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April 2, 2013

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April 2, 2013

Fostering Elliott: The first 72 Hours with a Dog

April 2, 2013
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On Saturday afternoon Elliott arrived for his trial run as our dog.

We knew it was a big risk taking him in for a week of fostering. Elliott has spent the first year of his life living with a hoarder (as in the terrifying A&E show), so he’s socialized to dogs (because he lived with 35 of them…) but terrified of people (because he only ever saw one, and she wasn’t exactly a stable “parent.”).

When we met him, he would barely eat treats out of our hands. He followed the woman from the dog adoption service like they were tied together with a string. It was bleak. And yet we loved him, instantly. After meeting him over a week ago, all we did was talk about how amazing Elliott would be if we could rehabilitate him. He is so cute. He is so sweet. He really, really needs us. There’s just something about him…  “I think Elliott is our dog, J,” R said to me one night, and I agreed.

And so, we decided to give it a shot. What we didn’t quite consider is that neither of us has any clue how to make a damaged dog whole.

I read four books on working with shy dogs, and R trolled the Internet for all the help he could find. We talked to friends, friends of friends, and those friends’ friends who have experience with dogs. We went to PetSmart and got him a “welcome” toy (literally the only cute toy in the store that didn’t have an annoying squeak, but only because R found one with a broken squeaker). R bought a doggie door from Home Depot that attaches to your sliding glass door and spent two hours trying to figure out how to install it.

And then, on Saturday afternoon he arrived. It took about 30 minutes for us to realize that we had no idea what we were doing – are doing, I should say. It has been approximately 72 hours with Elliott, and here is what I think we now know:

  • The less attention you pay to a shy dog, the more he warms up. This makes absolutely zero sense, but it is true. That said, it is almost impossible. You try ignoring a miniature, spotted teddy bear with the saddest eyes you’ve ever seen as he sulks around your one bedroom apartment. 
  • When in doubt – take the dog for a walk. Apparently when you’re walking a dog, you’re all on a mission. He becomes distracted by his dog instincts to follow the pack and explore the world, so he’s far less skittish. R and I have walked this dog three times a day for at least an hour at a time, every single day. We ran out of things to talk about around walk #4, now we just make up weird songs about Elliott and comment on the neighbor’s landscaping.
  • Do NOT take the leash off a scared dog unless you know you can get it back on. I would have avoided six hours of frustration and 15 minutes of tears if I’d followed that advice.
  • You can’t predict when they’re going to warm up. 30 minutes after the dog adoption lady had to come and physically put the leash back on Elliott because he wouldn’t go near R or me, he came directly up to me and jumped into my lap. I have decided that this was an apology for the misery he put me through.
  • That hardest part isn’t him, it’s us. He’s not taking to R yet, and it’s breaking poor R’s heart. I don’t want him to sleep in our bedroom, and yet I stay up for hours at night worrying whether or not he’s okay in his bed outside our bedroom door. Every time we walk him one of us is convinced that he’s looking at the other one more. I can’t handle the smell of his chew bone. R can’t handle the smell of his chicken thigh wet food (I can’t either, but I hate the bone more).  
  • Everything that’s hard about him (and us) has made us closer than we’ve ever been. Prepare for sap: I’ve never loved R more than I have in these past three days. We’re in this together, and it’s really really hard, but we’re doing everything we can to take care of each other and this dog. 

We see signs of the puppy that Elliott wants to be, but with each two steps we take forward, there’s another step back. So, we’re giving it a week at the very least. If it works, it works, we’ve decided. If it doesn’t work, we’re both going to be strong enough to move on so that Elliott can find a home where he is happy and secure.

More details to come. For now, wish us luck! #TeamElliott

The Little Man giving a quick copy edit to this blog post.


  1. I know you’re not soliciting advice necessarily, but I had to comment b/c I recently adopted a dog that looks much like Elliott. The first couple weeks were the hardest, so take everything that happens while you are fostering him with a grain of salt. It’s been two months and my dog and I are still working through all sorts of things including separation issues, and her getting used to me. That said, after the first week, even though I was panicking over what I had gotten myself into, I knew that we would just have to keep working at everything, b/c I wasn’t about to give her up. The thing that I think has helped the most so far is consistency in routine, and also taking her to once a week training classes (in this case the ones offered at my local PetSmart). Both of those things, plus lots of walks, are great for bonding and trust.

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