living with a dog outside of neutral – part 2

the first month –

welcome … maybe

Fran got out of our car and looked at our house cautiously. As she entered the front door all of her black wooly fur stood straight up, it was the first time I had seen a dog go completely pilo erect. She almost doubled in size. She got up on her tip toes and walked from room to room and checked out absolutely everything. Never once did she acknowledge any of us, she just kept checking it out.

The backyard proved no different. Every inch was checked out, information gathered.

When she finally made it over to me, I started to pet her, really check her out for the first time, feel her body, legs, and velvet soft ears. Who are you? She melted under my touch, just like butter. She seemed to want and need that kind of deep saturated touch, and I needed to do this for her. Here we were, two souls in need of repair, I’m positive for different reasons, but all the same really. I was trying to dismiss my feelings from the car ride home.

I had to go inside for something, when I came back out she was gone. Dam it!, who left the gate open! But no gate was open. My son who was almost two said something like, flydog, I dismissed it. I really should have listened better. I panicked and ran out the front door calling her name. She had been my dog for all of one hour and I had already lost her.

And there she was laying in the front yard, munching on a rodent of some sort. We had mouser dogs before so it didn’t really phase me that she had one, kind of weird she was eating it though, hmmm.

I  put her leash on and took her through our gate to the back yard. I purposefully left her alone again so I could spy on her, did we have a hole in the fence? And then I saw it, a flying dog. She cleared our six foot wooden fence with ease, truth be told it was magnificent to see, effortless.

This would repeat itself over and over, and not just with our fence. She could fly off of our two story balcony, out of a car window, through a screen door. She let us know that containment was merely a suggestion. Thanks, but no thanks.


We went out for our first stroller walk, I had known her for all of three days. There was a large dog that barked from behind a fence, across and down the street. I didn’t think much of it, it was just a barking dog. Fran went up onto her tip toes and arced into a horse shoe shape, bringing all four paws tight together. She went pilo erect again, wrapped her tail to her side and bent her head down to the same side. She started to chatter and hop sideways towards the barking dog. Holy shit, who are you?

As fast as she went into this behavior, she came out of it, and we resumed our stroller walk. She was apparently fine, me not so much.

There was something about her presence. More than just a young female dog walking down the street. Some dogs would turn themselves inside out, whine, play gesture, or throw themselves against the fence to get her attention, others would growl hard. No dog was neutral around her. Seriously, who are you?

She played well with every off leash dog we met on our walks, and the dogs in our neighborhood. Her play style was big, flashy, and fast. No dog could resist her games, and she new it. She seemed to set the terms for play, and every dog said YES oh so willingly. Except one. An old female Spaniel that was left to cruse the neighborhood all day while her people were at work. She displayed her dislike with a swift and punishing deep bite to the face or side of the shoulder. Fran was bit, and bit hard three times in the first month we had her. We kept a look out but could never predict where this dog would be. Her owners weren’t open to the idea of keeping her in their yard. They were the first family to stop talking to us, the first on a list that grew rather quickly.

food, or maybe not …

Over the first few weeks she wasn’t eating anything we offered. I knew dogs could be stressed when moving into their new home, but literally, she wouldn’t even go near food if we were in the house, or even look at it for that matter. I would offer kibble, steak, chicken, everything we had really. I tried hand feeding but she would just walk away. I tried bowls in every room to see if it was a room issue. We would offer a bowl of food and then leave the house completely. Bowl in the yard. Nothing.

So I watched more closely. She was eating her stools, rodents, and carrion. What? Maybe she was sick and this is all she could handle? So off to the vet we went. A full check up, blood and stool, and she was found perfectly healthy, a bit under weight but nothing else.

I tried handing her raw meat, if this was her gig I could go that way, I just wanted her to eat. She wouldn’t even look at me. When I would back away and go inside, she would pick it up carefully, dig a hole put the raw meat in it, pat it down with her nose, and then nose push dirt back over it. Cache and stash. She ate nothing that I touched for the longest time.

It took nearly two months for her to eat in my presence and to eat what I offered.


Fran went straight to the smallest darkest space in the open closet and curled up. OK, we can go with that. When I went to put a dog bed in there, she lowered her head and her eyes were glazed over. I could see her lips quivering too. I backed away, and very kindly called her to me. It took a moment but she did, and her whole expression was different once she was out of her small space.

This same behavior presented itself in a crate, under bushes, low trees, and the thicker part of our garden. As soon as she got into a small darkish type space, she became a different dog, and we were not welcome. Her eyes glazing over was haunting to say the least. But if we called her she would come, and come with an easy sway, easy eyes, and she would want that deep touch.

reality …

How do you work with a dog that has called you out? She could hunt, find her own shelter, survive on her own, interact with her own species, all without my assistance. She didn’t need me.

I clearly was over my skill level and needed to find a way to step up to the plate. But I didn’t know which way to step, I couldn’t put my finger on what I was seeing or experiencing with her. I just knew I needed to learn more, and do more.

But the harsh reality was that she was still so new to me and in transition. She was behaving on the most polite of terms, and over the next year, life between us would escalate.


7 Comments Add yours

  1. Nancy Hartz says:

    I think you are a wonderful and very expressive writer Nancy, you could actually see and be part of the story …we continued our stroller walk with franny just fine …me not so much …..LOl that i could picture even your facial expressions looking down at her at that very moment!!!!!Fabulous…. Nancy Hartz

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Nance, you’ve met Franny haven’t you? I will be writing for the next few weeks about her.

      1. Nancy Hartz says:

        yes i have nancy , :-)) thats y i’m enjoying this so much….

  2. mtwaggin says:

    I knew Franny is a girl of her own mind (the ones we seem to learn the lots of lessons from). It is very cool to be able to read about her and why she is who she is and what she’s taught/teaching you.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      yes … both the good and the bad… and the everything in between!

  3. Bosun Dawg says:

    Containment was just a suggestion – I really like that one! Really looking forward to following Fran’s story.

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