Monday, December 2, 2013

One Year With Nova- December and January

Happy Adopion Day Nova Bear!!!

I can't believe it has been a whole year since we got Nova.  I've decided to re-cap her story month by month to celebrate and look back on the past year.  Mostly I want to say she is an amazing dog who has taught me so much about training, how dogs brains work and areas where I wasn't quite doing things right.  BUT if the person who bred her mother then let her puppies end up on the street is out there I want them to know they have done a horrible thing, and no matter how great Nova is today, she never should have existed in the first place.  The reason I ended up with a quivering disaster of a dog in my house is because I was cleaning up other people's careless messes and I wish I never had to do that.  I do however, still love her and here is our story, part 1 of 6.

When we first got her home she wouldn't even stand up.  She just crept along the ground and huddled frozen in any corner she could.  She was totally shut down and we had no idea what dog was under there.  So we put her in a crate, put a thundershirt on her and ignored her completely.  We would leave food for her when we left the house and it got eaten, but never when we were home.  Copley cuddled with her and Kerri whined a lot, but the people pretended she wasn't there.  The first little bit was pretty rough for her.  Being plucked off the street and put in a house had to have been like an alien abduction for her.  I do believe all she ever knew was the outdoors and I have serious doubts that she was ever owned by anyone.  It was rough too because she had to keep going back to the vet for dressing changes on her rear feet where half torn off dew claws were removed all the way.  I began to think she would huddle in the back of that crate for months.  Then about a week later I saw this.

I honestly could not believe it.  That really was the first moment I saw her stand up straight.  I'm glad my first thought was to take a picture so Ben could see how short she was.  I really had thought she was taller.

Now we had a dog who stood up.  Great.  Lets see what the next step is.  That is how we tackled everything, particularly in the beginning.  I couldn't think about next month, or next year, or how I was going to live with her, I just had to do one thing at a time.  What is the next step after crawling around on the ground in fear?  Standing up straight with her tail tucked between her legs.  Great.  Mission accomplished. 

Now that we had a dog who stood up I expanded her world a little outside of the crate.  She was in the living room right next to the Christmas tree and to be honest sometimes I thought she would live in that pen for the rest of her life.  I still could only touch her by cornering her (something that made me more than a little anxious) but she was warming up to the world.  I sat in that pen and spent hours getting her used to a collar, or at least associating good things with it.  She got a grasp of the clicker in there too.  That clicker was the only thing she connected with early on.  It was consistent, she controlled it and it was not human.  To this day it is our primary tool with her, and her list of clicker tricks is growing by the day.

You may notice a pillow in that pen.  It was there because my amazing husband was sleeping in there at the time so she could get used to people and wouldn't be alone at night.  We didn't yet realize that Nova hated him any more than she hated any other person and he thought it would be a good way to bond with her.  It was then that I realized my husband was in fact the most incredible person on earth and I could not possibly be luckier to have found him.  How many people would sleep on the ground of a dog pen for three weeks so that a chihuahua who you could not touch wouldn't be lonely?

Over the next several weeks I managed to get a collar on her.  Unfortunately she managed to get it right off again.  Or even worse stuck on something or in her mouth.  I saved her from strangulation on two occasions before we realized that collars were not something Nova would be wearing.  Or at least not dog collars.  I wanted her to wear a collar because she was a flight risk, but obviously it was not safe for her.  I got the great idea to get a quick release cat collar.  So I put it on her, she pulled it off, I put it on her, she pulled it off, I put it on her, she pulled it off and in we went for the next few months.  Did I mention that literally every time I cornered her to put it on I cringed, afraid that this would be the time she bit me?  In all the time we had her so far she never snapped at me, that is truly a testament to her temperament.  In case you were thinking of plucking your own traumatized chihuahua off the street I want you to know cornering a scared dog is a bad idea, you should never do it.  I cringe to think of some of the situations I put us in together early on, and I don't know I would do it again, and certainly not ever with a dog any bigger.

December brought us a dog who stood up in our presence, but never left a pen in the living room.  It brought us a dog who would eat while we watched, but would not sleep, or even close her eyes with us in the room.  She was scared all of the time.  Scared when the other dogs ran too fast, scared when anything new was in the house, scared of anything she saw us do.

This was during the two days we tried umbilical training.  Ben almost lost a toe and Nova nearly broke her neck.  It was a great idea for most people but you sometimes need to recognize when you are not "most people."

Near the beginning of January I tried working with her to take food from my hand.  It was not going swimmingly but she was getting closer and closer.  Then a friend came over and Nova decided he was the person that she trusted.  She ate right out of his hand and I informed him he had to move into my spare room.  Unfortunately he had his own place and wasn't looking for a job as a full time dog rehabilitator, but was over a lot and every time he came he gave Nova a handful of food.  Every time she took it.  By the end of the month she was taking food from me, and Ben if she thought she was actually stealing it from him.  If Ben looked like he WANTED her to have the food she hid.  But if he was giving treats to another dog, or eating a bowl of cereal she would try to steal that.  Baby steps.


 If I just...


January was a pretty rough month.  It was when we discovered Nova was not a dog.  She was in fact a Ninja.  First I would come home and find her out of the pen.  At first we thought she was burrowing under it.  So we piled things around to weigh it down.  She still got out.  Then I thought she was going on top of the crate to get there so I relocated her to the spare room with the pen in the doorway.  That was when I saw her climb it.  She climbed that pen like it was not even an obstacle.  In fact she started climbing anything she wanted to get over or out of.  She was getting braver and her smarts were starting to show.  This made me happy, but it also has led to endless frustration.

The only other exciting development of January was when I was upstairs on the computer (we have a loft that at that time was blocked off from the dogs but I could see down) and I think she forgot I was home.  I looked down as her and Kerri played with a toy they got for Christmas.  It was a Martha Stewart Elf that had no stuffing but made a crinkly noise.  They full out played, we are talking play bows and throwing the toy up in the air and the whole bit.  Then Nova saw me and ran back into her crate and started to shake.  That was the day that I knew this was going to be ok.  If she can play with Kerri we have her!  She is not so broken that she is non-functional, we just need to manufacture more circumstances where she can function.

So there is December and January for you.  I will update on the next 10 months this week.


  1. Onwards and upwards. Bless Nova and the wonderful family she now lives with. You have done an amazing job and so patient. Her remarkable rehabilitation is down to you. Ninja Nova we hope you have more happy years.
    Have a terrific Tuesday.
    Best wishes Molly

  2. Nova has come such a long way with you! You have shown her such patience and love, and it must feel so nice to her to have such an amazing family. <3