When Luna and I began our SAR training she was a very shy dog. There are 2 distinct reasons that come to mind why she was so shy.
- Her natural personality is cautious. She wants to be correct and sure of the situation and what she is being asked to do. She also has the shepherd genes which make her protective of the 'family pack' and cautious of strangers.
- As a young puppy she fractured her back leg and was confined to her kennel for 2 months during a prime socialization period. This was a huge hurdle to overcome.
So what is Luna's personality? Cautious, shy, friendly, playful, methodical, thoughtful, skittish, confident. How can a dog be both shy and confident at the same time? How can she be cautious and playful? It depends on the situation! It also depends on her life experiences and the things we have done to build up her confidence and friendliness. Luna isn't a dog that I would describe as fearlessly jumping through a hoop of fire… unless I was on the other side of the hoop of fire - and if that is the case she wouldn't hesitate to come to me.
This is the story of how Luna's personality grew to the sweet goofy dog she is today.
A preview of her GIANT ears. I love this one because one is just starting to stand up.
The fractured leg
At around 10 weeks of age Luna fractured her back tibia. I remember her cries when it happened. My heart jumped in the back of my throat. The bile in my throat was the precursor to the bitter thought that my beautiful precious puppy was hurt and the fears of what might follow. It was all my fault too.
We were at home on a school night in early October of 2012 and I had Luna and Charlie upstairs in our guest room with me. We kept our computers in that room at the time. I was sitting at my computer and Charlie had jumped up on the guest bed. Luna was making pitiful but very cute attempts to jump up on the bed where her new dog best friend was laying, having escaped from the rambunctious puppy. It melted my little heart seeing my new puppy wanting to be with her big brother and I turned my chair, picked her up, and placed her on the bed. Big mistake. I spun back around to do some incredibly important (sarcasm) web browsing. The bed is only 2 feet from my chair and I face away from the bed. A few minutes later I feel a thump in the back of my chair and then the wailing began. My sweet little fluffy puppy was howling in pain. I turned around and she was non-weight bearing on her rear leg. We knew something was wrong and my mind was racing through the possibilities… look at what they do to race horses who have a leg injury? The glue factory for you!
I scooped her up, grabbed my wallet and keys and we hopped in the car heading for the 24/7 pet hospital about 20 minutes from home. Luna sat in my lap on the trip as I tried to comfort her while flying down the road. I won't claim it was the safest journey, but we got there in short order. The initial X-ray analysis didn't reveal any damage, so the vet thought it was a muscle injury and recommended we confine her to the kennel overnight and follow up in a day or two with our normal vet. We went home feeling relief but still worried… something just didn't seem right. She was still in a lot pain.
The next morning while at work I got a phone call from our vet. A radiologist had reviewed the X-ray and identified a fracture so they needed me to bring Luna in. I left work, went home, got Luna and took her to the vet. Dr. Moody was awesome with her - very gentle and took her back for their exam and treatment. Luckily it was a small fracture and did not require surgery. They treated it with a wrap and confined her to the kennel for 2 months so it could heal.
This was a long 2 months. Luna had started off very strong for a young pup, confident with people and other dogs and was already very good at using the bathroom outside. Being confined to the kennel she had to eat, sleep, and basically do nothing else but lay in the kennel day and night. We had to carry her outside and try to limit her movement as much as possible when going to the bathroom. A few weeks in to her healing and her house training was gone and she relieved herself in the kennel. We battled a poopy puppy for at least a month. The poopy puppy would either welcome us home from work or when we were changed into our work clothes and on the way out the door. She was tricky too - even after taking her outside she would ninja poop in the kennel and either roll in it or try to eat it to clean it up. I wasn't mad at her though; she couldn't help it. My work scheduled wouldn't allow to check on her through the day.
I did what I could to keep building the bond by getting her out and holding her. I also moved her kennel to beside the bed so I could keep an eye on her and just be close to her during the night. There weren’t many other options for us to bond, let alone train.
What made me the most sad was Luna being robbed of her puppyhood. She had the cutest sideways lope when running through the backyard with those floppy puppy ears.
All clear! Go out and greet!
Fast forward 2 months later when the vet removed the final wrap and cleared her to begin physical activity and our work began! We started our obedience training at home and socialization by visiting pet friendly stores in Louisville and Clarkesville. Anna, Luna, and I would visit stores at least 2-3 times a week on evenings and weekends. These were places where the staff were friendly and openly greeted and welcomed your pet and the people there weren't surprised that there was a dog in the store. Some of the locations included Bass Pro Shops, PetSmart, and Feeder's Supply.
We would go to these places several times a week and work on obedience and anytime anyone showed any interest in Luna we would ask them if they wanted to pet her and give her a treat. I always had plenty of treats ready so that every time Luna was meeting a person she got a treat from them. This helped her realize meeting people was good and rewarding. She really has become a more confident dog, I wish I had videos comparing her back at 4 months old and now.
SAR Center, Lillian, Robin, and Tim
She has come a long way in her confidence and curiosity - some of that I credit to time and maturity as she will be turning 2 this week. The rest of the credit goes to all the people that helped me and Luna along the way. A couple of experiences stand out as defining moments for getting Luna to where she is at today. Lillian Hardy, the Director of Training for Indiana Department of Homeland Security, patiently worked with me and Luna on her alert and building her confidence approaching strangers. Thanks to Robin Stanifer for helping me get started with tracking during the air scenting classes and for explaining some of the German Shepherd thought process and what makes them tick. Another person is Tim, who helped at many IDHS K9 classes in 2013 and is now working on training his own dog in tracking. Tim took a unique approach to building Luna's confidence that I have never forgotten and I continue to use to this day.
Tim's method - Monkey See, Monkey Do:
On a Friday afternoon I left work early and grabbed Luna and we headed up to the SAR Center at Camp Atterbury for an afternoon session with Lillian and Tim. After doing a few short tracks Tim asked if Luna had worked the agility course before. She had not at this point but I really wanted to get her started doing the course to build her confidence and coordination. When we introduced her to one of the ladders she looked at me like I was crazy, she didn't understand what I was asking her to do and why she should bother going up a ladder. Tim didn't hesitate and he simply ran up the ladder and stood on the rails and called Luna up to him encouraging her with some tasty treats. I was amazed. My shy, awkward dog was doing the agility course, albeit cautiously but doing it! She was a little shy at first but a few trips up and down following Tim and a whole new world of fun opened up to Luna. The agility course is now one of her favorite activities - she knows when we are driving in to the SAR center and gets super amped up because she wants to run on it.
To this day I still use Tim's method to show my dog what I want her to do and to get her excited and have fun doing it. I used to think my dog couldn't work a rubble pile, but once I got on the rubble pile with her she navigates with confidence. Now I don't have to lead the way, she can.
At search training we would hand out treats to the other team members to give to Luna as we walked by or as they came and went. We also did a lot of motivational puppy runs which are short runaways to get the dog to run to a subject and when they get there they would coax her in with treats to get her to approach a subject she did not know. Thanks Lillian for teaching us this and working with us so much on it!
Now I have the opposite problem! Luna wants to race to meet other dogs. We need to work on getting her in a calm state before meeting and greeting other dogs and people.
Hope you enjoyed reading about Luna's experience and growth. We still have some work to do (and always will) but Luna has come a long way. Until next time!