Photo by Robert Eede, with thanks.
I know it’s been a while since I wrote anything and in many way, that’s a good thing! We’ve been making so much progress, and I’ve also been writing some posts on the RANA Facebook page to raise awareness of the other forgotten dogs and also to show the supporters where the rescued animals are now! But, back to my Zacky boy! So, we had managed a short trip in the car and a walk around the football fields and that alone had filled us both with an unprecedented level of confidence! We have a few nice places within relatively short drives here and I just couldn’t wait to show him the world! Even just writing those words makes my eyes brim with happy tears, we have come so far and so, I wish I could go back to the start and show myself and Zac just how far we would get in 6 months!
We should really have started small-ish but the anticipation was hard for me to reign in to be honest. There is a huge forest just a short drive away, and it seemed like a sensible place to start. There are deer and foxes and all sorts of things that would leave extremely exciting smells for Zac to discover. I put on his harness and collar and his double lead security blanket and off we went. We pulled into the car park and Zac looked so curious I could have sworn his eyes had doubled in size! He was obviously scared as he climbed slowly from the safety of the car, but I’m so grateful for his high level of curiosity! We walked forward together, slowly, but willingly and I let his nose choose our path. I know these woods like the back of my hand so I let him enjoy the freedom to roam....whilst attached to me with his double lead system! We walked for 45 minutes or so without any drama, he did a lot of sniffing and looking into the distance but I think he’d started to feel tired, after all, exercising must be a new concept for this institutionalised boy.
He cried, so we turned back via the shortest route, he was allowed to call the shots and I had to follow the signals he gave me.
I really wanted to show him the beach, so once he had become more comfortable with the car , I took him to Camber sands! It’s the loveliest beach we have and I know it might sound over the top, but all I wanted was to please and impress him, he needed to have his long awaited happy ever after!
The moment he saw the beach, I knew he was going to be a beach dog! His ears perked up and his pace quickened, the sand was under his feet and he seemed to react as if that feel was ‘home!’ As far as I know Zac was never a beach dog but he did spend a lot of time in a dusty sandlike field, whatever instigated that response, we were all enjoying it!! Zac wanted to run, his legs seemed to be possessed on a couple of occasions and it was so funny to see! They would suddenly splay out from under him like those of an excited young dog that wanted to run like a lunatic, round and round and round! Zac wasn’t ready to show us this side of himself and would quickly pull his legs back in and continue his ‘serious boy’ dog stomp along the sands! I HAD to get him to let go and I just couldn’t wait for the moment he would let go and be that dog that was so obviously fighting to get out!
We had been for quite a few walks in different places and confidence was continuing to grow in both of us! I had researched GPS trackers and I’d decided, being a stress head with a nervous, potentially flighty dog; it was going to be worth investing! If he did run, I felt I needed to be able to go to him myself as I didn’t think anyone else would be able to get near him in a panic stricken state....I’m not sure how easy it would even be for me, so, I waited for the ‘Tractive’ to arrive! In the meantime I’d discovered that it was possible to hire secure fields on here for a very small fee thanks to a post in a Facebook group I had been following. There were 4 fields in my area so I thought we’d start with the smallest one to trial him off lead and check we could get him back. I want to train my dog, I really do, but he’s so fearful that he doesn’t engage with training, well, not with any techniques I know anyway. If I raise a piece of chicken above his head to try to teach ‘sit’ he bows his head in fear, my poor boy! I booked him in for some training classes and the trainer suggested I bring him along to a class before his sessions actually began, just so he could see what it was all about and give us a chance to assess if he might be ready. In short, he was NOT ready! My poor little man had no idea what this place was all about but he was not happy or comfortable being there!
He did take a look a couple of times but protested forcefully by scratching the wall and facing away! This was not the time! The trainer told me what I already knew, he was not ready and wouldn’t be able to engage. She advised me that this would be the case for the next block of lessons too....he was welcome to watch but no point in trying to get him to engage yet! I largely felt that translated into; I was on my own! Next, I had a behaviourist come out to assess him, she was very encouraging and basically told me I was doing all I could do and had to continue to be patient and progress at his pace. I suppose there just wasn’t a magic cure, but still, he was so much better outside, on a confidence level at least. I mean, he hated my garden, and still does actually, I’m not sure why, but he’s not impressed! Anyway, off lead was my aim!! I highly recommend the test runs, we did 2 test runs, a small field first, it was more like a large garden, but it did the trick. Zac stayed right with me, I was very relieved!
So, we went on to the biggest field next, we went along to meet the very nice man that owned it. He had to walk us down to it, this took five minutes or so, I told him all about Zac and RANA as we walked and Zac worked hard on looking terrified, cute, but terrified, and by the time we got there my little Tunisian prince, in true African style, had charmed the man in to donating our field hire session for free! Bless him! Zac was less comfortable in this field to begin with but I persuaded him to sniff and gradually he began to explore.
He was slow and steady and kept scratching at his harness so eventually I thought I’d just take it off him. That did it...! He was suddenly more comfortable, he started to let down his guard and within a few minutes he had reduced me to an ecstatic emotional wreck! He did his first zoomie!!! He ran down the field, straight past me, and then wasn't really sure where else to go so he ground to a slow stop and glanced round to check my reaction....."Yayyyyy, Zacky boy!!!" He continued his attempt at a nonchalant mannered exploration, but he broke into another two zoomies when he deemed me, his obviously fragile mum, fit to cope with the emotion of the situation!
So, now that I felt comfortable that he wasn't going to just leave me the moment his lead was unhooked, I had to give it a true test, I chose a couple of relatively small and secure walks to begin with and everything went well, he was a little unwilling to come back when I wanted him to and would only grace me with his presence when he thought it was time. This is something we are still working on and I still avoid places that I consider too close to a road or any other potential dangers. His GPS tracker has been SO helpful in giving me the confidence to let him have his offlead time and honestly, these times have seen him blossom so much, he smiles his goofy grin when he can run and explore and he behaves like a confident dog, it's so heart warming to see! Slowly but surely he is turning into a cheeky, slightly naughty, very lovable dog and I do love my boy so much! On we go with our journey, now at a slightly faster pace, and loving every moment!