Lila has now officially been with me for two weeks. She's currently pacing around the house trying to decide where to hide the rawhide bone in her mouth. I think she'd like to take it outside, but I'm not capitulating to that. Well, actually, I just capitulated, and now she's on the porch outside the kitchen, sitting and staring intently at the house across the street. She is looking for birds or squirrels, which she has seen in their yard and which, in the first week, she tore across the street trying to catch.
I was afraid, during the first week, that she would turn out to be too much dog for me, too wild, too spooked, too unpredictable, too coltish and frantic. She would growl and cower and wag, with her tail low and down between her legs, when someone came to the door. If it was me, she would jump up, exuberantly. She's strong and muscular, so even a friendly pounce is something to contend with. I was afraid she was antisocial and might turn out to be aggressive with other dogs or people. None of those things would work for me. I was terrified that I would fall in love with her and then have to choose whether to be her slave or whether to give her back.
But she's mellowed out a lot. She's gained some weight -- you could see her ribs before, and at the shelter they said they were feeding her up to six cups of food a day and she was still losing weight, because she was so stressed out. She's calm, and she's smart, and she's eager to please. She's also friendly. She'll bark when someone comes to the door, but the tail is up, wagging. She's gotten more comfortable here. She knows not to jump up on people, and a stern "Off" is enough to stop her when she forgets. She sits well, and calms right down when you ask her to sit. She walks well on the leash with the Gentle Leader. (Without it, she was pulling a fair amount -- am not sure if that would still be true, but I'm not going to try to find out just yet.) She's friendly and curious when meeting other people or dogs. At the dog park she's energetic and sociable and appropriate, and comes back to check in with me from time to time when romping around with the pack. She's a good dog.
There are some issues, of course. Every time I've left her alone in the house she's peed in the dining room, and sometimes pooped. That doesn't seem to be about bladder control, but rather about separation anxiety. That's obviously no good. She's also done some counter surfing: she ate a loaf of bread off the counter, right out of its plastic bag. Darn it! And she's pulled out a container or two that smelled good from the recycling bin. This happens when I'm gone, not when I'm in the house. So she has some learning to do. We're going to take an obedience class together in a couple of weeks that I think will be useful.
I read Cesar's Way, which I found interesting and helpful. It doesn't give you specific techniques for solving particular problems, but talks a lot about establishing yourself as the pack leader and giving the dog the natural ingredients of a happy life. These things will calm the dog down. The biggest thing I got from the book was the importance of walks -- walks or runs, specifically, not just "exercise." Dogs are used to roaming and following their pack leader. It both bonds them to their pack leader and makes them feel useful and ready for play or eating. So you can't replace a walk with play (e.g. chasing a ball around the yard). It doesn't provide the dog the same sense of achievement or belonging or connection to the owner. To the extent I've been practicing my responses and the way I communicate with Lila, I think it's helped make her feel calm and secure.
I might get her a backpack, which Cesar recommends for stronger dogs, because I am not sure I'll really be able to walk her for an hour and a half every day. Some days, sure. Most days, I don't know. The backpack can carry some weight, so the dog gets more exercise and feels a sense of achievement. Interesting theory.
When I get my hands on a camera I'll post some photos. She's beautiful. She played with a full-breed boxer in the park yesterday and she's much cuter than that. She's leaner, a little less jowly. Maybe she's got some lab in her, or maybe some pit bull. It's hard to tell. But she's a great looking dog -- golden brown with a little hint of brindle pattern in her coat, and a white patch on her chest. Brown, slightly jowly nose with the boxer underbite that makes her head look a little like a gorilla or a monkey. There's an uneven white patch on one side of her nose. She's got an expressive forehead that wrinkles if she's concerned, and dark brown eyes that look like she's got eyeliner on around them. And two floppy ears, one of which is often turned inside out or slightly askew. She's a dreamy, lovely thing.