A few weeks after Piper (our sweet 14-year-old black Lab) passed away, Michael and I became volunteer fosters with Desert Labrador Retriever Rescue (DLRR). Our first foster was a beautiful puppy Mercedes (also a black Lab), who loved everyone and everything. Soon after the one year anniversary of Piper’s death we welcomed our 14th foster, beautiful 2-year old, Adele, (another black Lab). Adele couldn’t be more different than Mercedes and most of the dogs we have fostered. Adele is extremely fearful. DLRR rescued her from the e-list at Animal Care & Control. She was a stray, so we don’t know anything about her history.

Our second foster Cappy was very afraid of new people, but fine with us. We have never cared for a dog that is so utterly terrified of everyone. I have been doing research online about fearful dogs, getting advice from others, and taking things slow (Diane, who adopted Boomer, gave some great tips). I thought I would write a weekly post to share Adele’s progress and the things we learn along the way. Hopefully our story can help others who are working with a fearful dog.

Day 1 – May 24

Michael picked up Adele from the kennel after work. When they got home, Adele would not get out of the car. We finally got her out and directed her to the yard to pee pee, but then we couldn’t get her to come in house. After trying to herd her in and chasing her around the cars in garage for 15 minutes, Adele ran into one of the bedrooms and lay down in the corner. I let her be for a few hours and then went in to give her medicine with cheese. I couldn’t resist giving her a quick pet on the head.

At bedtime we herded (aka gently chased) her into our bedroom. We often restrict new foster dogs at night until we know their behavior. We use the crate to block the hall that leads to the rest of the house. This gives the dog access to our bedroom, hall, and laundry room with water and dog door. Adele spent time in the crate and came out a few times to cautiously look around the bedroom. At the time I thought she was interested in her surroundings, but now I realize she was looking for a way out. During the night she squeezed past the kennel and in the morning we found her sound asleep in the living room (in the front of the house) in the spot that has become her hangout. We stopped blocking her in the bedroom with us at night.

Day 3 – May 26

Adele is still extremely scared. She won’t move from the living room (we hang out in the kitchen and family room, in the back of the house). To get her to go out to pee, I have to herd (chase) her into den, close the door, and put on leash. She tucks into the doggie fetal position and freezes. Luckily, she walks calmly outside with me on the leash. She won’t go potty on the leash, so I take it off, come in, and prop open the doors. (There is one door from the yard into the garage and another door from the garage into the house (laundry room). Both have doggie doors.) Adele eventually comes inside and goes right back to the living room. She is not eating and drinking much (we keep the food and water in laundry room). So I put a water bowl in the living room and started to feed her there.


Today we took Adele to my Mom’s house. Before we left I took her outside to pee – she didn’t. Since she won’t get in the car, Michael picked her up – and then she peed – on garage floor and Michael’s feet. Adele rode great in car. When we got to Mom’s she was calmer than I expected. She briefly explored the downstairs rooms and found two spots to hide. She spent the whole visit in bathroom or behind a table in the living room. She didn’t eat or drink (not even the special treat from Jeff) and didn’t pee when I took her in the yard.

Day 5 – May 28

Today there were a few slight glimmers of hope. Adele finally has a normal appetite and is drinking some water. Michael cooked meat and we put a few small pieces near her and she gobbled it up. She still lays in the living room all day and only leaves to go potty. But when I go in the doorway and call her to pee pee, she follows me outside (only if both doors are propped open). One time today she even came out on her own and walked to the laundry room. The door to the garage was closed, so she turned around (she won’t use the doggie door). So I had to prop open the door and herd her back. When Adele is outside, I call her to come in and she comes toward me. But she won’t come in unless I walk away and she has a clear path into the house, through the laundry room, and into the hall without any people in the way.

Adele is also showing interest in toys. I placed several toys, one at a time, a few feet from her safe place and then left the room. When I returned, she had taken each toy back to her space. I haven’t seen her playing with them, but it looks like she has started to chew on a compressed rawhide bone. I have been spending time in the living room so Adele gets used to me. I sit about eight feet away and play on computer, eat, or talk on phone. I don’t face her and don’t try to get any closer. But she still stands up on alert when Michael and I walk in the room and runs if we get too close.


Day 7 – May 30

Today we had a big breakthrough! Adele came into the kitchen several times to pick up strategically- placed pita chips that I put on the floor one at a time. Each time Adele picked up a chip and took it back to the living room, I put down another closer to me (I was sitting on the floor in the family room, which is adjacent to the kitchen). She popped her head in and slowly came over to pick up the chip. I got her to come about 5 feet from me and then she wouldn’t come any closer.

At dinner time I asked if she was hungry and wanted dinner. Then I went to the laundry room where we normally keep the food and water bowl. I have been bringing Adele’s food bowl to the living room to get her to eat. When she heard the sound of the food hitting the bowl, she came to the laundry room for the first time! She peeked around the corner and it took some coaxing to get her into the room. I had to leave the room and wait in the bedroom before she would go in (she won’t walk past me in the hallway or a small space like the laundry room). But she went in and gobbled up dinner. This evening she also walked around the house for just a bit.

Week 1 Summary

Adele is doing well and seems to be a bit less on edge. Her appetite came out and she is now eating and drinking normal (but she won’t eat from her bowl unless she is alone in the room). Now I will only give her treats if she comes toward me to get them from the floor (for the first few days I would leave them on the floor in the living room and walk away). Adele is fully housebroken and is a perfect little girl when we are at work. She still spends all her time in the living room and runs away when we walk up to her, but she runs slower and is less scrunched down. I go into the living room a few times a day, sit a few feet away, and play on the computer – just to get her used to me being around.

Read about week 2 >