So it's taken me a bit longer to write about Theo than I had expected but boy is it going to be worth the wait. Theo is a very special dog and I'm so excited to share with you all not only the story of how he came to be a part of the Bowman's Canine program but how much progress he's made since we pulled him from the shelter.
Buddy was a dog who'd been in the Bowman's Canine program for almost a year. He was a fantastic dog who came with us to a lot of our trainings and helped so many dogs over come their fear of other dogs. In April, a wonderful family came to meet him and eventually ended up deciding to adopt him. Now, Buddy and Latte were pulled from separate shelters around the same time and had been best friends ever since. They played on a daily basis, had slumber parties and were generally partners in crime. So you can imagine Latte's disappointment when Buddy was no longer there to play with every day. It was about a week after Buddy had been adopted that we began thinking about pulling another dog, not only to save a life but to hopefully give Latte that someone special yet again. It was around this time Bowman's Canine first heard about Theo.
He was a dog who wasn't available for adoption and was being worked with on a daily basis at Escondido Humane Society to overcome his general fear of pretty much everything. He had one special staff member that he loved and a few volunteers that he'd tolerate but was still VERY fearful. When I asked about what dogs needed exiting the most, Theo's name was the first one mentioned. We added him to our list of potential dogs to pull but wanted to wait until Buddy had hit the 1 month marker in his new home before taking on another dog, just in case things didn't work out and he needed to come back. Another week went by and I had heard that Theo was no longer in danger as he had been put on the foster list and was awaiting the right foster home. We ended up pulling another dog, a chocolate lab/pit puppy named Mud. He was adopted after only a few weeks of being with us to an absolutely perfect family. Mud had temporarily filled Buddy's spot in Latte's life but he wasn't her partner in crime the same way that Buddy was. He was more of a little brother that Latte needed to shape and teach.
After Mud had been in his home for a few weeks, I began asking around about dogs at the shelter again and Theo's name was once again brought up. He had been taken off the foster list and was now apparently a candidate for receiving anti-anxiety medications. I agreed to evaluate Theo on the condition that I could do so BEFORE he was started on the anti-anxiety medications.
I had our wonderful Adoptions Coordinator/Asst Trainer Krystal join us for Theo's initial evaluation. Theo's favorite staff member brought him out on leash and into an interaction yard. She handed me the leash at first so that she could go get a few chairs for us to sit in. As I held on tight to Theo's probably 6ft leash, he wouldn't come anywhere near Krystal or I. He ran in a perfect circle around me as I held the leash in pure fright. His tail was tucked, he was trying to stay as low to the ground as he could without taking his eyes off of me. He did sit in front of me with his back to me for about a minute and let me pet him but darted right back out again after hearing the slightest noise. Once his favorite lady came back into the yard with the chairs, I let go of the leash and let him be. We all sat there and talked for a while about what all they had been doing with Theo, what we thought he'd need to succeed out of the shelter and how he came to be at the shelter.
It turned out that Theo and a dog who looked very similar to him but was around 5 years old named Norah had been found as strays running loose at Kit Carson Park in Escondido. Theo was extremely bonded to Norah but as soon as she wasn't around, Theo would shut down. Norah was very friendly and was listed as available for adoption and moved over into the adoptions side of the humane society. Theo however, was still too fearful to be adopted and was listed as "Under Behavior Modification" while remaining on the strays side.
Back to our evaluation of Theo, so we were all sitting in the interaction yard with Theo off leash. I began to notice Theo some what "coming to life" he started trying to pull a carpet/blanket thing underneath a plastic table and was casually checking in with his favorite staff member here and there. His tail started to untuck and his brow line finally started to relax. After about 20 minutes of sitting and talking, Theo finally came up to me while I was sitting in the chair for some scratches but never for more than a minute or two. That's when I got out of my chair and sat on the ground with him. He let me rub his head and ears a little bit and scratch his back but he still wanted to run away at every chance he got. After about 45 minutes of hanging out with Theo, I was officially in love and gave the word that we'd be pulling him. He was then scheduled for his neuter surgery and returned to his kennel.
A few days later, I was actually contacted by the shelter's "behaviorist" and told that even though Theo had made some progress at the shelter, he thought that Theo wouldn't be able to "make it over the hump" without anti-anxiety meds and that he wasn't able to cope with new situations. He also said that he thought we should put him on the anti-anxiety meds even after we pull him and offered to get us a prescription. I respectfully declined and asked what behaviors Theo displayed that made him think that Theo wouldn't be able to cope with coming out of the shelter without medication, I never heard back.
We picked Theo up a few days after his neuter surgery and brought him to the facility. At first, he was petrified of our truck but once we started cruising, he LOVED having his head out the window. I took him on leash around the yard, let him explore his new kennel and introduced him through the fence to Latte. Although, he was immediately smitten with Latte, I'm pretty sure the feeling wasn't mutual. At the end of our walk around the yard, I sat down on the front patio with Theo and just let him take his time coming up to me without reaching out for him at all. He cautiously sniffed me but still didn't want to be petted. I was however, able to get lots of kisses after I returned him to his kennel.
Everyday, after that first day, he seemed to come out of his shell bit by bit. Everything was new to him, he was both fascinated and afraid of the most mundane things. He was absolutely petrified of our chickens at first and even our small palm trees that line the fence. We did mini- Behavior Adjustment Training sessions with him and just about everything on a daily basis. The most important one though was with my husband.
It took a few days of doing a BAT session once a day with Theo and my husband before Theo felt confident approaching my husband. At first it was just a sniff and then we'd run away, then it was a sniff and a lick and then we'd run away. By the fourth or fifth day he was practically running up to my husband to give him love before running away and smelling the fabulous smells around the yard.
After about a week of being with Bowman's Canine, Krystal came up and we took Latte and Theo for their first walk together. The chemistry was ELECTRIC! They absolutely LOVED one another. Latte lit up in a way I haven't seen since Buddy was adopted. They rumbled, tumbled, wrestled and played all while dragging poor Krystal and I along.
They then began going on daily off leash play dates and turned into the best of friends. After, Latte was attacked just a little over two weeks ago, Theo was devastated. Latte was no longer directly across from him day in and day out and he stared to develop a bit of separation anxiety. This was secretly, a blessing in disguise though and this helped bring Theo even further out of his shell without his dependency on Latte.
Theo has now begun approaching people when they come over all on his own, with little or no coaxing. He approaches people with a waggy tail and confidence. It also turns out he likes kids and was more than happy to say hello to my neighbors little girl through the fence. He still loves every dog he sees even if the love isn't returned. Everyday he's blossoming more and more into the fantastic dog I knew he could be. He has made all of this progress WITHOUT the use of medications. All he needed was some love, time and patience.
This evening, I'll be taking Theo on his first hike away from our facility. We'll be meeting a friend and her dog at a hiking trail out in, gasp, PUBLIC! I'm both excited and nervous to see how Theo does. I'll be bringing the video camera along so don't worry I'll definitely be posting video.
Speaking of video, I'm going to attach two videos for you all to see. The first video is of our first meeting with Theo while he was still at the shelter and then day two with us:
The second video, is Theo's 11th day with Bowman's Canine and his first time meeting Krystal. This was also the same day he walked with Latte for the first time: