You’ll have to forgive us our slight lack of objectivity where Cupcake is concerned. We are basically her groupies and have a tendency to believe she is the best dog ever at everything. She is the Dogs Out Loud mascot, literally the floppy pink-tongued face of our organization. She adorns our swag, her photos threaten to overtake all of our technology devices, and we recently discussed the adorable pros of getting her handmade likeness in toy form. Yeah, we’re serious.
Crazy dog lady enthusiasm aside though, there is a reason Cupcake has stolen our hearts the way she has; she genuinely is one kick ass dog. She has the wiggliest of all the wiggle butts. She is smart beyond belief, causing us to remind ourselves that not all dogs we work with are going to learn this quickly. She is a devoted lovebug, ready to do any activity you choose with the kind of canine spark that just makes everything better.
She is also a three year old dog who has never really had a home, who spent months on end living in the chaotic stress of the shelter, who survived life as a petite (she is positively pocket-sized for a pittie) adolescent living on the streets. But most of all, she’s a dog who’s endured all that life’s thrown at her without losing even an ounce of her indomitable spirit, her loyalty and love of people, or her incredible zest for life, learning, and fun. She truly is the quintessential dog out loud and we could not love her more.
Cupcake is working on a variety of training goals right now, but topping the list are her dog/dog skills. In particular, her reactivity to other dogs when out in public. It is a common problem but, when we met this little lady, she’d taken it to something of a new level. Really, it’s partly the sounds she makes. Gremlin sounds. Loud and jarring enough to get her kicked out of TTouch class.
We think Cupcake’s feelings about other dogs (along with some of the other behaviors she’s worked through) are a combination of lack of socialization, and possibly even bad experiences during her time as a stray, coupled with bad habits formed during life at the shelter. Even the best run shelters lend themselves to developing and/or reinforcing reactivity.
What we know for sure is that Cupcake’s behavior with other dogs, both her on-leash reactivity and her tenuous direct interactions, stem from fear and a lack of social skills. Cupcake is a perfect example of “I’ll get you before you get me.” She can play successfully with very loose, non-threatening dogs and she really enjoys it. But the moment she senses (often mistakenly due to her lack of solid social skills) a dog is a potential threat to her, her body posture changes and there is just a small window of opportunity to intervene before she becomes actively defensive.
What is also very clear is that Cupcake prefers flight to fight. One of the most rewarding things for her in training is to create distance between herself and the other dog with whom she is uncomfortable. No treats can top the few steps in the other direction, back into her comfort zone.
To help Cupcake decrease her anxiety and build her social skills around other dogs, she has been engaging in a variety of parallel work exercises, Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT), group walks, and participation in group hikes. She is making fantastic, and very consistent, progress. We are already starting to see her better read and know how to respond appropriately to other dogs, and we will continue reinforcing positive social skills, coping mechanisms, and default behaviors as her training continues.
The other dogs Cupcake is working against are the 10 canine companions of the DOL founders. They are each very unique dogs who present Cupcake with a wide variety of physical and personality types, as well as very different challenges for her to work through. We are working her through them largely in order of difficulty, saving the toughest of the crew for last. So far, Cupcake has befriended big black lab Rosie, medium mystery mix Rufus, and tiny Papillon Daphne.
After working through each dog individually, we bring her posse of new friends back together for a group walk. We will continue this pattern as Cupcake works through each of the dogs in our crew, while simultaneously incorporating individual training sessions with Cupcake to reinforce foundation skills related both to her dog/dog skills, as well as overall adoptability. In fact, one of Cupcake’s training goals is to earn her Canine Good Citizen (CGC) designation!
Though we’d love to keep Cupcake all for ourselves forever, this very special girl deserves a real home that’s meant just for her. She comes with a lifetime of free training support (and enthusiastic dog sitters!) but, most of all, the person who falls in love with, adopts, and becomes Cupcake’s soulhuman is going to be taking home all you could ever hope for in a canine companion. We’d love to see her go to someone just as sparkly and awesome as she is who appreciates her epic amazingness and agrees that she is the best dog ever at everything!
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about Cupcake or to set up a time to meet her!
Donate to help Cupcake and dogs like her get the training, support, and intervention they need!
*Photos by BMJohnson Photography.