December 28, 2010

Elmer's Eyes

Today I met Elmer.  He is a small, frightened dog.  Elmer is very different from most of the dogs I work with at the shelter because he is so little....and so shut down.  His eyes look like he has given up on life.  His big brown eyes are haunted.  I don't know what has scared him so badly.  Is it the sights, sounds and smells of the shelter?  Had something bad happened to him before he ended up here?  None of that really matters.  When I work with a dog I address them based on what I see in that moment.  Right now I see a sweet, terrified little guy that wants to remain unnoticed.

Elmer shares his kennel with 3 other small dogs.  When I first saw him he was cowering in the back while the other dogs came to the front to see if I had treats for them.  Upon entering the kennel the 3 other dogs all rushed to check me out and Elmer looked like he hoped I wouldn't see him.  I lifted him up so I could take him outside and he had a very strong urine smell and was trembling.

Not wanting to violate his personal space I put him down at my first opportunity and clipped the lead to his collar.  He froze.  When a dog is this frightened there is no treat in the world that is tempting enough.  He left me little choice but to apologize and scoop him up again.

When I got him out to the play yard I unclipped the lead and he could not get far enough away from me.  His objective was to hide.  Giving him plenty of time to observe me I spread out towels on the ground, sprinkled them liberally with treats and rummaged through my backpack.  Elmer was plastered against the fence on the opposite side of the yard. 

Finally I approached Elmer and put an Extra Small Thundershirt on his shaking body.

I carried Elmer back over to the blanket and I sat behind him doing some very gentle TTouches.  His little body relaxed a bit as I worked on his tiny ears.  This lasted about 3 minutes and I let him go.

My hope was that he would return to me - but he didn't.

Not wanting to overwhelm Elmer I decided he had enough for one day and I removed his Thundershirt and sat him down. 

He ran away from me and nervously ran back and forth just outside my reach.  He would watch me as he ran past.  I gave him no reaction other than to calmly tell him he is such a good boy and deserving of love.

Finally I packed things up to go and Elmer came over to the fence where I was and started pawing at it.  He was about 4 feet from me so I squatted down with my back against the fence and I reached out for  him.  Elmer didn't run and even took a single step toward me.  I scooped Elmer up on my lap and held him against my chest as I talked to him and did more gentle touches on him until the trembling stopped.

Was it my imagination?  At the very end I could swear I felt Elmer's body relax....ever so slightly.

The interesting thing about TTouch is that you don't always see improvement during the session.  Take Neo for example.  The first night I worked with him I thought I'd seen a very tiny bit of improvement, but the next day I was greeted by a completely different dog!  I'm hoping that when I see Elmer next he will be far more relaxed.


  1. As usual I have tears in my eyes. Keep it up dear one, keep it up!

  2. Oh boy, looking forward to hearing about your next visit with Elmer...

  3. I have a new update on Elmer in today's blog post! He is doing well and will be headed to a local rescue group very soon.