What a whirlwind of emotions it has been in the past 7 months. After the initial 3 weeks passed, we started getting down to business training Tokki to be more well behaved and start associating outdoors with happy things.The trainer we hired taught us to desensitize Tokki to sounds that he fears, by taking a recording of the busses and the traffic outside and play it for Tokki at home at increasing volumes while being fed, played with and hanging out in general. That helped a lot, and after about 3 weeks of slowly introducing him to traffic at home and then at a distance outside (with lots of treats, of course) he started to walk confidently around the block. Going to the local parks was always fun and exciting but getting there was an issue as Tokki didn’t know how to greet other dogs and behaved very aggressively while on leash. Apparently, this is quite common in rescue dogs because they feel constrained and cannot get away. Tokki is extremely friendly off leash, to literally every dog he has ever met, but at that point we didn’t know that, and it was quite stressful.
We had to teach him to sit while other dogs approached him and calm down, so he doesn’t lunge at them, then sniff for a few seconds and then pull them apart. After multiple greetings with dogs, he would relax and play with them quite happily even on leash. We didn’t take him to the off-leash dog park until we had him for about 4 months, after he learned to come, sit and walk without pulling. At the dog park he became a completely different dog. His happiness and confidence improved with every single trip to the park, because he got to watch and learn how happy and healthy dogs greet each other and copied their behaviour. It is an absolute joy to watch him interact with other dogs, he is a sweet and playful pup who isn’t hampered by his disabilities at all!
He also started playing with our cat Gizmo, who is his best friend now, and they play every single day together. Poor Gizmo is always getting slobbered on! Tokki also stopped growling at random men on the street, and stopped being afraid of signs, bags, boxes and brooms. Everything was going absolutely fantastically until Sunday May 20th the night before Victoria Day. Mark took Tokki to his usual nightly walk between 9pm-10pm at the local park, only this time, as they got to the park fireworks went off and Tokki got so scared him tried to run away. He was so terrified, he pulled Mark all the way home (a 10-minute walk) and scraped off the top layer of two of his nails. When he got home he was bleeding, shaking and panting. It took 45 minutes of me laying down on the floor with him in a dark room before he would calm down enough and let me clean his paws and look at them. He was completely traumatized and for two days he panicked when we tried to take him outside. All that progress we made over the first 4 months, was gone in a moment.
For the next 3 months, we tried everything. We got him a thunder jacket, pheromone spray, calming chews from the vet, The Hills Calm diet for dogs with anxiety and nothing really helped. He started being afraid of all sounds again, particularly motorcycles, and loud banging. Bright lights, even at home scared him, the television; even though it never bothered him before, he would retreat every time it was turned on. Anything he associated with fireworks scared him and it was very difficult to console him, as he didn’t understand. He stopped feeling safe with me on walks alone, and only felt okay when we walked him in pairs.
Now, 3 and a half months later, he is doing better again, not as good as before, but he isn’t afraid of the TV anymore and the lights and can even hear fireworks on my phone but only while eating delicious treats. We go to the dog park often to get his confidence back up, but he still prefers pack walks and doesn’t want to leave the house when its only one of us. We love him so much. He is the joy of our life and seeing him be happy is the most rewarding feeling in the world. We love him unconditionally, and we are patient with his progress and understand that his trauma takes time to heal, and sometimes things will trigger him to revert. However, with lots of love and patience all dogs can get better and the effort is worth it every time.
Written by Tatiana Thompson