In my last blog, Welcome Home, Foster Babies!, I wrote about my initial experiences with foster dog, Momma, and her 7 puppies. As I described, initially Momma was not happy with me taking her home or being anywhere near her puppies. I described the importance of working with Momma at her pace so that she was completely comfortable with me around her and her puppies. So here’s the story of how that happened.
After the growling, I knew Momma wasn’t going to let me near her puppies at all. Despite my strong urge to pick up and cuddle the puppies, I needed to take certain steps to get there. I had to get Momma comfortable with me first.
Momma and her puppies are currently living in a sectioned off area of our home. At first, having me just stand outside of her area was scary for Momma. So the first day, I put calm music on and left the room. This gave Momma the opportunity to become comfortable with the environment. After all, it was a new floor, new smells, new sounds—she needed time just to assess the area. Every hour or so, I would come in and sweetly and quietly talk to Momma. I always gave her plenty of space and I wanted her to see I wasn’t a domineering person. I didn’t touch her or her puppies at all that day (except to let her outside).
The next day, I came closer into her area and introduced treats. I continued the calm and quiet talking. To my pleasant surprise, she responded incredibly well to treats. She would trot over, take the treat from me, and then run back to the puppies. She would then sniff them all to make sure they were okay. But the fact that she was coming to me for treats without a growl was a step in the right direction. Still, I didn’t even attempt to come near the puppies.
The next day, I opened the enclosed area and sat down outside of it with treats. She came near me, sniffed me and took a treat, walked back to the puppies, came and sniffed me again and got another treat, and walked back to her puppies. She did this several times, but she quickly found out that coming near me was a pleasant experience—she received treats! Although the pacing back to her puppies every time told me she still wasn’t ready for me to touch her puppies, so I still maintained space between us.
Over the next few days, I would slowly move a little closer to the puppies. There were several times that Momma would growl, as though to say “Hey, you’re getting too close”. I know the growls were not dominating doggie words, but rather just a mode of communication indicating for me to step back. I always complied with her requests, and to my excitement, this impacted our friendship greatly.
Just 5 short days later, Momma let me touch one of her puppies, and the next day, let me pick one up. When I had one in my hands, Momma would often come close to me to sniff the puppy, and I always complied by offering the puppy to Momma. A few short days after that, my dreams came true—I had puppies crawling all over my lap, and Momma was lying right down by my side!
The point here is that I went at a pace that was unique to Momma. Although I wanted to pet the puppies right away, Momma wasn’t ready and it was a week-long process to get her used to the idea of me coming in her space and handling her puppies (and actually—I anticipated this process to be a lot longer!) She began to trust me that I would respond to her needs, whether it be to move away when she needed me to or handle her puppies safely.
Momma and I have developed a trusting relationship. I spent a lot of time working with her to get her used to me—several times a day I would talk with her and give her yummy treats or kibble. I can’t even begin to tell you how much more fulfilled I am with my relationship with Momma. As she flops down next to me, she looks me in the eye, and I can see her saying “Thanks for taking it slow.” I so thoroughly enjoy sitting in her area, watching her be such a good Mom. She’s fascinating and I feel so grateful that Momma feels comfortable enough now to feed her puppies with me sitting next to her, and even take a quick snooze during that time.
As a trainer, I knew the importance of taking it slow for Momma’s sake. But because I knew where Momma came from (absolutely terrified of me being anywhere near her area), I feel so accomplished and excited about my relationship with her now. I had to show Momma why she could trust me—why I was safe. And I can’t tell you how good it feels to know that she saw it.
In the next blog, I’ll start telling you about the little ones!! Keep an eye out next Monday!