from me; Pooch & Mutt calm kibble. Continued with the clicker work for the duration (3hrs) she became very calm very quickly and stopped reacting negatively to the engineers.
4pm, I went out and left El in lounge with the Beags until 5:30pm when I got back. No issues to report, she's comfortable being left home alone. Camera shows she's relaxed and settled in my absence. Came back with her bed and belongings from the family. She’s making good use of her bed and is the only space she uses in the home as hers. No resource guarding issues have been displayed. Beags have been on her bed and she is happy to share. Beags have stolen food from her and she’s ok with that.
Still refusing a meal; tried Honey's Raw Beef in a plastic bowl. Did not take her fluoxetine.
Sunday 15th Nov
I woke her up this morning, she was cuddled on the sofa with Ted.
Still refusing breakfast, Butternut Box with added pasta twirls.
Very playful and relaxed body this morning. Follows Alf everywhere.
Dinner: Refused BB.
Evening: gave them all a Kong (Frozen chicken casserole cubes, with kibble, kong paste topper) during a webinar, Elsie loved it and stole Alf's (hahaha).
Will take food if hand feeding as snacks, so I've introduced her to Fresco Getrocknetes BARF Menu as snacks.
Did not take her fluoxetine.
Breakfast: ate a full bowl of Fresco Getrocknetes BARF Menu. Started with hand feeding then dropped a nugget into bowl and she continued from there. There was also a spoon of BB in there but she ate around it, Alf finished it off for her.
9am, Alf picked up for Daycare. She met Gail over the baby gate at a distance in the kitchen/hallway and barked the whole time. Very nervous.
Settled in the lounge with me and Ted, hanging half on bed half on floor.
Dinner: repeated the scene from breakfast, she ate a full bowl. Did not take her fluoxetine.
Wednesday 25th November
Following veterinary advice I gave up trying to get the fluoxetine into her. She has become much more relaxed in this environment and it's not a concern now that it is needed.
She’s eating full meals twice daily now, no hesitation. Body language is much more relaxed and now sits and waits for food rather than flop to the floor and curl into a ball. Takes all snacks and eats immediately, not sure if this is a learned necessity (Beags will hoover it up) or enthusiasm to eat.
She’s also now a sofa cuddler and will invite herself in to the group for a cuddle, particularly if the beags are getting a big fuss, she’ll barge them out of the way to get some for herself.
Still easily spooked. Spent much of yesterday running away from me and I’ve no idea why. She comes in but runs out if you attempt to get close. She loves to be in the garden, will spend all her time outdoors given the chance.
My friend came round in the evening, Elsie was very nervous resulting in aggressive loud threatening barking despite being safely separated and out of sight. I do still consider Elsie to be a bite risk. Her mood changes very quickly despite there being no obvious triggers.
Elsie still hasn’t had a walk since coming to stay here, she won’t leave the flat, not even venture into the hallway.
Thursday 26th Nov
Ate a full breakfast! Poo’s are normal, good size and consistency. Seems less spooked this morning but still hanging out independently and at quite a distance from me and beags.
Friday 27th Nov
We left the flat! Today she told me she was ready to come on a walk. We stayed local and walked to Lewisham Park. She ran around with Alf having a great time sniffing for squirrels and snacks.
The walk home was stressful; there was a lot of traffic and she started reacting to vans by way of lunging and barking as they drove by. This isn't new behaviour, though I had hoped that three weeks at home would have calmed her down a bit. This will be our observation priority over the next couple of weeks.
Tuesday 1st Dec
Walked to the park with our neighbours and their dog who she is now friends with. She rolled in a massive poo on her walk and I had to give her a bath when we got in. I placed a bathmat in the bath and smeared cream cheese all over the tiles before lifting her in. We had some snacks before I started the showering process. She didn't hate it. We are very bonded and I thank her for that.
And so on...
We carried on much the same over the next few weeks. We'd venture out on short early morning or late evening street walks every other day and focus on decompression in between. We slowly introduced new places to her, new people, and new dogs. She attended a socialisation event and was surprisingly confident and playful. It was a thirty minute car journey there and back and she did so very well.
She's now eating full meals without any need to hand-feed, and is trying different foods. We're still primarily feeding Fresco Getrocknetes BARF Menu and I'm slowly reintroducing Butternut Box by way of a spoonful mixed with her Fresco or by putting it in a KONG.
She's started sleeping independently in the kitchen, and is spending considerably less time alone in the garden. She's become super cuddly of an evening on the sofa. And she's really enjoying her walks.