The next instalment in ISCP member Rowena’s journey with Romanian street dog Cauta
A window into our life here.
A baby boy has been growing inside me for 23 weeks.
We are joyful, excited and nervous in equal measure.
How has one becoming two affected Cauta?
As baby inside develops Cauta has grown more and more protective, a return to the hyper alertness, the barking, jumping and air snapping of before.
Each time any incident happens we reassess, what happened and why? He becomes less predictable, more volatile outside the home. We talk endlessly, what can we do to contain this? Management tools, the muzzle now being a constant, a head collar becomes crucial after he pulls me over twice in one day, the long line returns as his recall vapourises.
Continuing all the training we have been doing for months, increasing distance, strategies, ‘Look at me’, associating triggers with treats, keeping below threshold, increasing enrichment at home, decreasing time outside, avoiding trigger stacking, it all comes into play. We make mistakes, we have little triumphs, we work them through, we support each other.
Another referral, another behaviourist, hiring a secure field. What is hardest is the sense of hope being whisked away, how we had all worked so hard on this previously, he had got to a place where he seemed stable, and now we are plunged back to a state worse than we had known before.
It seems a particularly cruel game of snakes and ladders.
We accept that the life changes that are happening will of course unsettle him, but it is also frightening that he has reached this level, this quickly. This is not what we hoped for, but this is how life is, at the moment.
Cauta has become a reactive dog. However, in moments when we walk side by side, him muzzled and us physically connected with his yellow ‘nervous’ lead. Me with a pocketful of treats, when we manage to work together and he is able to stay calm, even when faced with triggers, I feel immensely proud of him.
A feeling grows that he is a survivor, just as humans can be. We all live with our histories and scars, visible or not. He has survived the streets of Romania, he has been kicked, abused, starved, had his leg fractured, his ear and tail hacked off. Of course he finds life difficult. Of course his history affects him. And the same with Luna, little is known about her history, but it includes an endless amount of time being shut away in a dark shed. No wonder she is terrified of being left alone.
I draw support from reading others stories, challenges and triumphs on the Facebook group, ‘Reactive dogs UK.’ https://www.facebook.com/groups/1633448230248202/
I smile as I read the files, how to think of us humans as ninjas, every carer as a guardian and advocate for these dogs.
Doubts lurk, are we asking Cauta to be in an environment that he is just not able to adapt to? Is it fair to ask him to do this? Hard questions, with no right answer. One night we watch ‘Animals with cameras.’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09qqmfz
This features a group of Carpathian Shepherd dogs doing what they were bred for – protecting the flock. Working as a team they have distinct roles, one to alarm bark for danger, sensing a wolf, another to pinpoint and chase away. They roam outside, always alert to the presence of danger. Cauta could not be more like them. This is what he is, it’s in his bones. Is asking him to behave as a domesticated dog a step too far from what he is made for? It seems he needs wide open space, not suburbia.
The Luna effect is powerful, they have bonded so strongly with each other. We have now officially adopted her and she is family. He is clearly protective of her and separate walks are necessary. Yet having her with us is a light helping us through. Without her Cauta would undoubtedly be very lonely, as his off lead time is very much curtailed. Without her Cauta would not have his beloved sidekick, and nor would we.
How will Cauta and Luna feel about baby’s appearance? A big unknown. The house is regularly filled with baby noises from YouTube to get them both used to what will come. We are working through all we can do to prepare them. But we also have to be realistic, we do not know how they will adapt to our new tiny human. But we will gather hope and go into this together.
With thanks to Emma Rogers for the heads up about ‘Animals with cameras’.