Help! I’m engaged in a battle of wits with my six-year-old rescue dog – and so far, she’s winning!
(It’s not actually a battle. I’m taking it slow and hoping we both come out winners. But meanwhile, I’d love to share what’s been happening. Maybe you’ll have some advice.)
If you’ve already read my post, Pandemic Paws, then you know that my dog, Maya, was rescued from a home (now condemned) where she was one of 40 dogs. Yes, you read that right. It was on the news, along with a video showing the dogs being carried out in crates and being groomed at the shelter. Underneath all that matted hair was a collection of very sweet critters. The caregivers there said it could take Maya anywhere from three months to a year to adjust to her new life with me.
Well, it’s been three months and there’s been a lot of progress to celebrate. She’s healthy, eats well, cuddles with me on the couch every night, loves her walks, and is quickly learning to ride in a car without panicking. She even tolerated going to the dog groomer the other day!
The problem is that she still hides under my bed, or next to it, constantly, until about 8 p.m., and she resists any attempt to coax her out until she’s ready. There have been days when she’s stayed in my bedroom for 24 hours, only venturing out to eat, and not letting me take her outside.
I understand she might want a safe place to hang out, especially since she’s probably lived in a crate most of her life. And since I live in a small apartment (see model floor plan below to give you a rough idea), under the bed is the very best hiding place a dog could wish for. In her case, it’s the ONLY hiding place.
So here’s what things have been like, and what I’m doing about it. Comments welcome!
Night 1: I made a bed for her on the floor in my bedroom. She would not lie down on it until I moved it right next to my bed. Then she promptly laid down and went to sleep. She woke me up noisily at 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. by giving herself a good shake. Both times, I put her leash on and took her outside. She was perfectly willing to do so.
At 6:30 a.m. she wags her tail and stands by the bed until I pet her on the head. If I start to get up to take her out, she immediately ducks under the bed and stays there, even if I call to her or offer her food or treats. (For treats, I’ve tried everything, including peanut butter, banana, cooked chicken, cooked beef, hot-dog type dog treats, cut up Milk Bones, and very tiny little dog treats. After trying a new treat once, she thereafter turns her head away or spits them out.)
I feed her when she wakes me up. She eventually comes out around 7 a.m., eats, and then returns under the bed again. She later emerges to sleep in her doggie bed, which she seems to like, but if I come into the bedroom she almost always wakes up and moves under the bed again.
Around 5 p.m., I feed her. She eats and goes back to the bedroom. Then around 7 p.m., she’ll come into the living room in stages: she slowly walks out, stretches, stares at me, and if I speak to her, she turns around and trots back under the bed again. After about the third repetition of this pattern, she’ll jump on the couch and sit next to me, or will go to the door wagging her tail, her way of asking to go out. I immediately take her out. She is 100% house-trained. When we return from our walk, which she seems to enjoy immensely, she hops onto the couch and spends the rest of the night there, until it’s time for bed.
Then she hides under the bed again for an hour, emerging after I’ve gone to sleep to sleep in her own little bed.
I don’t think it’s healthy for her to relieve herself only once a day. And if I try to get her out from under the bed or pick her up when she doesn’t want to be picked up, she very strongly resists. (She’s even nipped at me.)
Yesterday I decided that, since it’s been three months now, maybe it’s time to wean her away from her safe spot. So, last night, after our evening walk, I put a very light leash on her and allowed her to roam around the apartment wearing the leash, thinking that then I’d be able to take more control over her whereabouts, and take her out on a more regular schedule, maybe 2 or 3 times a day.
Having the leash on seemed to confuse her. She laid down next to the front door with it on, apparently thinking we were going outside again. Eventually, she gave up and joined me on the couch. When it was bedtime, she went under the bed, as usual, but this time I made sure the leash was extending away from the bed. My plan was that when she woke me at 6:30 a.m., I’d take hold of the leash and immediately take her outside.
But that smart little dog had read my mind. When I woke this morning and looked at the clock, it was 8 a.m. She had NOT woken me up at all. AND, her leash had been pulled all the way under the bed. What a strong message she was sending me!!
What I did next: After placing her food bowl in the bedroom, I just bided my time (about 2 hours) until she ventured out to eat breakfast. When she ducked back under the bed that time, she forgot to pull the leash in behind her. I had my chance!
Very slowly, I approached the bed and lay down on the floor next to it. I called to her very softly. I started to pet her under the bed, and she let me. I very gently pulled on the leash and she turned her face away. I continued to speak to her softly. Every time she looked at me I praised her. Over the course of the next half hour or so, I gently nudged her closer and closer to me, until I was able to very slowly slide her out and onto my lap. After more praise and petting, I stood up, and she immediately wanted to go outside. That done, she came back in willingly and is now sleeping at my feet (with her leash still on).
P.S. My bedroom door is closed to her. I’m hoping she’ll forget about her safe spot for a while. She seems to feel quite safe right now … but I’m not going to stress her out if I can help it. Each night, she’ll get to go back under the bed. During the day, hopefully, I can get her to become accustomed to being out in the “real world.” But for her, maybe the “real world” is a world of hiding and being cooped up in a small space.