Aliki is an expensive dog. She was a stray, humiliated, kicked and beaten for so long, that I felt she needed to be treated like a princess for the rest of her life. In case that sounds cheesy, here’s the translation: she gets the best organic food and veterinarian care there is; no frills, no jewelry, no fancy food bowl, just everything she really needs. And it has helped her, both physically and mentally: she is incredibly healthy and shiny, in great shape, and she understands that I take care of her and protect her, which has made her more confident.
In this picture, she is in the woods in the South-East of The Netherlands, on New Year’s morning. We always get out of town for New Year’s Eve, because of the fireworks. The noise scares her so much, she ends up hiding in her ‘panic room’ (bathroom), shaking and shivering. So I decided early on that I would leave town for a couple of days with her and a friend. We go to a dog-friendly hotel or rent a ditto vacation home. It’s become a wonderful tradition.
Today was a good day for Aliki. She made a new friend in the park, even played with two other dogs, instead of trotting off to go sniff the whole area by herself. She increasingly interacts well with people, as she is no longer afraid they’ll hurt her. She also is becoming better at communicating with her fellow dogs. I still have to help a little sometimes by reminding her that I want her to be friendly and if she can’t be, to keep walking (that’s actually the command I use: ‘keep walking’) and ignore the dog she doesn’t like or is afraid of (as is more often the case). After a couple of years of training, our hard work is beginning to pay off. I can tell she understands that this new behavior keeps her out of trouble. So she is less afraid and more often wags her tail tentatively even while she is still bristling. I am always moved when I see her struggle with her ‘demons’ and I admire her for not giving up. She has come so far from the dog that jumped at every noise, snapped at almost every dog, nipped men she was afraid of in their calves, lunged at puppies…
Her friendship with Zorba was also essential; he’s a year younger than she is, also from Crete, and the sweetest, good-natured dog you’ll ever meet. They hit it off immediately and have been best friends ever since. His sweetness disarms everyone, but especially for Aliki this was a good experience. Their friendship has mellowed her, which has helped with her behavior towards other dogs as well. I’m especially happy that she is so much better with pups now. She may growl, but does so very softly and without showing her teeth. Dogs have different opinions about education than we do: growling and snapping at pups is acceptable, but within certain boundaries. They’re not supposed to ever, ever hurt a pup. Not that Aliki ever did, but she definitely scared them. Now she sometimes plays with them, even has a few puppy friends.
But of course it’s not all about training. It’s also about cuddling. She really, really likes to be stroked, especially her chest. It’s the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do before going to bed. She’ll turn on her back and act like a little puppy, licking my hands as if her life depends on it. I let her, because I know it’s how she shows affection. During the day, when I am working, she is usually sleeping next to me in her basket. But every now and then she wakes up and gives me a little push with her nose to tell me she needs affection. Which I then provide, of course.