6 min read • By Leena Chitnis, Founder, Timberdog®
On Thanksgiving day, 2017, I adopted my first pet, a scruffy rescue puppy whom I named Kashi. Kashi and her three sisters were found in a cardboard box, in an abandoned lot filled with tall grass somewhere in Fresno. They were then taken to a high-kill shelter and were about to be put down, when a wonderful organization - Wonderdog Rescue - saved them all. Each one was thankfully placed in the care of foster parents, including Kashi, who went to a sweet foster mother in Pescadero.
It was around this time that I spied her picture in Pet Finder. I had been looking for a cute, fat puppy for months, but could not catch one fast enough. As soon as a picture got put up, the puppy was spoken for! So, I settled on an image of a scrawny, bewildered-looking, dusty puppy, just to see if she'd be available. And she was.
At the adoption event, I went out to meet her, and sat in a pen with her and her siblings. The smallest of the litter, she held her own, play-fighting with her sisters and using her speed to encourage chase, since she was faster than all of them. She wasn't the chubby-rolly yellow puppy I'd always wanted, but she was lively, smart, and had spunk, and I liked that. I decided right then and there that I'd adopt her.
Being my first pet, Kashi was brought home with much anticipation. I had moved to a costlier apartment that allowed pets just for this occasion, and refused to buy any furniture, as I knew a puppy would take weeks to get potty trained. Leading up to her adoption, I spent weeks puppy-proofing the place and endlessly researching toys, pet beds, blankets, crates, dog food, treats and more. I had visions of summer road trips, where I'd be flying down the highway, my new best friend hanging her head merrily out of the window...
No such luck.
I quickly realized my hands were full. In addition to the normal puppy mischief, she was the pickiest eater; refused to go potty outside; hid my things in various places; stole and ran off with entire sandwiches behind my back, and chewed on, of all things, wires (thankfully unplugged). Crate training was a challenge, as well; she'd whine as soon as she went in, and would destroy her mattress if she could not come promptly out. If I left the house for even one second, she'd howl and cry pitifully.
Meanwhile, at puppy kindergarten, she ran amok under chairs, peed regularly in the middle of the classroom during instruction, and pretty much disturbed the other furry students who were sitting admirably and quietly next to their parents. She was lightning fast and oddly slippery - none of us could catch her, including the exasperated teacher. Outside of class, she was a tiny menace, barking at anyone who would even look at her.
Something told me that one of the reasons that she acted this way (puppy behavior on steroids), was because she was really smart. I mean, wicked smart. I often caught her using her toys as implements to achieve tasks (just like chimps use sticks and stones as tools in the wild), and was aghast when she climbed vertically, like a cat, up and out of a tall pen meant for large dogs! She even knew how to unlock her crate or open doors with levered handles, all without being taught.
The puppy books were promptly donated to the library. In order to train a puppy like this, I knew I'd have to think outside the box, bypass her will, and appeal instead to her love language. Play.
During dinner, for instance, I got her to eat by flicking kibbles across the living room floor, where she'd chase them down excitedly and eat them one by one. This exercise would take a whole hour, but made her feel that eating was a safe and fun activity, since she seemed to have trauma/fear around being next to her food bowls. Within two weeks, I was flicking the kibbles closer and closer to her bowl, where the prize of peanut butter-topped food awaited. As soon as she smelled the peanut butter, it was game over. And knowing that she liked to tip over her bowls, I used loops of electrical tape to secure them to the floor.
Housebreaking took months, as she seemed to have fear around potty time, as well. She earned my admiration when she pooped on a stack of college loan papers (my sentiments exactly, Kashi), so I moved them to the front door, where she happily peed all over my debt. Every time she did this, I cheered and clapped, and she'd wag her tail and rush over to me. I eventually bought a live patch of grass off of Amazon and put it by the front door, placing her beloved loan papers on top of it, and started moving this patch over the threshold of the door a few inches every day. Eventually the patch of grass made it outside, and right when she was about to go, I picked her up from it and placed her on the lawn, where she pooped without fear for the first time. Grass, it turned out, had much more interesting smells than my loan servicer could ever provide.
Back at school, the teacher and I worked on using her wildness as a strength. After class, Kashi would be held back to help a pen full of shy puppies come out of their frozen state. As soon as she was released into their midst, they had no choice but to spring to life, as she zoomed from one to another, a veritable butt-sniffing pin ball. And their quietness seemed to rub off on her, too.
Meanwhile, home life steadily improved. I finally found all of the hidden items (a hair brush, items from the trash, her dental treats, laundry items), when I decided to make a pass of the vacuum cleaner under my bed. There, a veritable mountain of things were neatly piled and the mystery of my missing socks was finally solved (I thought I was going crazy when I started to believe that my dryer was becoming an abyss). Instead of taking my things back, though, I moved her little collection to a plainly visible place, where she immediately lost interest in it, as well as hiding things, from then on.
Finally, crate training became fun when I started to hide high-priority treats all over the inside of her crate - under her mattress, stuffed into the holes of the crate, behind her toy squirrel, and even in the label loop on her blanket. There was also a Kong or bully stick she could sit down to work on once all of her other treats had been found. Previously, Kashi had been accustomed to being handed a treat after she finished her meal. Now, she preferred the game of finding many treats in her crate after dinner.
Today, Kashi is one of the most well-behaved dogs I've known, if I do say so myself. She is obedient, loving, and happy to rattle off 50 tricks in English or Marathi (my first language), so she's bilingual, too! She still has her wild and crazy side, but shows it off at the park, where she's the fastest zoomer in the bunch and loves to be chased. Being the life of the party, my friends always yell out her name when they see her running across the park to them. And ever the lady, she greets every one of them with a jump and a kiss, before running off to play with her friends.
In all, I hope I raised her right; it was definitely a trial-and-error situation, but she was a star student. She even graduated puppy school with flying colors, showing off her tricks during her "final exam" (albeit, to a bemused audience who didn't believe she had it in her). When we walked out of class, diploma proudly in hand, I knew I had been right about my hunch - that she was whip smart. But what I did not know, however, and could not anticipate, was that she would become the best thing that had ever happened to me.
Read on to find out how Kashi inspired the creation of the RuffRest®.
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