“How much time is enough time before we decide that this is not going anywhere?”
“I don’t think I can do this. I don’t know how else to help her.”
“Do you think she’ll ever love us?”
“Will she be like this forever? What if this is the real her and she’s going to be permanently this way?”
“What if she likes being a stray more and being at home is not what she wants?”
These are just some of the honest questions that have come up since Mayo came into our lives.
Ever heard of the 3-3-3 rule when it comes to adopting a rescue dog? Do a simple search and google will tell you most rescue dogs follow this 3-3-3 rule.
They say the first 3 days the dog would probably be shut down. After 3 weeks the dog more comfortable, and after 3 months the dog is completely comfortable.
We didn’t understand. We watched every Youtube video there was, we even read books, we read 10000001 articles to prepare ourselves but nothing worked. Nothing was relatable and Mayo went against all the rules and training tips we’ve watched/read. Although there was strong support from the Singapore Specials community on Instagram (for which I am so so thankful for), we didn’t come across any account we could really relate with that understood what we went through, or had a dog remotely like Mayo. We felt incredibly lonely in our journey because we had no answers.. There were a ton of doubts and uncertainties, and besides sharing them on Instagram we were pretty helpless and hopeless on most days.
It’s hard to pinpoint an exact lowest because everyday seemed to be an accumulation of the whirlwind of emotions we experienced. The first 2 weeks we barely slept. There were nights Mayo howled and cried (?) for hours straight in the middle of the night. Whenever we got up to walk in her direction in first 1 month, she would literally shiver & cower even though we didn’t give any eye contact or said a word. We..just..walked.. She was probably so stressed out that she had violent seizures in her sleep the first month or so. We were worried it was a neurological problem and that made us sleepless and watched the camera monitor every night but thankfully it went away as she got more comfortable.
We are not proud to say this but in the spirit of sharing, we also actually lost Mayo, TWICE, within the first 2 months. She got spooked by a sudden sound, lodged herself behind one of those things along on the road and the leash flew from my hand. I spent 30 mins looking for her under ditches, construction sites, bushes.. but guess what? I got a text from our neighbourhood chat that Mayo was at our HDB lift lobby. Our regular cleaner uncle took her up and tied her to our gate. When I lost her I heard voices of our volunteers in my head, “If Mayo this kind get lost, confirm cannot find one!” But although she was still frightened of us, she chose to go back home – my guess is she knew it was safe and choose us over living on the streets alone. Still blows me away how she knew the way home especially since there have been so many stories of lost dogs that never find their way home.
She definitely regressed especially on walks after that because her confidence was shaken – mine was too. She was constantly pulling on leash and wanting to go home. I was at my wits end and so highly discouraged because it just seem more and more like she won’t break out of this fear cycle. Then one day… a fellow dog owner told me fearful dogs need a confident leader. They can sense our anxiety and i guess she knew. If I could I would avoid walking her because I was insecure and worried that I would lose her again. That afternoon I picked up the leash, puffed my chest, took a deep breath and said ‘Mayo, come!’. Lo and behold, she came. This time I kept my head up, and when she pulled ahead out of fear, I stopped. I took a step ahead of her, deep breath, and continued walking. Like magic, she calmed down and we had a good walk. Positive reinforcement, pack leader, whatever 100001 other training theories bla bla bla – you do you. Mayo was so scared of me she wouldn’t take treats from me – we barely have a relationship yet, so how to reinforce? How to reduce the threshold when she goes from 0-100 in an instant. I can’t predict what & who we meet on our walks. I could only assure her that you know what, I got this. I know where we are going, and I dont need her to worry about bicycles, traffic, runners incoming. Just follow me, you will be fine. #letthemsniff they say.. I would love to let Mayo sniff. When she is confident to sniff, I let her sniff. But i noticed that when she walks ahead of me, she is more easily triggered and reacts in fear perhaps because she feels like she is defenseless and has no clue how to respond to all these new triggers. Now, even though she is so much more confident on walks and typically walks ahead of me, when she sees something that makes her worry, she still comes back to me and allows me to take over in a particularly unsure situation.
But above all, I found it most challenging to see Mayo not being a dog. Don’t get me wrong, she was a good dog! She didn’t whine, she doesn’t bark (well now she does!!), she doesn’t pee & poo at home, she sleeps, she eats. But, she wasn’t a dog. We were told to give her time. But as the days went by and we saw minimal to no progress, we wondered how much time is enough? How much time does she need? What can we do? What if she is simply just like this?
So what made us press on? What lessons have we learnt?
I mean there were days that our anxiety skyrocketed through the roof and it seemed like every tiny thing sends her into a frenzy and we have to walk on egg shells around her for fear of making her regress and more fearful. Some days maybe we took things too far and she was stressed. Some days maybe she was triggered by an aggressive dog. And as humans we become so consumed by our own human worries. But like everybody says, dogs live in the moment. I used to think ‘oh no, Mayo got scared. she hates me. she’s going to hate me.’ NO SHE’S NOT. The next morning, she’s ok already. Give your dogs some credit, and cut yourself some slack! Don’t be too hard on yourself – it’s something I remind myself everyday. She proves to us day after day how resilient she is.
With every low, we have to remember there will also be highs 🙂
Definitely one of the highs was the first time Mayo left her bed to come to the dining table to sniff. We were having curry chicken. Curry seemed to have a magical effect on Mayo – curry makes mayo brave haha. Came to find out later on that actually her rescuer/feeder fed her packets of curry chicken rice occasionally for 6 months! Now Mayo has an upgrade and has doggy-safe curry made with love filled with greek yogurt, capsicum, turmeric & chicken.
During circuit breaker I (mama) had a lot more time to work with Mayo. Started off by tossing yummy treats around the house to encourage her to move around the house. Little by little, I think maybe 3 months into her adoption in May, she started becoming a little more ‘kaypoh’ and confident to come sniff when there’s food on the table. Little signs of her becoming more like a dog.
One of my biggest highs, was the day mayo learnt to sit. It took us a grand total of 6 months and because she was so fearful of me, I couldnt use any treats to lure her into a sit like most people do. Neither could I touch her butt to push her down because she was fearful and usually out of reach anyway haha – this dog observes safe distancing very well. I shared on my Instagram that the ‘Sit’ command is literally one of the first things that people teach their dogs. It seems like a no-brainer thing and ya, we were a bit ‘FOMO’ that mayo doesn’t know a single ‘trick’. But hey!!!!!! we took 5 months, but we still got there eventually. Yea we might take longer, but not about the destination but the journey correct? Hehe as at September 10th 2020, she already knows ‘down’, ‘sit’, ‘paw’, ‘chin’, ‘touch’ and ‘bow’. Again, none of these were learnt through luring with treats, or through simply grabbing their paw/chin etc. We ‘captured’ the behavior! Like a camera! Don’t underestimate your fearful dog! Whenever she did the behavior on her own e.g sit, or lie down – we will use a verbal cue e.g SIT and mark it with a marker. Anyway…. ahahaha ok I won’t go into too much detail about the training – next post ok?
Hahahaha, in summary…… Don’t sweat it if your dog doesn’t follow the ‘rules’. Even after 7 months, Mayo has yet to fully trust us. She still hides from us when we come home but everyday we are seeing new sides of her. But 7 months ago it seemed like an impossible feat for her to me lying beside us. Yet today we can play with her, and she will occassionally willingly lie next to us. If you have a dog like Mayo, I just want to say you are not alone. You might not feel like your dog loves you yet, but remember that it ends with .. YET. Someday I believe they will. I am still telling myself all these everyday while I encourage others. We are all still work in progress and I look forward to the day I can upload a video of Mayo excitedly wagging her tail when she sees us.
Till the next time, I hope you take comfort and pride in your own adoption journey.