A couple shares the wisdom they gained from their anxiety-stricken dog
My favourite pop group in the 1990s was Spice Girls. Not to mention, the song closest to my heart was was ‘Viva Forever’ … My friends and I, would perform to it on our annual day at school, in class, sing it at home… during sleepovers… All the time, but we never really cared for the lyrics.
Viva forever… I will be waiting… Ever lasting like the sun.
Live forever… For the moment… Ever searching for the one…
Today, twenty-something-years later, I’ve finally got it. The meaning and Viva!
Cometh the Viva
Viva our little baby lab, came home to us when he was 11 months old, having spent three months in a kennel, albeit a beautiful one in Thane, he was anxious and so scared. My husband, Somit and I had no idea what we were taking on, and how to handle a little boy suffering from tremendous separation anxiety.
But before I get to that, a special shout out to Happy Tails. In May, we were crossing the Powai branch and stopped to see what it was like, since we had heard about them from our friends, in our apartment building. The minute we entered, we were told about Viva, who’d been living away from his home, since his family couldn’t take care of him, due to health reasons. We got in touch with them, and followed up for weeks, till we met him, and the moment we lay eyes on him, we knew he was coming home. Such a bundle of joy, so naughty and a sucker for any kind of attention.
But things were very different when he came home. He would cry at night, sometimes shiver and bark at regular intervals. Not knowing what to do, we would take him down a few times at night, thinking he might need to relieve himself – since he is a well trained dog, he never peed or pooed at home. But that really wasn’t helping. The first three days, I had severe bite marks on my right hand, because every-time he would get nervous he would sink his teeth into my skin, and no he wasn’t teething, in fact far from it.
I did a LOT of research which tells you how to handle rescued dogs from a shelter, but no where could I get advice on how to deal with adopting a trained dog, who is extremely playful, has come from a loving family, but unfortunately has been neglected and is craving for any attention he can get. But here are a few things that helped us and I hope it might be handy to you as well, though to be honest, I’m no expert, we are still learning, and have a long way to go.
Firstly, and most importantly, do not be afraid, you are not going to kill your dog. We were paranoid about everything. If he’d bark too much, we’d get nervous, if he’d be too quiet, we’d get tense and wonder why he isn’t barking. You will learn as you go along. It’s a trial and error process, no human parents are perfect, right?
Be patient. He will NOT listen to you initially, remember he is also confused and lost. He’s shifted too many homes. Just don’t lose your cool.
If you guys are working, try taking a few days off, just so that he knows his family is around.
Adopted pets take a minimum of 6-8 weeks to settle in to a new home. We’ve had Viva for over a month, and we’re not there yet.
He gets very nervous every time he gets into the car, cause his previous owners would drop him to his kennel in their car, so every-time we get into the car, he thinks he will be dropped off somewhere. This means, when you travel go together, no family member should get down in-between, no pit stops even at the grocery store – trust me, we learnt that the hard way.
Viva barks at every dog he sees in the garden, and wants to pounce on them. Mind you, he isn’t a ferocious dog, but he just hasn’t been taught how to channelize his excitement. This after he spent three months at a kennel full of pet dogs. So give him time, and keep him away, otherwise you and your family may be ostracized from your neighborhood.
Do NOT for Heaven’s sake tie your pet up, confine him/her to a room or a crate, in the initial few days. You are damaging them far worse than you could ever imagine.
This therefore means, try not to entertain guests during that time period, especially those who do not appreciate pets. We had a friend of my cousin (who was visiting from USA) over, when my husband and I were not around and she yelled at my staff to tie Viva up, cause ‘dogs disgust her’ … And our poor fellow just wanted to be friends.
Do not leave the pet alone at home or for that matter in the dark till he/she understands that it’s their house too.
Not too many people may face this situation, but we did. And boy is it awkward. Don’t let your pet’s previous owners come and meet him till he’s somewhat settled in.
We had promised to let his previous family in, whenever they’d like to visit, but we went back on our word. Everyone we met told us to refrain from it. It might be one meeting, BUT the pet will think your home is the new kennel/ transit camp, and will wait for them to come back to pick him up at some point. I know I’m the bad person, not letting two kids meet their dog, but they will be OK, Viva will not.
Change your pet’s name if you can. Yes they will respond to that one name, since they have been called that all along, but it could be a negative association. New home, new family, new name and happy memories forever. We couldn’t change Viva’s name, since his previous parents requested us not to.
Learn to recognize when your dog is afraid, cause when he’s afraid, he could care less about previously learned obedience behaviors or any commands you may give him. You may lose your temper and scream at him, but that is just pushing him over the fence. Help him sooth, distract him with toys and playing with him.
He will eat/chew everything that comes in front of him. That’s why he is a dog. If you don’t like that, too bad. YOU will learn to deal with it. We have!
That has nothing got to do with anxiety. They love chewing everything in sight, so either you keep things away or learn from your mistakes. The only thing you need to be careful is that they should eat glass or foreign objects like our Viva did and we panicked. We tried to make him wear a muzzle, but he hates that.
Understand your dog. I was told dogs love peanut butter, and he’ll enjoy it. I did introduce it to him, but he broke out into a rash. What other dogs like, doesn’t mean your dog will like that too. I think that goes for human babies as well. – Silly thing to note, you think.
Everything said and done, we haven’t started training Viva yet, because we wanted to address his anxiety first. Viva still does NOT listen to us, he stills chews all our things, and thinks he’s the boss of us, or at least ME! To top it all, he’s in heat! What a deadly combination, isn’t it? But we wouldn’t have it any other way! We love him to death. He’s changed our life to say the least.
We start with the trainer this weekend, wish us luck!
( Piya Hingorani, is a journalist at the India Today Network)
We are a bunch of hardcore news junkies who also happen to be pet parents. Our world revolves around our kids and that’s how we know!