Diary of a Fearful Puppy: Weeks Four through Seven (and Adoption!)

Recently we covered formerly fearful puppy Chowder’s second and third week at our house. At the end of this time period, Chowder was beginning to warm up to us if we moved slowly and allowed him to come to us. He occasionally enjoyed stroking and was learning the routines of our home. His skin issues had cleared up, and he finally got to meet Layla.


At this point, we began taking Chowder to regular puppy play sessions at our local humane society. He was initially overwhelmed, but within five minutes began to respond playfully to the other puppies’ advances. By our third puppy play session, Chowder was zooming around the room, happily engaging with all of the other puppies. He loved playtime!

I also enrolled Chowder in a Puppy Kindergarten class taught by another local trainer. While I was a bit disappointed in the four-week-long class, which primarily consisted of the puppy owners sitting in a circle on the floor, holding our puppies still and listening to the instructor lecture, I was proud of how Chowder did. His ability to focus and engage with us improved each week, and he was also able to settle quickly when held on my lap. He enjoyed meeting all of the other puppies in class when he was finally allowed to interact off-leash on week three, and handled the chaotic off-leash environment (by far the craziest playtime he’d yet encountered!) without getting overly aroused himself. He continued to be cautious about the instructor and the other people in class, but would investigate if given a bit of time.

Working his charm with my students.

Working his charm with my students.

In the classes I taught, Chowder began to really come out of his shell. My students deserve all of the credit for this. Everyone was so kind about tossing or handing treats to Chowder, and he began to sit right in front of his ex-pen instead of hanging back by his crate, charming everyone who approached him. He offered sits and high fives to all of his favorite people, and also began to accept petting from his new friends.

In nose work class, Chowder was no longer worried about putting his head in boxes and instead started trotting around the whole room like he owned it, checking out each new box or item in turn. Different students volunteered their time to be his “date” in class each week, and I’m incredibly grateful to Laura, Stan, Jeff, Sara, Aaron, and Sue for the Friday evenings they gave up to spend with little Chowder. He even became brave enough to “break out” of his pen one night, visiting all of the dogs in their crates before he was corralled. What a change in just a few weeks!

At home, Chowder began the process of potty training. While he had been pretty reliable about hitting his potty pads (or potty-pad-like objects, such as rugs) from the start, we were glad when he was finally comfortable enough on leash to be taken outside. His early days as an outdoor puppy definitely cemented his potty preferences, and he was a rock star about going to the bathroom as soon as he was taken outside.

Friends with Layla!

Friends with Layla!

With his growing reliability about not having accidents indoors and his successful introduction to Layla, Chowder began to be allowed more freedom in our home. Surprisingly, he and Layla actually became great buddies! While Layla rarely plays with other dogs, she began to solicit play on a daily basis from Chowder and the two dogs interacted very nicely together. I’ll be honest: this almost convinced me to keep Chowder. While I’ve successfully fostered over 100 dogs, Chowder came very close to being my fourth foster “failure” and staying with us forever. The only thing that stopped me was the knowledge that I wasn’t the best home with him. While I felt that he could be happy with me, I also had concerns that he wasn’t physically a good candidate for the high-level obedience and agility dog I wanted in my next pet. The last thing that I wanted to do was to put him in a situation that he wouldn’t be equipped to handle, risking injury. I knew that there was a better home out there for him where he would be an amazing buddy for a lucky family or individual, and resisted my urge to keep him.

And Chowder was definitely well on his way to becoming a wonderful pet. He handled his neuter surgery well, but later had to return when his incision opened up and became slightly infected. While he was frightened returning to the facility, he handled the examination well and also handled the daily cleaning of his surgery site at home wonderfully. Peanut butter helped! We were relieved when the daily discomfort caused by cleaning his surgical site failed to halt his forward socialization progress.

When a colleague of mine contacted me about Chowder, I was delighted to hear of his interest. His family already had two other dogs, which was one of our adoption requirements as Chowder continued to feel the most comfortable if he had a brave canine companion to look to for guidance. While we had initially looked for a home with older or no children for our special foster puppy, we decided to do a meet and greet with this family even though they had two young children.

Chowder snuggles with his new "sister," Muriel.

Chowder snuggles with his new “sister,” Muriel.

Chowder exceeded everyone’s expectations and quickly became comfortable with the two kids, and after a successful meet and greet with the family’s dogs, he officially became a member of their family. I cried when he left – equal parts happiness for him, pride in how far he’d come, and sadness to say goodbye. The photos and updates from his new family have made it all worthwhile. From feral dog to beloved family pet, Chowder is one of the sweetest success stories I’ve been honored to be a part of. His new family understands his special needs and will continue to support him as he grows up, and I’m very glad he’s their forever dog.

Have you ever fostered or adopted a fearful puppy? How did Chowder’s progress compare to your charge’s experiences? Please share in the comment section below!

4 responses to “Diary of a Fearful Puppy: Weeks Four through Seven (and Adoption!)

  1. Thank you for sharing your wonderful success story. It encourages people to face their challenges when working with dogs, be realistic about results, and find reward in the valuable work.

  2. Great story – Chowder sounds and looks very endearing. I have 2 dogs I have been advised to keep separate because of the unpredictableness of the older one. I got her when she was nearly a year old as a stray a friend found in Philly. She is high anxiety, Shar pei pittie mix it appears. She was our only dog since 2009 til we adopted a time stamped pittie, Pepe, from the Philly shelter beginning of 2014. He’s about 5 years younger and slightly smaller than Lucy. Lucy’s first year was rough with hair loss which I think was from stress. Then when a year later that was back to normal we took her to obedience class at Y2K9’s she had to have a visual barrier from the other dogs, she was just crazed by seeing them. She is excellent indoors and in the yard (mostly, squirrels can present a challenge) with us with obedience, and sweet as can be. But at the vet she goes back into crazy mode and even snaps. Pepe on the other hand is so easy to take anywhere and loves meeting people and is very affectionate to them even upon first meeting. Your story prompts me to get him more socialized to other dogs though. He was very friendly on walks when I first got him but after 2 times when the other dog escalated into aggressive behavior he seems more wary. Or maybe it’s me? In the waiting room at the vet’s he’s very good, quiet, and is curious about the other dogs but shows no unfriendly behavior. But as far as him and Lucy hanging out together I’m not comfortable with it. They did well for the meet and greet at the shelter when we got Pepe – I had to get Lucy focused with a short obedience routine. They have passed each other in the house when one of us left a door open inadvertently and there was no problem whatsoever, for a very short time. They see each other through doorways daily so are familiar with each other’s presence. But I’ve seen her suddenly change outside of home and I don’t trust she wouldn’t do that with Pepe. It’s not been a hardship at all to keep them separate. But it would be nice to have dogs that got along so well like your dogs. I had to wonder, if Chowder could do it maybe Lucy could? But I think it would be risky.

  3. Aww! I loved reading Chowder’s story!! He was so lucky he found you for a foster mom! How are his other littermates faring? Were they able to conquer their fears?

  4. I was surprised to hear about how that puppy kindergarten class was conducted. It’s been decades now since Ian Dunbar started changing our directions there, and all his results have been well validated.

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