Hershey came to me with scars; not physical scars, but mental ones. It quickly became apparent that she wasn’t that trustful of men; ironic, considering who adopted her. I quickly gained her trust, but even today there are men she is fearful around.
Her other big fear, I soon found out, was brooms, or sticks, or canes, or Harry Potter wands; anything stick-like and in someone’s hand. I found this out fairly early on when what I thought was the two of us running around the yard having fun was actually her fleeing in terror because I had a stick in my hand.
It was confirmed even more at a friend’s one evening. She went from having fun with her best buddy Rex, to running tucked tail into the next room when my friend’s grandmother stood up, cane in hand.
Everyone who saw this behavior from her came to the same conclusion: that at some point in her short life before she came into mine, someone had beaten her. Considering she was about six months old when I got her, that means that someone, probably a man, given her feelings about guys she doesn’t know, took a broom to her during the most formative months of her life.
The idea that someone had beaten my sweet girl (never mind the fact she hadn’t been mine at the time) filled me with rage, as well as a desire to do something about it. While ideas about finding this ‘man’ and making him as afraid of brooms as she was were lovely revenge fantasies, they didn’t end the heartbreaking scene of my otherwise trusting and fearless dog bolting from the room whenever I needed to sweep. So not being able (in a practical, moral, or legal sense) to beat the ‘man,’ I decided we’d beat the behavior.
We started small. We worked in short sessions a few days a week, and I tried hard to pay attention to when she was at her limits. First, I asked her to sit and stay on the couch at one end of the room while I brought the broom out at the other end. Any hint of a lack of fear was generously treated. Over the days and weeks the broom got closer and closer to her.
Sitting still on the couch was too much for her, but letting the broom get closer while keeping the table between herself and the broom was tolerable. It got to where she could stand to be with me standing close to her with the broom while treating, and treating, and treating. So far, so good. Now to up our game.
The first time I lifted the broom off the floor while standing close to her she bolted, and the second time, and the third. After a number of sessions she was able to stay, behind the table while the broom came toward her.
We got to where she would touch the broom! She would raise a paw and touch it! I could have cried, I probably did, a little.
And after that, I slacked off. She wasn’t as afraid of the broom as she had been before. She simply left the room instead of bolting when I swept. It was good enough, right?
It was good enough.