Wednesday, February 26, 2014

On helping a newly blind, separation anxiety ridden foster dog with incontinence

You read that right.
Trying to pack himself & his rope

Rewind to before Christmas. Charlie was a happy camper who only needed to wear his cone on walks and when we weren't around. He had bonded with us and had settled into his comfortable little life.

The day before we left for the holidays, he was neutered. The poor guy returned home from the vet, crying and fragile. We showered him with love and let him sleep in our room. He was sore but still giving kisses and tag wags.

Our amazing friend Laure dog sat for us while we were in Europe for Christmas. They had a blast and I was warned I would be coming home to an even more spoiled pup than I was used to. She was able to remove the cone for good after the first week. Great news.

Unfortunately, the day before the Irishman was coming home, the rescue manager's suspicion that the initial surgery was done poorly was confirmed. Laure was shocked to see his "healed" eye...not be healed. To say the least.

The next morning, he was picked up by the rescue to have another surgery on the eye. When he was delivered to our place, he was not the pretty pup we were used to. By the time I landed in Shanghai, two days later, I had 10 missed messages from the Irishman about Charlie. He kept peeing on the floor, crying, acting weird. He was worried we wouldn't be able to handle him. My boys were having a rough go of it.

When I walked in the door, you have never seen two happier gentlemen.

Charlie was super attached to me. It was a good feeling, for a couple of days. If I left the room, he would cry. If I left him on the balcony, he would howl. When we went to bed, he was inconsolable. Before Christmas, he was very quiet, only growling a bit when playing tug of war.

He kept having accidents in the house, sometimes even after 8 walks a day. My schedule was tied to him. If he wasn't lying on the couch, he probably had to pee. We initially thought this was just separation anxiety. He would pee right after the Irishman got home. He would pee if I was in the kitchen. He would pee if he was crying because I wasn't right beside him.

Back in his space

Dealing with his separation anxiety

Within a few days, we knew we had to take this seriously and that it wasn't going away on its own. Despite me being home all day, he was stressing out. The following helped a ton with getting him re-adjusted and believing that we weren't going to abandon him any time soon:
  • Leaving him in his space. We let him stay inside a lot in the first few days we were back. He would cry if we left him outside. But then when we put him out overnight, he would pee and wail. We discovered if we left him on the balcony for the vast majority of the day, he would be much more relaxed at bed time. 
  • We stopped making a fanfare out of coming home or leaving. When we came home, we would just ignore him for about 10 minutes. For 20 minutes before leaving, we wouldn't pay attention to him. We have softened this since, but it was crucial for the first couple of weeks.
  • I tired him out. His walks doubled in length. I walked him before I left the house to do anything so he wouldn't have energy to get upset. I would walk him right after the Irishman got home from work so he couldn't spend time freaking out with excitement at him being home. By the time we got back, he forgot he'd been gone all day. After his pre-bed walk, he would be tuckered out and he would forget to cry. Eventually, he pretty much stopped crying altogether. 
  • We bought him more toys. He was better able to entertain himself while we were gone. He loves his squeaky ball so much that we can just squeak it on the balcony, he'll race over to get it, and we can exit smoothly without any drama.
  • Before bed, we would give him a bone to distract him. Sometimes he would just save it and wait til I was around to eat it the next day, but at least momentarily he would be occupied.

He can't see it. 

Figuring out he was blind

I hypothesized that boredom was part of the crying so we bought some more toys to occupy his day. If we were the only thing interesting in his life, of course he would cry if we were gone. However, buying the toys didn't just curb his boredom. It revealed to us that somewhere between us leaving and returning, he had gone completely blind. He loved his toys instantly but couldn't find them unless his paw or nose bumped into it. Even if it was directly in front of his eye, he would still walk in circles trying to find it. 

He would anticipate curbs and stairs unlike before the break. I thought it was just a new cute habit, lifting his paws a few steps before he would actually need to step up. Now, I feel like an idiot not having identified that he couldn't see the steps at all and was just going off memory.

This realization was bitter sweet. It explained a lot of the crying. A lot of the strange behaviour. A lot of his stress when we weren't directly touching him. Instead of feeling like we'd ruined him by leaving him for Christmas, we knew he was adjusting to losing his vision.

Probably has to pee

Figuring out he had a UTI

A couple of weeks after we had returned from Christmas, things were starting to return to normal. Less crying, less stress...but he was still needing 8 walks a day to not have an accident. And even then, he sometimes did. We had gone from 1 or 2 accidents a day to 1 every few days. Progress, but far from ideal. Before the break, he'd had only had 2 accidents: the first day he came home and right after he'd been fixed.

Once all of the other issues had been corrected, we concluded it must be a UTI. A course of nausea-inducing antibiotics later, we finally had Charlie at a livable new normal. 

Helping him navigate his blindness

  • He has a hard time figuring out where sounds come from. If they are closer to the floor or we tap our hardwood floors, it helps him to find us. I don't call him to come from very far because he gets lost along the way, turning around if he bumps into things. 
  • I'm especially helpful when we are walking now to make sure he doesn't bump into anything.
  • We had to train him to stop mouthing/gently biting. He started using his mouth to "see", lightly biting our clothing, hands, etc. After weeks of getting frustrated by it, we used a simple [and effective] strategy to get him to stop. While he wasn't hurting us, we want to make sure he can be adopted by a family with children and not scare people meeting him for the first time.
    1. I yelped like a puppy when he would bite too hard on my hand. He would stop immediately. This only worked early on when he was biting a bit harder. This then led to him really gently putting his teeth on us.
    2. A loud "hey!" would get him to stop, stunned. But once we started petting him again, within a minute or two he would be back to mouthing.
    3. He loves having his squeaky ball in his mouth. We love petting him without dealing with his teeth. Win-win. When he would start opening his mouth as if he was looking for our hands to mouth, we would just pop the ball in his mouth and carry on. He's started to just approach us for petting with the ball already in his mouth.
    4. The most effective way we have put a stop to mouthing is by giving him timeouts. This really has sent the message home. The moment he mouths, we call him a "bad dog" and put him in his bed. We leave him there for a minute or two and then call him out and go back to playing. We went from needing to do this over and over again on the first day to by the second day only needing to do it twice over the course of the entire day.
After our weekend trip to Harbin, he regressed a bit with the mouthing, but we're back to 1 or 2 timeouts a day and he seems to be getting the message.

"Stay" face


Going blind has taken a toll. He's still loving and wiggly but more anxious than he ever was about us being gone. He sometimes whimpers for a minute or so when we go to bed and if one of us comes home after he's been put to bed, he will cry.

Overall, after a few weeks of tough love (and antibiotics!), he's become a joy to foster again. We've taught him some tricks. He hasn't quite figured out why I want him to shake a paw...We're working on it.

He'll be attending adoption days again soon and I'm going to be posting online to try to find him a home. We had lucked out before Christmas. Since then he has tested our patience, taken a lot of our time, and generally pushed our limits. Ultimately, paying attention to the signs he was giving us, pushing him to do better, and loving the crap out of him has paid off in a big way. The family that keeps him forever is very fortunate! Hopefully the next Charlie update will be his adoption story.

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