Fearful dog

Cora: Less Fearful than Ever!

I haven’t updated on Cora in a while, but I keep meaning to. Time slips away all too easily.

Cora has always loved car rides. In this picture, though, there was a formerly "scary" person beside her, and she was perfectly comfortable and happy!

Cora has always loved car rides. In this picture, though, there was a formerly “scary” person beside her, and she was perfectly comfortable and happy!

Last summer, we took our scaredy-dog off the clomipramine she was on for anxiety. We slowly lowered her dose by 10 mg every week, and since we weren’t seeing any less anxiety with each tablet less, we figured it was okay to take her right off them.

In the past six months or so, Cora has made great strides. She is so close to appearing to be a “normal” dog that some people who had never met her before have been surprised to learn of how she cowered in her crate on the day we first saw her at an adoption event at PetSmart; how until very recently she hid in her “safe spot” in our house the entire time we had guests; how it took her well over a year to approach people whom she saw in our home regularly (including my mom and friends we played cards with weekly); how her fear was so incredibly bad at times that our “eat anything” beagle girl wouldn’t even take a treat from some people….

This is Cora doing one of her favourite things this past weekend: stalking a robin.

This is Cora doing one of her favourite things this past weekend: stalking a robin.




Yeah, she’s not really that dog anymore. We’ve had Cora for three years and one month, and she has finally emerged from her shell, although somewhat tentatively. There’s no denying that she is still cautious, but in recent months, Cora has joined her brothers, Dusty and Hogan, at the door when the doorbell rings, nearly always comes out of hiding within an hour or so of guests coming in, sniffs strangers on our walks and has even let some pet her, and, most surprising, has found her voice! We’ve heard Cora bark while awake only a handful of times in three years (we can definitely count her barks on our fingers), but two weekends ago, she barked three times in normal situations in which a dog would bark. It was shocking to hear her voice (which sounds so much like Dusty’s)! She hasn’t barked since, and because the boys both bark too much, we can’t say we’re terribly disappointed she hasn’t taken up the habit. Nevertheless, I will never discourage that in her.

She still has her "safe spot," but she ventures away from it more freely than she used to.

She still has her “safe spot,” but she ventures away from it more freely than she used to.

So it has been an eventful several months in our household. Cora is a very happy girl now. She is in her twilight years to be sure, but she still has so much life in her, and it’s been incredibly heartwarming to watch her seek it out from deep within, dust off the bad history with big sweeps of her tail, and make the most of what she has left.

And we couldn’t be happier to be the ones sharing this glorious time in her life with her!

Life is looking bright....

Life is looking bright….

To read more about Cora’s journey from fearful dog to normal dog, click on the “fearful dog” link below.

Cora’s Latest Progress Update

With Cora—as I think is always the case with fearful dogs—we have this rhythm of two steps forward, one step back. However, lately, we’re seeing more steps forward without much backtracking at all!

Cora almost never rolls over for belly rubs; instead she sits up like this (and usually puts a paw up first).

This is how Cora usually asks for belly rubs (often putting a paw up first–so cute!).

Cora has recently been venturing to the door with Dusty and Hogan. She often ducks away when she sees it’s someone she doesn’t know, but she has stayed for a few people (our dog-sitter, our house cleaner, my mom, and even a pizza delivery man). This is huge!


Cora has occasionally rolled over for belly rubs lately. Progress!











Our little sweet pea

Our little sweet pea

Then, when my friend Jo stayed with me in April while Wes was away and we went to the basement for TV time (the basement is Cora’s favourite place), Cora was right behind Jo coming downstairs and jumped onto the couch to sit between us. She even asked Jo for belly rubs in her special high-fiving way! Jo also got Cora kisses! The next two mornings, though, Cora had accidents in my bedroom, which hadn’t happened in months, so there may have been some anxiety about having someone else in the house.

Also in April, she greeted one of our neighbours for the first time (despite many previous attempts over the past two years) and took treats from their two-year-old son. Since that went over really well with Cora, we’ve allowed a couple of other kids to give her treats on our walks, and she’s done great! She doesn’t even dart away afterward but instead lingers to sniff their hands!

We’ve had some bunnies in our backyard lately, and Cora has made her hunting noises a lot—sometimes even before getting outside. One night, in her excitement of waiting for her bedtime snack, she even barked at Wes!

We’ve taken baby steps with Cora and continue to do so, but we keep seeing progress. Cora is a much more relaxed, much happier dog than she was in the beginning. Every day, she makes me laugh by doing something silly. And often, she brings me to tears of joy by moving a little further outside her comfort zone. People keep saying she is lucky to have ended up in our home. For certain, she is fortunate to have been saved by TAGS despite her advanced age and fear issues. But really, we’re the lucky ones who were the first potential adopters to meet Cora (anyone would have fallen for her as we did, I’m sure!) and to have watched her blossom into a real dog. She is a true inspiration!

Cora’s Dental Surgery Surprise

On Monday, Cora had dental surgery.

Cora’s teeth before cleaning

It had been only about a year and eight months since Cora’s last cleaning, but as it turned out, she really needed her teeth scaled again. We also knew that she had several broken teeth (many very easy to spot even for us). About a year ago, a friend of mine adopted a rescue whose personality completely blossomed after she had half of her teeth (all broken) removed. Because of this anecdotal evidence of the possible good that could come from dental surgery, I gave our vet (Dr. Sherry at Thickson Road Pet Hospital) the go-ahead to do as she felt best once she had Cora in surgery.

The vet clinic, as always, was amazing with Cora. Knowing her fearful nature, Dr. Sherry and Shannon, the vet tech, planned their day so that Cora’s surgery would be done before any others, meaning Cora wouldn’t have to wait in a crate, her anxiety building. They allowed me to stay with her as long as possible, and they called me to come get her as soon as she was ready to go home. They are so good with her and understand well my anxieties about keeping Cora on the path to fearlessness or as close to it as we can possibly get. (I have to add that Liz at the front desk was also amazing on surgery day. I stayed in the waiting room until I knew Cora was under, and Liz helped me stay calm and relaxed.)

Cora's teeth after (1280x960) (1280x960)

Cora’s pearly whites

As it turns out, Cora had to have seven teeth removed. We knew that her four front bottom teeth were all broken, presumably from chewing on bars most of her life (surmised from the fact that her top canines are also rounded from wear). The three other teeth removed were well spaced out—one front top tooth, one lower premolar, and one upper large molar. All of her teeth, though, are terribly worn down, and the vet thinks she’s probably spent a lot of time chewing on rocks or something equally unforgiving.

While none of this came as much of a surprise to us, Dr. Sherry did have one shocker to share. Seven teeth were not the only thing removed from Cora’s mouth. We knew of a “cyst” in her cheek that we have been watching for more than a year for growth. The vet removed it only to find it was not a cyst but a pellet, most likely from an air gun.


The pellet removed from Cora’s cheek next to a Zuke’s training treat

Poor Cora has lived with this in her mouth for at least two years. It’s possible she was shot while she was a stray, maybe while getting into garbage (which we know she has a penchant for), or that she was indeed a hunting dog and was shot while on a hunt. In either case, the shooting may explain her fear of people.

2013-03-11 after surgery

Cora on the way home from the vet clinic–very dopey

Anyway, within twelve hours of her surgery, Cora was her usual funny self, eating anything we’d allow her and begging for many chewy treats she can’t yet have. But we’re hoping to get approval for the chewier treats tomorrow at her follow-up appointment.

And while it seems that Cora has not come out of her shell with other people as a result of the removal of her teeth, she has at least remained just as kooky and happy and crazy as ever in our presence! For all her fearfulness with others, she truly makes up for it during our “family time.” She’s really quite the nut!

A Cora Theory: Part II

A couple of weeks ago, I posted what we’ve come to learn about Cora and how we’ve developed theories about her past based on what we’ve learned.

Bashful Cora

Bashful Cora

Although we think that Cora wasn’t abused per se (i.e., not hit or kicked), it is a near certainty that she was neglected to an extent. One element of her neglect had to be a lack of socialization. She is just so timid around strangers that it seems that she hadn’t experienced many social situations before our adopting her a year, nine months, and two days ago.

We’ve also seen behaviours that suggest she was subjected to some fairly aggressive training techniques. When we had our last dog, our beautiful little Jack Russell, Roxie, we watched The Dog Whisperer almost faithfully. Having been attacked nearly to the point of death at the age of two—and reacting to that attack just as you’d expect a Jack Russell terrier to react—Roxie had some aggression issues. We tried a few of Cesar Millan’s techniques with her, but we never used them consistently (something I’m very glad about now). Really, as long as we avoided other dogs, we didn’t have any major issues with Roxie.

And then, shortly after adopting Cora, I watched an episode of The Dog Whisperer and had a revelation: This is how she was trained! She would never enter a doorway ahead of us; she would cower if we told her to sit; she (still) shows fear when even we make eye contact with her; and instead of walking confidently on a leash, she often keeps her shoulders low (slinking) and an eye to the person at the leash’s end as if to ensure she’s not about to get in trouble.

High five!

High five!

So all of these things together lead us to believe that

  • Cora was either not exposed to people much as a pup or had very negative experiences with people (to explain her fearfulness);
  • Cora was used for breeding (to explain her saggy belly), but likely not in a puppy mill because she seems to have been trained to walk on a leash, enter buildings in a certain way (i.e., after her master), and not vocalize, although these behaviours are the only signs of training;
  • Cora may have been used for hunting when she was younger (to explain her comfort with fireworks, thunder, and other such noises and her still-keen hunting instincts); and
  • Cora spent a lot of time in a crate (to explain the condition of her teeth and hind end).

I think that Cora’s previous owners may have been backyard breeders who bred and sold hunting dogs in Kentucky, and that Cora was a huntress herself. On the day of Cora’s home visit, within minutes of roaming around our backyard, she found a dead mouse and brought it to us, suggesting to me that she was rewarded for such behaviours in the past. (I like to think this also meant she wanted us to keep her!)

Cora definitely has no fear of being on the couch now! That's her happy place.

Cora definitely has no fear of being on the couch now! That’s her happy place.

Cora had definitely been trained to walk on a leash before coming to us, so although she was a dog with “jobs,” she was cared for, although in a different way than we define “caring for a dog.” And that she had been treated for erlichiosis suggests to me she was one of only a few breeders (if not the only one), rather than one of many. We know Cora spent a lot of time in a crate, though, so it’s possible she didn’t live in the house. In fact, when we first adopted her, she wanted to be outside all of the time. She was so much more nervous indoors than out, and she was terribly uncomfortable being put on furniture.

One day, I suspect, her owners decided one of the following:

  • She was too old for breeding and/or hunting.
  • The litter she was pregnant with wouldn’t be healthy, perhaps because of her age and breeding history.
  • The mammary tumours possibly becoming apparent at that time (we found them in June 2011) could result in high vet bills or Cora’s inability to nurse the pups she carried.

And so they took off her collar and either set her loose somewhere (which makes sense considering her magnetism toward garbage bags—but what an awful thing to do to a dog!) or anonymously—and heartlessly—dropped her at the shelter and left her to her fate, which, had TAGS not intervened, would not have been good. From what I’ve read, this is the sort of thing backyard breeders do when they stop making money from their “pets.”

She's pretty happy now!

Our happy girl!

So that’s our Cora theory. We’ll never know for sure what has made her the dog she is today, and she definitely has some baggage. But, as I’ve said before, watching Cora come into her own and take this journey toward becoming a confident dog has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Yes, it makes me sad to see her frightened and shy, and I’ll always wish I could give her a magic potion to take away her anxiety forever, but, honestly, for all the work and worry she’s caused, she has given me tenfold in joy and laughter.

For all the reasons anyone gives for not adopting a rescued dog, I bet I can give them ten more, just from Cora experiences, to convince them that a rescued dog is definitely the way to go.

A Cora Theory: Part I

Adopting a dog with life experiences pre-life-with-you leaves you constantly wondering what that dog’s life was like before. I often try to imagine Hogan wandering the beaches and streets of Cozumel, Dusty playing with his siblings in his small dog-pound cage until they were adopted out one by one while he waited patiently for a home, too, and Cora… Well, we really don’t know anything about Cora’s history.

Misha's stay 057

Winking at me in the morning light

What we do know is that Cora was left, collarless, in a “doggy drop box” (like those used to return videos after-hours but bigger) at a pound in Kentucky. An older dog and extremely timid, she was nearly immediately put on the list to be euthanized. That’s when TAGS stepped in, thank God. A wonderful rescue in Kentucky worked with TAGS and other rescuers along the way to transport Cora, car by car, approximately 16 hours north to the land of the free.

But who was it who left Cora to her potentially sad fate that day? Had she wandered away from a hunt or gotten out of a kennel and lived for a time as a stray, only to be picked up by a kind soul who’d thought she’d be safe at the pound? Or had her owners decided for one reason or another to give her up?

Here is what we do know about Cora:

  • She is terribly afraid of strangers.
  • She loves other dogs, especially Labradors.
  • She has seemingly had several litters, judging by her saggy belly (and what our vet says).
  • Cora puppy-dog eyes

  • Her collar was likely never removed (as suggested by her fur pattern).
  • She spent a lot of time chewing on the bars of a crate (as evidenced by her rounded canines and broken bottom front teeth).
  • She was not well exercised (her back end was described as “floppy” when she was rescued).
  • She seems to have been taught to walk on a leash but to stay behind her owner and always to the left. She also was trained, we think, to enter a doorway after her master, never before.
  • She gravitates toward garbage and discarded fast-food containers.
  • She was treated for ehrlichiosis at some point.
  • She was pregnant when she was brought into the pound (her litter was aborted during her spaying).
  • She has “04” tattooed on the inside flap of her ear.
  • She “retrieved” a dead mouse and brought it to us on our home visit with her.

When our friends and family see how frightened Cora is of people, they automatically assume she was physically abused in her past. We aren’t so sure, although she most certainly suffered neglect of some sort.

Of course, we have our theories about what her life was like before us. But what I’d like to know is, judging by what you now know of Cora, what theory do you have? Do you have experience with a puppy miller or backyard breeder or hunter that may shed light on Cora’s history? (I’ll post my theory about Cora’s background later this week, but I hope I’ll hear one or two of yours in the meantime!)