Originally published August 5, 2010
Okay, okay! I know an Ellie Update is due. And, no, she hasn’t disappeared from the earth. Quite the contrary. We have been real busy. And Ellie is making history – for developing real doggie skills after a life of more than four years in a puppy mill crate. Here’s what she has been up to:
First – Ellie is walking on leash! From the beginning of our time together, I put her into harness and lead when we went out. Since I wasn’t sure of her, I figured if she did bolt, I could quickly (well, as quickly as a seventy-plus woman can do), and easily step on the lead and capture her. During the first part of June, I seriously tried to convince her that walking was a good idea. She did not go for it at all. She had to be dragged, so obviously, that approach didn’t work. Ellie was most comfortable being carried, her head at shoulder height where she could duck under my chin if she became frightened, which she very often did. As far as walking was concerned, nothing worked, including coaxing, pleading, etc.
Then one day, after we came home from town, my arms were full of groceries, so I put her on the ground and half dragged her to the mail box. After I got the mail, I convinced her to walk to the unfenced front yard. I stood there reading some mail and she began to sniff around. I let her wander a bit, keeping the lead taut to let her know I was holding it. After a while, I convinced her to walk to the gate, but when the gate squeaked open, she balked and would go no farther.
The next time, we started our walk in a highly scented – or odiferous – area. The aromatic attraction overcame her reluctance to walk, and she has walked on leash ever since, I suppose looking for the perfect odor. Over the last two months, we have increased our walking speed and distance from slowly around the block to a nicely paced jaunt of well over a mile. Ellie has gained muscle tone in her hind legs and has increased her breathing power. She no longer coughs and chokes after a short burst of exercise.
Second – Ellie spends more time outside her “nest.” When I first brought her home, I wedged a wicker bed into the space under the largest of my nesting, glass-topped, bamboo end tables. That haven serves as an open-sided crate with a transparent top. My strict house rule about it is: No one can bother her when she is in her bed. Period. While it is O.K. to sit on a little stool I keep close by and talk nicely to her, and reach in to pet her, her visitor cannot tease her or try to get her to come out. Ellie can pretty much see the entire studio from that lair, and it’s up to her to decide when she wants to come out. Of course, she trots right out at meal times and when she wants to go outside.
I have a second, open bed/nest near my own bed in the bedroom, in which I insist she sleeps at night. In the beginning, she spent all her time indoors inside her bed under the little table, except for coming out to eat and to go outside. As the days got longer, she woke earlier and earlier, and on her own, decided the best way to get me up was to stand on hind legs and pat the edge of my bed with her forefeet.
It was really exciting to see those big brown eyes so alert, even at four thirty or five in the morning. When I said, “Good Morning!” to her, she would jump up and down on her hind legs and pat the side of my bed. When I swung my feet over the edge to get up, she went on all four feet and danced around in circles, tail wagging like crazy. Soon, she began to dance around in circles when I would put on my jacket and clogs to go outside, which we did, even if I had to grab a flashlight on my way out.
As we go into August and the days are a little shorter, she has adjusted her getting-up time to six o’clock, which suits us both.
Third – Ellie can play! During my last posting in mid May, I was a bit optimistic about Ellie learning to play. What play there was at that time came in tiny, rare spurts lasting barely 15 to 20 seconds, with no other players, outdoors, late at night just before bed. Until a couple weeks ago, we hadn’t gotten much further along than that. I had bought her toys that were waiting for her when she came home with me, but she had no interest in them at all.
At the grocery store recently, I passed the pet aisle and decided to have a look at the toys, which I used to do (probably too often) when I had a standard poodle. I found a little one consisting of a short rope with fuzzy things on the ends. I brought it home and when we got into the studio, I cut off the tags and took it to her in her bed. She immediately began to nibble at it and discovered it could squeak. Pretty soon, she threw it out of her bed and chased it. After that, she began to play with it outside of her little nest, pouncing on it with her front paws and her hind end up in the air – in what I call the “poodle play stance.” When we went outside late that evening, she wanted to take it with her. I had the devil of a time convincing her it was an inside toy before she would leave it to go out.
At bed time, she took it into the bedroom to that bed. When she woke me the next morning, she began right away to play with it, throwing it around the bedroom. She left it there to go outside and to have breakfast, but remembered later where it was and brought it back out into the studio.
So, now I can say Ellie plays – there’s no question about it.
While my grandson was riding his scooter in the skate park, Ellie and I went for a walk of about a mile. When we returned to the park, Nick wasn’t ready to go, so we walked around a large area containing two baseball fields. When we got to the farthest field, swallows were swooping and flying in circles close to the ground to catch insects. We’ve had sparrows in the yard and Ellie hasn’t taken much notice of them. However, she was fascinated by the swallows.
All of a sudden, Ellie began to chase the birds. Thank goodness, I had a good hold on the leash. She chased them this way and that, keeping my arm and the six foot lead taut. I couldn’t help laughing. At one time, she made several complete circles, spinning me around in the center. It was great seeing her do such a doggie thing. Can hardly wait until the next time.