Updated: Feb 19
Next week it will be 18 months since we brought Badger home to live the rest of her life with us. When I first met Badger she was tied to a bench at the veterinary practice I used to work at, shaking, cowering, and trying to hide from us. Food did nothing to lure her out and in the end I had to resort to gently pulling her out by the lead she was tied up with to get her somewhere safe and quiet.
After a few hours of trying to work out what to do with her, her breeder (the only number registered on her microchip) showed up to take her away with him. He'd not seen her since he sold her seven years previously and she was visibly scared to go with him. I knelt down next to her and she pawed at me and put her nose to my neck and licked me. My heart broke for her and I begged Cob to let me bring her home. He said yes!
Badger on the day we brought her home
Badger grew close to me and Cob very quickly but it was clear that she had some issues that she needed help with. She was terrified of noises and strangers, couldn't tolerate other dogs in her space, and I didn't know how to help her or make her feel safe. She loved our cats and the comfort of our living room, she loved cuddles and kisses, but was a bit fussy with food. I quickly learned I couldn't walk her on the streets as passing cars and any sudden (even quiet) noises would make her shake and drool.
It took some time to realise that she didn't need to go out 2-3 times a day like you're always told dogs are supposed to. It wasn't doing her any good, and it was adding to her arousal/anxiety levels. It wasn't until she'd been with us for about six months that I learned about her Emotional Bucket and the things I could do to help empty this bucket on a daily basis. We invested in lots of enrichment: Kongs, snuffle mats, puzzle feeders, lick mats etc to promote the three major naturally calming activities - SNIFFING, LICKING, AND CHEWING!
Some dairy-free yoghurt on a lick mat and frozen for a while
I started watching her closely and deciding if it was in her best interests to go out that day or to stay at home and play brain games instead. We ditched the ball wanger (I'm embarrassed to say I was a wanger, but I didn't know any better), started working on her noise sensitivity, ditched the bowl, started playing training games, changed which dogs she was walked with at work, and incorporated sniffing, licking and chewing into our daily routine. We started ordering 100% natural treats from a local business (Take The Lead Treats run by Hannah) and these have made a big difference.
Treat delivery day!
Her level of calmness in the home soared. It was amazing, I'd never seen her relax so much before. Normally she would bounce off the walls and bring us toys and tea towels and socks until we wanted to cry, but now she snoozes all evening! It's done wonders for her and it's allowed us to relax too and not have to be constantly engaged in play.
We've managed to have quite a few afternoon naps together now!
As this foundation of CALM has been built, it has helped her with her anxieties in other aspects of life too. Badger now has multiple relationships with our friends and family! She gets very excited and happy to see our friends who come to the house, our parents and neighbours. She sometimes comes with us to our games club that we organise, and she wanders around the pub sniffing everything out, eliciting treats and snacks from the staff and running around the beer garden when she finds a good stick under the bushes. She used to lie under the table quietly eating her treats for a few hours until it was time to go, but now she wants to go to the door to inspect every new customer who comes in, and Paul and Emma (landlord and landlady) have been so kind and welcoming to her!
I've seen her confidence increase while we're playing our training games too. She will voluntarily offer me direct eye contact now, whereas before this was a lot of pressure for her and she would usually caffle and lean against me for support. She can go between my legs when we're playing Funder or Middle, this used to be too scary for her and she would paw at me and ask for help. I've learned to never ask her to do something she finds scary, but to work with her until the things aren't scary anymore, and always give her the choice and go at her pace. If she doesn't feel like doing it, we don't do it. We throw some treats around the floor or hide a sock to find to take the pressure off and get her sniffing.
Feeling comfortable to ask for and accept treats with other dogs in her personal space without starting a WWE-style throwdown!
If I never found Badger then I doubt I'd be on the journey I'm on now. I've completed my two day Career As A Dog Trainer course through IMDT, and next is the four day Practical Instructor's course that I'm going on down in London with my amazing friend Bex (of Freedom Canine Adventures). Once we've got that out of the way we've just got the two day assessment on the 1st of December! Bex also has a collie who came to her with quite a few issues. Eevee has made amazing progress with her and both collies are coming on the four day course with us which should be fun - haha!
Starting at the end of July, me and Bex will be running our Calm Collie Club up at It's All About The Dog (thank you always to the wonderful Jo) to pass on what we've learned as collie mums, and to try to help other collie parents with the difficult problems we know they face. It's hard work having a highly sensitive, unemployed working dog living in a home environment - we know, we've been there!
Badger and Eevee - the inspiration for the Calm Collie Club!
Thank you for reading if you've got this far - I know it's a long one but so much has happened this year so far and there are so many exciting things on the horizon. Keep your eyes peeled for exciting news in the next couple of months!
Lots of love,