Cayenne the Agility Dog

I haven’t written much about Cay lately, so thought I’d give this update. Cayenne and her young littermates were found in the Tennessee wilderness when they were too young to be away from their mother. But their mother was not in sight and they were very sick puppies. They almost didn’t survive a bout of coccidia. A kind man found them and called a local rescue group. Deb took them to the vet who saved them, and helped nurse them back to health. When she had trouble finding homes for 6 of the 7 pups, I was contacted because I volunteered with a national Australian Cattle Dog (ACD) rescue group, and the puppies were thought to be ACD mixes. I helped find rescues in Ontario and Minnesota to take them. Three of the puppies came to Minnesota.

A few months later the Minnesota rescue contacted me and asked me to foster one of the puppies, the only one who hadn’t been adopted yet. This pup was afraid of her own shadow and was terrified at adoption events. She needed more one-on-one time with a person. I had two dogs at home, including a very dominant male Australian Cattle Dog, but I agreed to foster her. “Zulu” came to live with us. When she arrived at our house, it took two of us to pull her out of the crate to get her out of the car. She was plastered to the back of the crate, afraid to come out, and she smelled terrible from urinating on herself. Unlike other dogs I had cared for, she hadn’t had a bad experience with people—she had almost no experience with people. I called her “Cayenne” because she had cayenne pepper-colored highlights and I knew there was some spice inside her somewhere—we just had to find it. She wobbled on an under-developed rear end, with her hocks hyperextending when she walked. Her feet splayed like stars, indicating that she had spent most of her time hiding in a crate and hadn’t had enough exercise. She lacked social skills with the other dogs, crashing into them and barking hysterically when they defended themselves. She had skin allergies and a nervous habit of scratching and licking herself, creating bald patches on her side and rear end. She was afraid of the dark and wouldn’t go outside after dark. What was I going to do with this poor girl?

I let her be a dog and become comfortable in her own skin. We took her along when my other dogs went to herd sheep and cattle. There she got to meet new people who gave her praise and treats, and she saw different kinds of animals. She climbed hills and went on walks every day with my other dogs and me, running and playing in a huge fenced field. Her muscles developed and her coat took on a healthy sheen. After months with us she looked me in the eye one day and, for the first time, I noticed her gorgeous dark brown eyes. I realized then that she had never looked directly back at me before. She had always turned her head away. But now she was looking back and she had the most beautiful dark brown eyes I had ever seen.

As Cay began to get comfortable in our home and in her own skin, she learned to be a happy, confident dog. She and I completed three levels of obedience classes. During the first class, we worked mostly on getting her used to the other dogs, sounds, and movement around her. She wasn’t comfortable with anything happening behind her and spun around if she heard activity there. But she was very biddable and wanted so much to please me. By the end of the third class she was doing all of the exercises faithfully. Although she had been developmentally delayed since she was a pup, I discovered that she was a very smart dog when she overcame her fears.

One day I let Cay try sheep herding. She was interested and excited that she could move the sheep by turning her body. She was so confident in herself that day that when we got home, she jumped up on my bed for the first time ever! I guess she thought her new accomplishment had earned her that privilege. But sheep herding didn’t sustain her interest for long.

Almost two years after she first came to our home, Cay had come a long way. But she still had nervous energy and habits. I looked for an activity that she and I could do together, separate from the other dogs, to build her confidence and our relationship and help her get rid of her nervous energy without scratching and licking herself. I decided to enroll her in an agility class, even though I didn’t think she would be able to do all of the obstacles due to her poor rear structure.

I had done agility with my other dogs, so I was an experienced handler. The instructor did an individual session with Cay and me to determine her readiness for the class. Cay trusted me implicitly, was very food motivated, and wanted to please me, so she was willing to try everything. Once we started the class, she learned to do the tunnel, low jumps, and even the contact obstacles that challenged her. In the beginning though, she didn’t think she could jump up on the table. I realized this was due to her weak back end, but I also knew that she had learned to jump up on my bed at home, so I knew she could jump that high. I worked with Cay and my other dogs at home, having the others jump on the table first, then giving her the opportunity. With a lot of convincing and some special treats, I taught Cay that she could, indeed, jump up on the table. At first she didn’t think she could, but she proved to herself that she was capable. The next time we went to class, she completed all the obstacles in an agility course. On the last day of class, Cay ran two perfect courses with two clean runs, and was the only dog in the class to do so. Quite an accomplishment for an abandoned puppy who almost didn’t survive, and was afraid of her own shadow, don’t you think? Cay has come such a long way, and agility taught her and me that together we can conquer any obstacle. We start our second agility class soon, and, who knows, maybe we’ll even compete some day. Great job Cay! You have come a long way.

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