Gilda's Story

GETTING GILDA: Part I

 For as long as I can remember, a Border Collie has been my dream dog. Unfortunately my life never seemed compatible with all that a BC needs in order to thrive. When our daughter was young and Mike & I were both working full-time, we were offered a free puppy. My husband had dogs growing up but Bruno was the first dog April & I ever had.  We really lucked into a great dog and we were so lucky to have him with us for nearly 15 years. Bruno appeared to be a Golden Retreiver Mix and he fit in wonderfully with our lifestyle.


{Bruno at 7 weeks! So cute}

Once Bruno made it safely through puppyhood (and there were days I wasn't sure he would), all he really wanted  in his dog life was to be told that he was a 'Good Boy'. He was so easy to train! If we just uttered the word "No" in his general direction, he'd never do that bad thing again...





{Bruno the Great Dog}



We look back now and think of what a great Agility dog Bruno would have been as he was very athletic and wanted to follow us and be with us more than anything.
{Me & My Bruno}

{Our Christmas Card
Bruno was 13!}


When we knew the end was near for Ole Bruno (02/14/1995-10/08/2009), I began thinking about and looking for our next dog. I wanted something completely different from Bruno because I worried that I'd compare the new dog to Bruno and he was going to be hard to live up to! Boy did we get different! This is the photo from PetFinder.com that really caught my attention (not everyone in my immediate family agreed that she was the cutest thing ever but that's what I thought!):

{PetFinder.com photo 3/09}

The history on 'Lindy Sue' said that this 8 week old puppy was found next to a dead adult dog that had been hit by a car and that she was taken in by a rescue group. Nothing else was really known about her. Her coat made it pretty clear that she had some Australian Cattle Dog genes (often referred to as a Blue Heeler). The rest of her story was anyone's guess!
Susan, from the rescue organization S.P.O.T. (Saving Pets One at a Time), wrote me a very honest email saying that this puppy was 'very shy and would probably never be the kind of dog to come up and lick your face'. She reported that the only thing she was able to get her to eat was plain yogurt.
Undaunted, Mike & I made arrangements to drive 3 hours to southern OH. By this time, little Lindy Sue was about 12 weeks old and was scheduled for a spay. I requested that we be able to have her spayed at a more appropriate time and I am sooooo glad the rescue group agreed!
On April 9, 2009 (14 years to the day that we adopted Bruno), we met in a McDonald's parking lot. When she arrived, Susan produced a 9 pound pup that was literally shaking from head to tail. She sat 'Heeler Pup' (as she called her) on the pavement and the puppy immediately backed as far away from us as she could, grappling to get under the car. I had never seen a young pup act like this and all I could think about was Bruno at 7 weeks bounding straight towards us as if he were the happiest puppy in the world. What were we getting ourselves into????



{People were starting to agree with me about her cuteness!}


The other thought I had was of trainers advice on how to choose a well-adjusted puppy and this little girl had not one of the recommended traits! She was the puppy trainers will tell you to avoid...
Something told me that she was our dog and yet I decided that if Mike thought we should leave without her, I would agree. (After all, he has always been the rational one when it comes to animals). Thankfully, Mike seemed as intrigued by her as I was and when I asked him what he thought, he said, "Let's take her" and so we handed over $75, signed some papers agreeing to have her spayed, and put on her new collar and leash...and we now had our second family dog!

{Gilda & Big Brother Bruno}



It was a gray and chilly day and we had the car windows rolled up. Within minutes of leaving the parking lot, we realized just how horribly the beautiful little puppy on my lap smelled! It was an odor so foul that each time she moved just a little bit, we would both gag! She lay in my lap on a waterproof pad with her little chin resting on my forearm. Without moving her head, her eyes followed everything. I told Mike that she reminded me of a Border Collie: intently taking in the world around her without moving a muscle. She smelled so putrid that we actually stopped halfway home to bathe her so that we could survive the rest of the trip!
Once home, I figured that after holding her for 3 hours, we had sufficiently bonded and that she would not leave her new guardians. I sat her in the grass so that she could pee and she promptly ran under the car just out of reach! Mike had to push the car over her so that I could retreive her. Our new adventures had just begun!
Inside the house, I first showed her the laundry room where her crate, food and water were set up. She ignored all of these, ran quickly to a small tear in the old vinyl floor, promptly ripped it off, then turned and looked at me as if to say, "Okay, that's taken care of! Now what?"
Next, we took her to the living room where we had a large dog mat and some toys for her. We sat her in the middle of the mat and tossed a toy. She ran to the toy, picked it up, and brought it right back to the mat. If we scattered all the toys, she would get them one by one and bring them back to her 'safety mat'. I so wish we had some video of this first day. Her antics made us laugh right from the start and so it seemed fitting to name her after a comedian...We agreed that her name should be Gilda!


{Gilda Radner as SNLs 'Roseanne Roseannadanna}

Gilda's first vet check revealed that she had every type of worm known to veterinary science, fleas, and malnutrition. I was very worried about her brain development and I was so thankful that the rescue agency had agreed not to spay her as I'm not sure she would have survived it!

Once we had her dewormed and de-flead, food was our first huge challenge. Gilda ate mulch, stones, dirt, poop...anything but puppy food. I researched puppy foods, trying to find the best one so that she could get some good nutrition fast! I tried brand after brand (the local pound was happy to get the opened bags) until many months later when she finally seemed to eat Wellness Puppy about every other day.
For the first 7 months, she ate very little, pooped 6-8 times a day, and buried every treat we gave her (which was very cute to watch). We bought an Everlasting treat ball and filled it with her food. The little green ball required Gilda to push it around the floor with her nose to make kibble come out a little at a time. (I was advised against this method of feeding by trainers but I was just happy to have her eating some real food!) She caught on very quickly and seemed to really enjoy 'working' for her food. I was just beginning to understand the concept of dogs who "need a job to do" (See Novice Notes Page: Dog Jobs). After she turned 1, we switched her to  Wellness CORE and she has eagerly devoured each meal ever since. She still loves the 'magic ball' for treats.


{Gilda and the magic ball}


Another big issue from the start was that Gilda absolutely refused to walk on a leash. I think the term is 'muleing' and let me tell you, she took it to a whole new level! It was a really sad sight to see a small puppy that was just too petrified to move forward. This is where our rather extensive collection of leashes and collars began. (Bruno had maybe 2 leashes his whole life...)


{A few of Gilda's Accessories!}

We tried every kind of halter, collar, head lead, etc. that was made. We took her to the park every single day for a month only to have her rolling around as if she were in the death-grip of an alligator!
On Mother's Day however, we had a major breakthrough! Gilda actually decided to walk on on a Flexilead (which we never used again after that day). We were so excited! She was walking out in front of us and we were smiling and laughing, feeling good about our success when suddenly, she took a giant leap right into the lake! Before I could panic or jump in after her, our little pup was doggy paddling like it was something she did all the time!
Gilda will swim in anything, anywhere at any time ever since that day (although she is not a fan of Dock Diving).


{Gilda plays pond fetch}


By this time we were noticing many traits that were so unlike our happy-go-lucky Bruno. Gilda herded everything she could and nipped at every heel within a 3 block radius. We figured that could be the Blue Heeler in her...
Her incredible speed, intense stare, and her ability to drop to her belly from a full-speed run however made us seriously wonder, had we ended up with some Border Collie after all?
Whatever her genetic makeup, now that she was walking on leash, she was ready to get on with some real dog training....
{Running like a BC!}


GILDA'S FIRST YEAR: Part II

When we got Gilda to the point that she seemed to  somewhat enjoy walking on a leash, she was far enough along with her vaccinations to join a "Puppy Socialization Class" at our local Kennel Club. (I don't think either of us enjoyed this class very much which is probably why I don't have any photos of it!)
One thing we did learn in this class was that Gilda was sorely lacking in the Dog Socialization Skills department. Early on, she appeared to be a dog who loved other dogs... her tail would wag, she'd get animated and jumpy and run right up to other dogs. As she grew however, her actions intensified and we noticed that while she was not aggressive, she would lunge and growl at approaching dogs which often triggered bad reactions in the dogs she met. We learned that she is what's known as a 'Reactive Dog'.

{Reactive is the term coined by dog trainers and owners who own dogs that overreact to certain stimuli. It might be the sight of other dogs, people, kids, loud noises and chaos. The dog’s reaction to these stimuli is usually a bark and lunge type of behavior that scares the pants off both the person or dog being barked at and the person holding the leash. Reactivity may be part of the dogs genetic make up or could be from a lack of social experience or a particularly scary experience.}
(See also FAQ 2: What is a Reactive Dog? and Gilda Reacts Video)

Still learning about this new 'diagnosis', we entered into a Canine Good Citizen class with a well-reputed trainer. Gilda was proving to be a very quick study and her basic obedience skills were coming along nicely. (Mike & I agreed that she had the best stay and recall in the class!)
I have always hoped to have a Therapy Dog someday and this was the very first step toward that goal. (Bruno passed all of his testing but was never very comfortable in the therapy setting)

{Gilda graduates with her Canine Good Citizen certificate}
In true Gilda form, she was initally nervous and reactive being in class with other dogs. Once she was used to the other dogs however, she seemed to conquer her fears and was able to perform well in class. This would be a recurring theme for her.

[In March 2010, we had her officially tested and she was able to successfully pass all but one part of the actual CGC test which was to walk past another dog without reacting. At 13 months old, I thought we were still making pretty good progress!]

{Working Dog}



We also had her treadmill trained at this time so that she could still get her daily walks in when the weather was really bad because we had learned months ago that Gilda + No Walk = No Sleep (for anyone).
Initially, she did very well. We had her walking on it in less than 3 weeks and we used it sporadically throughout that first winter. [At present time however, she refuses to go near it unless we place her food bowl on it].

Our next class was a Dog Socialization Class which had an interesting approach. All dogs were pre-screened by the trainer. If the dog was aggressive, the trainer would personally leash and handle that dog during class. All of the other dogs (and there were up to 20 dogs) were released from their leashes simultaneously on cue. As soon as the dogs were released, the owners would all start walking around the perimeter of the room in a big circle. The theory was that moving people would induce the dogs to keep moving and moving dogs are less likely to react to each other badly.

This class really did wonders for Gilda. Being with so many other dogs at once really helped her to learn some basic dog manners that she apparently didn't learn in puppyhood as most dogs do. Also interesting was watching her seek out other high-energy dogs. Dogs that matched her energy level were the dogs she preferred to play with.
It was also during this class that I finally felt like she had bonded. She would run off to play with other dogs and then she'd stop to scan the circle of moving people to find me. When she found me, she would run to me, nuzzle my hand and then be off again. Needless to say I was thrilled with this development as I was already quite bonded to her! (We left this class when the location was changed. A Teeter in the new building caused Gilda to completely shutdown and left her quivering in the corner. I didn't feel it was helpful to pay $$ for that!).

It was around this time that I began seeking out Agility facilities since she was nearing one year old. Knowing nothing about Agility, I was surprised to find that there were 4 "schools" within driving distance. One of the schools also had Flyball classes and we tried that...once. Flyball was not the sport for either of us. The high-stress, chaotic environment, and ultra-noisy facility left Gilda frazzled and dropping hair by the handfuls and me with a splitting headache.

We applied to and were accepted by our current and most awesome facility: Agility Underground

Our weekly classes (and our latest adventures) started in early January 2010 with our instructor, Jessica, right before Gilda had her first birthday...
{1/15/2010 with canned dogfood 'cake'}
This blog will continue to tell our evolving Agility story...