It never fails: each time we add a new dog, I rethink what I’ve learned over the years. I thought that all we’d have to do this time, when we added Gracie, a young Pit Bull Terrier, into the mix, was to help her get used to living in a home after almost four months of shelter life. She’s slowly coming along. Each day, we add something new to the things that she knows for sure.
What she knows for sure:
1. There’s a consistent routine to follow. Early mornings have an order to them based on going out into the back yard first thing (after 17 days, Gracie still goes out on leash because if there’s one thing that she hasn’t dealt with, she’s easily spooked. Yesterday, it was loud music blaring from the garage. Five days ago, she was out after 9PM with my son as one of our neighbors walked by the house with his very well-mannered, somewhat shy mixed breed dog. Gracie scuttled for the back door in record time pulling my son behind her. Both times, she was completely taken by surprise.
She spooks very quietly. Her body tenses and starts to shake. She’ll turn her head away from whatever it is she wants to get away from and then she bolts. Most times, she doesn’t get too far because she’s either on leash or she’s wearing her harness.
I always have treats. I never raise my voice. She doesn’t like quick hand movements over her head. She’ll duck her head and get her body low to the ground. I made that motion once while reaching for something on the stove. Gracie was standing near my feet. As I watched her flinch her head and duck her body, I made a note not to use my hands around her in that way ever again.
2. There are times when she’s with her person and there are times when she is not. And that’s okay. Some dogs give their hearts one time. They will spend time with other people and, if they like you, they’ll let you be a part of their pack. But. There will always be one person they will always wait for. One person that will make their face light up. One person that will make their heart sing. For Gracie, that person is my son.
Gracie’s eyes smile when she’s happy. The first time I saw this happen, she had just finished romping and stomping with Tessa in the brand new training room at Lollypop Farm. This was the second time that Tessa got introduced to Gracie; the “meet and greet” where they got to play unfettered by leashes. Both dogs played joyously, managing to avoid all of the agility equipment set up for a class. When they were done, and Gracie was standing at my feet, tongue lolling, smiling broadly, I looked down into her eyes. Such a twinkling energy radiating outward from her beautiful, grey eyes.
She has a deep timbered bark that comes rumbling out when she’s playing hard in the back yard. She takes a running leap at my son, comes up off the ground, pushes against his body and back flips.
My son thinks she’s more Amstaff than she is Pit Bull Terrier. He pulled up some websites dedicated to the American Staffordshire Terrier. Gracie looks like an Amstaff. “How is an Amstaff different from a Pit Bull?” I ask.
That’s the question we volley back and forth daily as we both work with Gracie.
3. When people are consistent and honest, fear goes away. Today, without treats, ( day 18) when Gracie and I were outside in the back yard, I squatted down with both arms spread wide. Gracie’s eyes lit up and she came straight to me.
In the dog game, there are breed traits to help distinguish dog type and characteristics. But, in the end, there are only dogs.