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Pupdate 2: Mara, living up to her name

Mara, in her forever home


Mara's a sweet little girl who was rescued from Romania last year.

Mara's a sweet little girl who was rescued from Romania last year. She had a traumatic start to life and eventually was found alone in the woods with her dead puppy. Nobody knows how she got there really, or what happened to get her there, but her future is looking a lot better now. She's been adopted by incredible new parents who have really helped her settle into life in the UK and slowly but surely rebuild her confidence. As with all rescues, this process can be slow and difficult, but Mara is in wonderful hands in her new home and she's already doing so well.

So, more about this far-travelled pup: Mara absolutely adores people and dogs, she's happy to meet just about everyone and loves a fuss. You'll be her best friend forever if you can spare some time to give her some attention... A fair trade I think you'll agree. What she doesn't love however is the car, or rain, (same Mara, same.) or water in general. She's also pretty worried about people taking things away from her and gets very anxious when her new mum and dad are relaxing together and can chew her side through the stress.

With that face? How could I refuse.

So, that brings us to now - I was lucky enough to get a call from her mum and dad to see if I could come and help show her things don't have to be so scary anymore. With that face? How could I refuse.

After a nice long chat (with lots of paperwork for me!), Mara and her new family are starting a specially designed (as all our programmes are - every dog is unique!) 7-week training plan to help build Mara's confidence and desensitise her to all the things that cause her a little anxiety.

The car is a massive problem for Mara as she gets very - and I mean very - car sick, as well as anxious. So with a little help from her vets to get her to stop feeling so sick when she does have to travel, we've started to make the car a fun, no-pressure thing. It's back to what I keep saying: Small steps.

The journey from Romania to the UK is a stressful, traumatic event for most rescue dogs. They spend 2 days in a crate in a van, and even with lots of stops for water, food and cleaning breaks, it's quite overwhelming. This means that many European rescues can develop car/van phobias. If you're thinking of adopting a rescue, this really is something worth keeping in mind and trying to address early, just in case.

For Mara, we've started building her confidence around the car by using what's called Freework - essentially a variety of different types of enrichment spread around the car with lots of tasty food - where she is free to move around and approach the car as she feels comfortable. We have the boot open, so she is getting used to that too. This way she can back off freely if she ever feels uncomfortable stressed or otherwise, but can slowly learn that the car isn't as scary as it used to be and can actually be something fun.

In her first session, Mara aced it and even put her feet up on the bumper to investigate the boot and the lickimat on the edge of it. This is pretty big for a dog that's nervous around a car on the first session so to say I was proud of her would be the understatement of the century.

We've also started work on the foundations of consent handling, as Mara is a bit wary of being handled and groomed so we hope this will help build her confidence around her new parents when they do have to do little things like moving her about or grooming. The biggest part of this process is teaching her that being touched and wiped down after a muddy walk is a good thing and that she's always in charge - if she needs a break she can just move off her blanket and everything stops.

"Towel means food, but mum touches my feet. That's okay, she's gentle and I like food."

In essence, she gets rewarded for lying on the towel and letting us touch her feet, if she needs a break she can step away and we stop until she's ready to come back again. This takes the pressure out of handling like grooming, towel drying and nail clipping, as well as giving her positive associations. "Towel means food, but mum touches my feet. That's okay, she's gentle and I like food." Positive associations, positive reinforcement. It just works, right?

Mara's still got a way to go, but I cannot wait to continue working with her over the next couple of months as she is super smart and absolutely loves training. With the help of her dedicated owners, I just know that she's going to come on leaps and bounds. Dogs like these are why I do what I do, I adore working with rescues and I cannot wait to see how much progress she's made at our next session.

I'll keep the Pupdates coming, don't fret. Mara is living up to her name and bringing so much joy, how could I not?

'Till next time!

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