What Fostering Zach Has Taught Me

I have written many times about how we wanted to adopt Zach, and how well he was doing. Short of checking he has a neurological issue, which can cause thousands, we have seen him change his demeanor quickly in the last couple of weeks. He doesn’t play the games he used to play; wakes up at night and sleeps during the day. I’ve been waking up at 5 am these past few weeks because he wants to go outside to play or wants our company.

I never imagined that he wouldn’t be rated to be around a child born into the household. One of the many projects with Z was to get him to a stage he could handle such a change. His anxiety and muzzle punch reaction could be corrected or at least managed. However, last week’s sudden reaction to my husband being on the couch with him made us realize that this is no longer a reality. A resource guarding issue is not something you want happening around a toddler, around drunk friends. It makes me question my loyalty to Zach but we knew going in this was a long shot. I was naive and thought I could fix the situation to ensure success but never thought he could grow to dislike our environment. It’s a bit noisier in the suburbs, more than he may be able to handle, and his GI issue confused things. Too many variables to sort, though we are trying out best to eliminate or explain them all.

We haven’t given up hope that there is a place out there for Z. The world would be a sadder place without him in it. Through it all, we still play and interact with Z with lots of love and caution. There are days when I wonder why this situation didn’t work out. Where did I go wrong? Did I go wrong?

Learning the lessons Zach has taught me is the only reason I can imagine all this had to occur. Putting it into words is hard but it is the only thing that helps me cope. Here’s the list of what Z has helped me master:

1. Building up confidence and try stretch goals.

At the beginning, Z wouldn’t go after a ball underneath the curtain. Now he does, no hesitation. New obstacle, give him 3 days and he overcomes it. His tail wag and prancing happy dance are proof he feels better in his own skin. When he needs a break he takes it. When he likes training he asks for more sessions. He tries even when he doesn’t want to. It’s funny but there’s more determination in that little guy than in some humans I know. He won’t stop until he fetches the ball from wherever it will fall.

2. Fake it until you make it may not be  good thing.

Part of the apprehension around Zach’s development and training circles around the idea that he could be putting up with his walks or other activities because he thought that was what would get him fed, to put it that way. Depending on the professionals you consult, his new routine allowed him to show his true colors. Before, his toys were taken away or stored in unreachable places. Now, he is so spoiled he may be fearing losing a favorite. We all know people that look like they are doing well but they aren’t. Dogs are no different than humans in that aspect. I’m more inclined to check what dogs and people need and want after this experience. Avoiding putting up appearances for appearances sake helps no one. Smile because you want to, not because you have to.

3. Giving too much love can be a bad thing.

Some people and dogs feel smothered if they get too much love. I personally like to find a balance in my relationships where I can hug, pet or lean into my companion without having them wriggle from underneath or reject the affection. Zach gave us a lot of love, and vice versa, but whenever he reacted we had to change the approach to make sure he felt safe and didn’t lunge. He went from sleeping in bed to sleeping outside the room behind a gate or closed door because he was guarding our bed as if it was his own. The unpredictability of his responses became his and our downfall. We learned that loving someone too much can actually hurt them and change their behavior. Needless to say there’s more space in between us three now to make sure we get enough love but not too much of it that we all start lashing out in our own way.

4. Patience and training can get you closer to a goal than hard work and perseverance alone.

Being patient means we have to wait for the right opportunity or conditions to execute our plan. What should we do while we wait? Train. Zach went from not being consistent with commands to performing at a 99% response rate. While we waited for him to adjust to meds, we trained. While we waited for evaluations, we trained. Zach went from screaming at the front door everytime he heard a doorbell ring to not reacting to any doorbell in 3 weeks. If not for the incident, he’d be learning how to not react to people outside his window and fence line. In his heightened state of anxiety he needs rest not training, so this last time we wait patiently. Enjoying him is a lot easier now because he was trained. You can lose your patience but not your training. Win-win.

5. When things don’t work out, it’s not always on you. (Unless you screwed it up on purpose.)

Zach had limitations. Our human condition begs that at some point we have kids or adopt them if only to pass on our knowledge and have a living, breathing legacy. The moment our gorgeous foster puppy started to deteriorate a bit behaviorally all hope was lost that he could be trained to live around children. It wouldn’t be safe because of his resource guarding issue or what I call the “don’t touch me human” muzzle punch. If we could see into the future, we could know exactly if the situation would have improved or changed. Admitting it can’t work out as planned is admirable. Not beating myself up if it turns out it could have worked out is the hard part.

6. Taking a chance means you tried. Better to love and have lost than to have never loved at all.

Zach wouldn’t be alive if we hadn’t given him a chance. So many puppies don’t get this treatment and die at the shelter. My heart breaks when I think he could still die but it wouldn’t be for lack of trying. There’s someone out there that is perfect for him, I sure hope we find them in time. I need to prepare for a life without him regardless of the outcome. That’s tough because I rather not lose love, but having never met him would have been worse. The love I have learned to give him and the experiences he has given me has made me stronger, more confident and more prepared for the future. I learned to love his special nature and temperament. I opened my heart and my soul and can’t regret it; it gave me more than it took from me.

Let us hope he lands a good spot. I couldn’t bear it if he didn’t. 😦

Stay tuned…

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