A year after adopting a rescue, all the advice I'd give to past me

More than anything, sweet little Mochi just need time to feel safe with us

It's officially been a year since we brought Mochi home and into our family! I still remember what it was like last year, lugging Mochi's crate in through our apartment door, and hearing my partner, on a work Zoom, say that we'd just adopted a dog and I was bringing her home literally right now.  

Happy Gotcha Day, my sweet little Mochi. ❤️

For the first few months, I painstakingly documented every little win. I needed to in order to feel better as we made progress on her fear rehabilitation because I was also so scared that everything she was scared of was somehow my fault. I wasn't giving the right calming signals or body language. I was reacting too much. I wasn't reacting enough. I felt like I was traumatizing her every day, just by taking her out on walks.

A year later, I have a lot more experience, and looking back, I now realize that more than anything, sweet little Mochi just need time to feel safe with us. Until then, all I needed to do was love her, spend time with her, give her a routine, and show her that I wouldn't abandon her when she needed me. I think that's what dog trainers mean when they say "building a relationship" with your dog. At least, that's definitely what it ended up meaning to me.

So, instead of sharing all her wins at one year, I wanted to write down all the advice I'd give to past me, knowing what I know now, in case it helps anyone out there, who's recently brought home a new rescue of their own.


Dear one-year-ago Sisi, and all the new rescue dog parents out there,

In those first days ...

  • when Mochi refuses to get in her crate, and you've been given clear instructions that she has to be in there on a schedule, and every food lure you use only works once before she refuses to fall for it again, and you're sitting next to her crate crying after trying to get her to go in for an hour, know that it's okay. Some dogs immediately think of the crate as their safe space, and Mochi doesn't. Don't force yourself to force her, and don't worry, you won't be missing any kind of critical time. One day, she'll love the crate because you found a trainer who can help you, and she'll go in there on her own and snooze happily. 

  • when Mochi plops her cute little butt down on the floor and refuses to leave the apartment for walks, it's okay. One day, she'll understand what's happening, and she'll come to you as soon as you pick up her collar, and will walk with you as soon as you say "Let's go."

  • when all you want to do is manage every minute of Mochi's schedule so that it's as optimal as possible, know that figuring out a good rhythm is often the best you can do, and it's about finding a rhythm that works for you too.

In those first months ...

  • when you feel like every little thing you do could scar Mochi for life, try to breathe. She's resilient and you're learning. Also, chances are, she's already forgotten what you think might've bothered her, or it never even bothered her in the first place. Dogs are cool like that.

  • when you are willing to pretty much buy anything to make Mochi less scared of the world — Thundershirts, CBD, lavender, stuffed animals with heartbeats — slow your roll. Don't panic. I know you just want to make sure that you've tried everything you could, but one day, you'll learn that more than any of those things, all she needs is time. And time is something you can give her.

  • when Mochi is wary of anything and everything and is only willing to lean forward instead of step forward to investigate things, and you see her hind legs stretch so far she's literally doing upward dog — don't worry. Her legs are not injured they're okay. She's okay. Again, she just needs time.

  • when Mochi can't figure out Kongs, or any toys, because the movement and sounds scare her, it's not your fault. She isn't ready yet, and once more, all she needs is time to see that you love her and that's she's finally safe. Then, she'll happily shove her nose into an enrichment toy, and demand more beef lung, please.

  • when Mochi never plays — with you or with other dogs — know that all it takes is persistence. Keep trying to play, and keep giving her a safe way to interact with the same potential dog friends. A few months later, she's going to have a best friend that she'll be vigorously pulling you toward, anytime he's near. After that, she'll have tons of friends she can't wait to see.

  • when Mochi seems indifferent to your existence, prefers to spend all her time sleeping in the bathroom instead of with you, and seems to feel no separation anxiety unlike all the other dogs you know, just let her be. There's nothing wrong with her. One day, when she trusts you more because you've been there for her, she'll be excited to see you when you come home, and she'll insist on sleeping next to you on the couch.

In that first year ... 

  • when you hear over and over again that walks are a dog's favorite part of the day, but it's clearly the worst part of Mochi's day, it's okay to listen to her and take her on shorter walks. Don't let other people make you feel bad about it. Mochi is her own dog, and while you'll work on her fear together, so she can live a more fear-free life, you don't have to make her do something she's scared of, just because people keep saying that all dogs love it.

  • when Mochi doesn't seem to be able to understand training, that's okay. She isn't ready yet, because she still needs to feel safe. One day, she will be ready, and you'll start training her from the beginning again, and this time, you'll marvel at how different everything feels, and how engaged she is.

A year ago, I couldn't have predicted where we'd be today, and I still can't look back and pinpoint exactly when Mochi started to reciprocate our love and trust. It snuck up on us, just like new experiences with Mochi are still sneaking up on me now.

I cannot wait to see what the next year holds, and I cannot wait to throw a massive gotcha day party for her when her heart rate is allowed to go up again.

Love you little Mochi.

Sincerely,

🐕 Mochi and 👩🏻 Sisi


Our journey on Instagram

What we’ve shared online since the last newsletter:

  • After two whole months of work, I finally taught Mochi the “touch” command. It was recommended to me that commands like “touch” and “paw” could help fearful dogs like Mochi feel more comfortable interacting with her environment. To me, this recommendation was on point, because a few weeks later, I gave one of Mochi’s enrichment toys a shot, and within a few days, she was using her nose to move things around very confidently!

  • We brought Mochi to a pretty quiet hotel to give her the best chance at dealing with the fireworks on July 4, since we couldn’t have her trembling for hours in fear, while she’s still dealing with heartworms in her body. It worked, and my partner and I even got to relax and have a mini-vacation, even if we did have to chill in a fancy hotel bathroom with her for a couple of hours.

  • I learned how to use Instagram reels for memes, so now you have that content to look forward to. 😉


One last photo

Since Mochi’s exercise is severely limited these days, we’ve been pushing her around in a stroller every morning, to help her do her business. We call it her doggy limo. I think she has a love/hate relationship with it, but I’m so grateful to our trainer for lending this to us.