Raising Cara


Cara is a two and half years old female Black Mouth Cur/Labrador mix who I picked up from the shelter recently. She was the only dog who did not bark when I entered the dog room at Sean Casey animal shelter in Brooklyn. This is the story of her path of becoming my dog in the first couple of weeks when I brought her home.


I went to Sean Casey animal shelter twice before adopting Cara. The first time I walked her, I was surprised at her playfulness and persistence. It was a rainy day. I planned to walk her for 20 minutes. But, minutes quickly turned into hours when I realized that she did not want to return to the shelter. She was not trusting in the beginning.  At one point she aggressively chewed on her leash so that she could run away from me. When I did not get angry but instead repeatedly called her, she came back to me. This is when I decided that she would be my dog. Her nature quickly showed through the wall that she put up. Her true nature is very sweet. She loves a quick chase of the birds or ducks. At the same time, she loves to lounge around next to anyone who shows true love to her.  After the second time I walked her, I adopted her. The folks at Sean Casey was extremely careful when answering all my questions. They made sure that their answers were practical and precise so that I understood why they recommended certain methods regarding dealing with Cara.  These answers would guide me well in the first weeks of bringing her home.

First Day:

The first day having Cara in my home, I was both anxious and nervous. After a long night walk with her, I had to quickly teach her how to get on and off an elevator. After that, I had to introduce her to my living room. This was going to be her new home. The first night was rough. After I fed her, she decided that she didn’t like the chew toys I bought her. She also didn’t like that I went into my room to send a few emails while she lay restlessly not knowing where to sleep. So, she chewed my couch cushions into shreds. I quickly realized that on the first night, keeping her in her crate while showing her that I will reappear in the morning is important. So, I firmly told her that she was bad for chewing the couch. Then, I sent her into her crate for the night. I lined the crate with soft towels and gave her water and chew toys to keep her company. There was heavy breathing from her for the next half an hour as she repositioned herself. Soon, she fell asleep. I could hear the sounds of her sleep from the next room. At 2 am, I was still worried about Cara. She surprised me with all her chewing. At one point, I thought it might have been a mistake to choose an active dog. So, I googled furiously of all the strategies to use. I even ended up cooking her first meal of chicken and rice. I drove myself nuts with questions on how to raise her the first night.

Second Day:

The second day, I decided that a firm schedule will be good for Cara. I planned to introduce her to a long morning walk so that we can set the tone of a good active life. As I woke around 6, I checked on Cara, she was quietly sitting in her crate. As soon as she saw me she started wagging her tail, I quickly let her out. It took a good hour to get the leash on her. Then, we set out for a four hour walk in the park. I did not plan it to be that long. We walked to the park. Then, we hung out with other dogs at the dog run; rested between the shades and walked slowly back. The whole process made me feel like a dog too. I sensed her fear when big trucks came by. I sensed her frustrations when I wouldn’t let her eat street food. Most of all, I joined in with her to watch other dogs play with each other. It was the best time. After we came back, she sat under a chair at the local coffee shop to sleep while I sat on the bench sipping my ice tea. By the end of the day, Cara started getting used to sleeping where my foot is. She also became obedient when I told her no. She was so aware of my absence that she would wake up if I walked away. I was so surprised how powerful a small amount of unconditional love is even when it comes to a dog.  On this night, she stopped chewing the couch. She demonstrated to me that she understood what a chew toy was for. It was an amazing fiat to see her adjusting so fast. But, with a success, there’s always another issue popping up. Since I started feeding her twice a day instead of once a day, Cara urinated in the hall way after she finished eating her dinner. I moved her crate away and had her sleep on the couch cushions on this night. She was dozing off for about 2 hours with me next to her. Then, I walked away. She would not come to me since she was content with her cushion. I left her alone. At the end of day I was as tired as she was, but my anxiety decipated. She slept through the night waking up once in the middle.

Third Day: 

We went to prospect park in the morning again. Cara loved seeing other dogs. She sniffed as many dogs as she could. At one point, she even chased a squirrel. In the mist of it all, Cara seems to be tired and threw a tantrum in the park as she saw other dogs without a leash. The tantrum lasted almost 10 minutes with her biting her leash and fighting with me to get leash off her. The struggle was draining for me since I thought at one point she might bite me. But, I hung on to her. When it finally ended, I lead her home. For dinner that day, I introduced the roof space in our building to her. She found the noises of the high way to be loud but loved the fact that she was leash free. She took time to explore the roof top until she was so tired that she found a corner to just sleep.


Fourth Day:

After the tantrum yesterday, I decided that Cara is not ready for prospect park yet. I realized that I had been a total overachieving mom. I needed to chill. So, on this day, I lead her up to the roof, brought a bunch of magazines, then just let her be. I brought all her toys with me, and just spent time near by her. She slept most of the day. Probably, she was so tired going from sleeping for 16 to 20 hours a day to suddenly sleeping only 8 to 10 hours. At night, she got so comfortable on the roof that she did not want to go home. The roof top door was almost like the door of some kind of crate to her. She could not even be bribed with treats to go through it. My neighbor kindly tried to use treats and show me other ways to get her off the roof. They finally succeeded after 30 minutes. I was relieved after not being able to do it myself for about 3 hours. This day was by far the toughest. My level of anxiety increased exponentially on this day. Cara could sense it and dealt with it by increasing her assertiveness. At night, I re-asserted myself by introducing her to her permanent bed. I lead her to sleep on it. Then, but a blanket there so that she knows that’s where she should sleep.


Fifth Day:

This is by far the most eventful day so far. I booked Cara for a vet appointment and a dog trainer appointment. Cara was sniffing all over the vet office. She was really quiet with the doctor and the assistant. When she got her shot she didn’t even struggle. It was amazing to see how comfortable she was there at the Vet office. Once we were done, Anthony from Calm Energy Dog Training arrived for the first session with Cara. Within the first 5 minutes, he was able to tell me what I was doing wrong with Cara. He corrected the collar I was using that was making Cara uncomfortable. Then, he told me the right way to sit with her, walk her and establish relationship with her. We walked Cara to the doggie run on 4th Avenue. During the walk, Anthony corrected Cara’s fear of cars by tightly holding on to her and making her experience each car passing so that Cara understands that these cars just pass by and not threatening. He taught me how to walk Cara all around the doggie run so that she will become bolder. In a mere two hours, he made me confident being with Cara. We taught her commands such as “go to your place”, “sit” and “lay down”. But, most of all he made her confident in her environment.

Later on during the day, I left Cara with an experienced dog sitter for about 4 hours. Cara was great the whole time being taken to the playground, then to the roof top. She played nicely with other kids at the playground.  She was so tired at the end of the day, she forgot to chew on anything and went straight to bed. That night, she slept from 7pm to about 6am.


Sixth Day:

Today started with Cara waking me up by whining after she woke up. She slept so soundly on her couch, adjusting her self in all positions. At one point, she put her four paws in the air with her belly up to sleep which I thought may be uncomfortable for her, but her eyes never opened. We went for an early morning walk to the dog run. We stayed at the dog run for about 3 hours. The whole time, I was petting other dogs to get Cara to come over to meet them. Initially, Cara was scared, but I asserted myself by throwing the ball for them or petting other dogs. This lead Cara to follow my lead. By the end of the 3 hours, she was following me without the leash. I met other dog owners at the dog run who were giving me tips on raising Cara, both Cara and I were slowly building confidence. By the time we came back, her tail was up all the way. She was smiling wildly and the cars/trucks didn’t bother her as much.

As a reward, I got Cara a bully stick. After a quick nap and lunch for Cara, we set off to another adventure. I let Cara chew on her bully stick while I had lunch in a nearby restaurant. She loved the peaceful time she spent with her bully stick. Then, we set off to walk to Pet Smart. This long walk down court st in the middle of the day was a bit rough. Cara reverted to her old ways of running away when big trucks came. I had to pull on her leash hard each time so that she deals with her fears. After we got to Pet Smart, she relaxed. She knew that mommy brought her to a friendly place. The trainer at Pet Smart helped us find the Martingale collar that we were looking for. He put it on Cara and helped to adjust her other collar. The comfort level for Cara increased exponentially after that. She stopped scratching her neck so much. She enjoyed her walk back with the new collar.

I felt a lot more comfortable not having to pull on the leash so hard. It was amazing to see how little adjustments in the equipment can make such a huge difference. When we were done, we came home beat. By this time, Cara has found a safe haven under by desk. The sound of me typing is very soothing for her. So, she slept under it for about 4 hours. When I finally put her to bed, she was not as sleepy as the previous nights. She woke up around 2, missing her bully stick. I gave it to her which was a huge mistake, she would not calm down after that. I had to walk her around the block at 2 in the morning to get her to calm down and go back to sleep. This was by far the roughest night so far.


Seventh Day:

It’s been a couple days since Cara woke up at 6 on the dot. She adapted so quickly to the schedule I set for her. Instead of giving her chewing toys, I left her alone to find her own. But, instead of making her wait for me to take a shower, I took her out almost immediately. This worked wonders. I realized that all that chewing after she woke up is a habit. I believe previous owners gave her dental chews. Today, I will go get some for her. But, I wanted her to solve her own problem. I laid out chew toys and bully stick near her food tray, I even put some food out. She picked up the toys and the bully stick on her own. Once she’s done with chewing and calm enough that I can put leash on her, I took her out to the doggie run. This morning’s run is by far the best. She finally urinated inside the run. (It did not happen yesterday). She played with a big poodle even though initially she was afraid of her. She even brought the tennis ball back to me when I played fetch with her. I learned to watch for the way she played with other dogs. From some friendly dog owners, I got more tips on what to watch out for when they played. I learned that dogs will figure out how hard to play with other dogs without stepping over boundaries. I learned that belly up is a great affectionate way of playing with another dog. When I brought Cara back, she was very tired from playing that she wasn’t interested in food or water, she went immediately to sleep under my desk.

Second Week:

The second week went by really fast. Cara overcame several hurdles in the second week. She got her play pen and moved into it swiftly. She did not miss her crate at all. I leave the door open at home when I’m in the living room and she is so comfortable in the pen that she does not want to come out. She also busied herself with chewing tendons, bully sticks while I was away for a couple hours one day. She had no apparent separation anxieties now. Each day, I practice leaving her a little more in the other room to sleep by herself. She no longer watch for my return. She enjoys doing her own thing now.

I overcame my anxiety at leaving her at home. I also trusted her more on our walks to let her have a long leash while I follow as she sniffed. This was my way of easing her into off leash training.

Over the weekend of the second week, she was off leash for the whole day at a friend’s house. She had slight anxieties at all the kids, adults and excitement for that day. But, she managed to throw away her normal sleeping habits to enjoy the long walks, running on and off leash times.

This was a major milestone for us. I learned that I can trust her to follow me even when she is running up the block. When I call her, turn around, she comes sniffing at my feet. Our bond is growing stronger.

Third Week: 

Mondays are not good days for walks for Cara. The garbage trucks still frighten her silly. The energy accumulated from sunday’s sleeping made her rest less. She took a little step backward in her training by throwing leash aggression tantrums again.

This morning and last night, Cara had leash aggression. She would start biting her leash, tug against it frantically as I held on. It seems that we have been taking one step forward and two steps back. Over the weekend, she was off leash for a long time that she started to get used to it. Last week, I also gave her a lot of freedom on the leash to train her off leash so that added to it. This morning, i had to hold leash real tight again so that she won’t struggle against it for the morning walk. I tried to feed her when she acted up. Then give her obedient commands so that she gets distracted from her excitement. The traffic Monday morning is another source of her fear. I can sense that the bulk of her leash aggression comes from wanting to run away from the trucks.
As she gains more confidence, I feel that I am constantly re- asserting myself so that I can still be her pack leader.
As I switch up her food brands in an effort to find her favorites, she has stopped eating from her bowl. I had to spoon feed her last night. It seems that she chews and wants to hunt when she is hungry. To combat this, I started sharing my plain bagel on our morning walks with her. It distracts her from hunting for her own food.
Staying on top of Cara’s animal instinct is harder than I thought. Unconditional love only goes so far. Trying to stay calm when she goes nuts is hard. I have started to detach from my feelings when she is too excited. I learned that if I am not strong on the leash, I am giving her an opportunity to struggle against it. I have to constantly pay attention when we go out.
On a happier note, Cara is learning to play with herself when there are no dogs at the dog park. She picked up a ball and ran around with it; chased birds; and ran around with a stick. I’m happy to see that she is becoming herself- playful!!
I gave her a grooming in the dog park under the sun. She rolled on her back so that I can groom her. It was a bonding moment. I am learning to take advantage of such moments now. There are the 8 hours I sleep, 8 hours I do work that I am not spending time with her. This is her time at the dog park where she can run.
On the way back from the dog run today, I realized that a shephard mix dog really likes to run instead of walk. So, I kept the leash very short for Cara and ran with her for about 2 miles back from the dog run. This distracted her from hunting for food and the truck noises. She did not throw a leash tantrum on the way back. She was also so tired that she slept immediately when we came back.
I feel lucky to be living near a large dog community, at the dog run, there’s always someone who gave me advise on how to deal with Cara. Today, someone who owns a Shephard told me about how it’s in their nature to want to run. This seems to be the magic formula with Cara. I can’t believe it worked on her leash aggression. The running helped me keep her in pace, in line and reassert myself as her pack leader.
Wednesday of this week came about after Cara has adopted to twice a day walks in the afternoon by an experienced dog walker. She is adjusting waiting for other dogs, pack walk with other dogs and being able to relieve herself appropriately. She has also taken up the Kong for the first time.
I made yogurt/sweet potato mixture for the stuffing and that’s regularized her poop quite a bit. This week has been as much of my own mentality shift as well. I have decided to walk her tight everyday, practicing obedient commands and not giving her as much attention. I found this helped me to assert myself as her pack leader more successfully. I researched online for notes on dealing with separation anxiety. http://www.dogbreedinfo.com/separationanxiety.htm. This made me realize that giving her too much love actually causes her to be confused.  This made me shut the door when I am sleeping – ignoring her whines in the morning – taking her out when I am ready. I also developed a feeding schedule for her where feeding her in her play pen immediately after walks ensures she poops and pees twice during the day. Finally, I have refocused my energy on work. Working in the living room with her watching makes her anxious when I leave. So, I decided to leave and work in the other room with door closed.
At the end of week 3, Cara has thoroughly adapted to her new life. Although food was still a concern as she refused the kibbles at intervals to assert herself, she enjoyed her sleeping space, the walks and her new schedule. Over the weekend, we went to prospect park with Anthony’s dog training class.  Anthony showed me some off leash techniques to use on Cara. She was biting furiously at her leash again as soon as we entered prospect park so I had to unleash her. She ran furiously at 30 miles an hour, tripping and tumbling each time stopped chasing other dogs. It was unbelievable. She was jumping joyfully, playing with other dogs and puppies. I have never seen her so happy. I was both relieved and anxious. She ran so fast at intervals and didn’t follow me closely. At times, I thought I lost her. But, she always appeared after running very far away. By the end of the off leash hour, I realized that I had to figure out a way to track her. Each time, she moved far away is always because distractions from hunting or tracking. She made that a priority even with other dogs present. I think her natural instinct is to hunt. She would stop play to go sniff.
At the end of the day at prospect park, I had a new challenge ahead of me. I need to get a tracking devise on her or find a way to distract her from sniffing. On the bright side, Cara enjoyed a car ride for 10 minutes on that day. She made a fuss getting in the car. But once in, she was okay – no visible signs of motion sickness.
Week 4:
This week started with me trying to find new recipes for her since she stopped eating the rice/chicken combination. I bought some ground turkey and created little balls. I also needed to find new chew toys badly so I went to the supermarket and bought ham hogs, pork feet. I cooked the pork feet and gave them to her as chew toys. She loved them. It takes about 15 minutes for her to go through a piece. She didn’t lose interest in between. I think I need to buy some chicken feet next. Because of the big weekend we had, Cara didn’t get up at 5 am in the morning. This was a huge win for me. Later on during the day, I took her to the dog run. She was behaving superbly with her calmness, so I rewarded her by letting her sleep on the couch when she finished all her walks for the day. She slept so soundly and kicked me with her foot as she spread herself out. It was great. I ate my dinner next to her and she didn’t wake up to ask for a piece. I feel the end of the transition period near. By now, she’s so comfortable at home that the kitchen noise or any other noise I make in the house didn’t bother her anymore. She just sleeps.
With all the new foods I introduced to her this week, it wasn’t a surprised that she developed diarrhea immediately. I had to stop all her foods and wait until diarrhea is out of her system. Then, I started feeding her plain chicken/rice combination. She started eating that again. I think perhaps a reset in her digestive system is all she needed.  I threw out all the food that I made for her such as pig’s feet, pork bones and ground turkey. I realized that I need to introduce her to new foods slowly one by one. She still loves her sweet potato bacon wraps but I went through the package already. So, I started to just making that as treats. Whenever she finished her chicken and rice, I’d give her two pieces of sweet potato wraps.  She seems to be reacting to the new plain diet better. I’m not sure if she will be back on the kibbles and canned dog food I bought her, but I will let her tell me later.
A kind lady at the dog run on 4th ave told us about the Di Martinas dog run which is closer to my apartment. We went to check it out this week, there were so many dogs there. There were trees and a dog bone shaped pool. Cara had a blast on an evening walk there. There were lots of dogs. She ran around in circles playing with other dogs. I felt like we can make a routine out of this dog run as well. So, I resolved to bring her to this run after 6pm everyday so that she gets two runs per day with a pack walk in between. She seems content as she sleeps the rest of the time to conserve energy.
At this point, she is much at ease in the apartment, there are two couches that she knows where she must be if she wants to stay in the room that I am in. She gets there herself and lay down on them. She doesn’t make a fuss when I am cooking. She knows that I will give her food when I want to.
I also extended the size of her play pen to about 16 square feet. I also placed her crate in there with door open, placed 3 cushions in a way to resemble a dog couch. She can choose if she wants to sleep on the couch or in the crate. She now freely selects the toys she wants to play with and she chews/plays with them when she wakes up in the middle of the night.
Week 5: 
Cara has thoroughly enjoying her new life. I have figured out a new diet for her that she loves. She eats chicken breast with sweet potatoes/rice supplemented with dog food and chicken parts.  She eats quickly twice a day and thoroughly cleans the plate.
We continue to go to the near by dog runs twice a day so that she plays with other dogs. There are 3 nearby ones that we came to love:
  • Hillside – Brooklyn Heights
  • 3rd st/4th Ave – Park Slope
  • Di Martinas – Carroll Gardens
  • Prospect Park leash free hours

She sleeps through the night waking up only to chew around 2 in the morning (about 8 to 10 hours). She also sleeps about 6 hours during the day intermittently.  This amounts to about the 14 to 16 hours that she needs to sleep.

At the dog runs, Cara helped to be-friend a shaking puppy one day that made the proud mama smile. She is just so good natured and funny. While she socializes at the dog runs, I continue to meet dog owners and chat with them about raising their dogs.  It’s great to share stories and swap resources.  I look forward to bringing her to the runs even though sometimes it means I have to get up at 5 in the morning.

After 5 weeks, I have noticed that I’ve lost a few pounds and my energy level increased with the amount of coffee I drank. I’ve started to refocus on other aspects of my life. But, all in all, a friend of mine mentioned how radiant I looked recently. That is all due to the love that Cara gave me that enriched my life immensely.

Final Notes: some notes on the realistic view taking on the responsibility of raising a dog actually is.
Bringing an active dog home from the shelter and raising her in a new environment is a lot harder than I thought. But, having the right resources at hand such as a dog trainer, a good dog walker, dog parks and friendly dog owners whom you can speak to about concerns made all the difference for me. Without sharing insights with them, I would’ve never been able to assimilate Cara so quickly to her new environment. After this experience, I will never look at another dog the same way. Cara has brought so much love into my life. She is a friend, a roommate and a child all at the same time. After this experience, my feelings about raising animals have changed as well. I realize that there’s so much responsibility involved in the process. Not having the right supportive environment, financial resources, mindset and spare time ultimately will mean the cost of  happiness of your dog. I’m looking forward to my life going forward with Cara. Maybe one day in the near future, I will even feel confident enough to bring a sibling home for her.
Below is a little outline of the time and money that I have spent on Cara just to give you an idea of the realistic cost that you may consider.  I wish I knew this before I adopted so that I would have prepared for this. Instead, it kind of hit me all at once. But, thankfully, I was able to allocate the time and the money necessary.
Time – Last 4 weeks, I’ve devoted 6 hours of everyday to taking care of her needs and trying out different things related to caring for her.
Time I will devote to walking her, playing with her will probably 2 to 3 hrs going forward everyday.
Money – I’ve spent about 300 (dog trainer)+ 150 (Vet) + 300 (adoption fee) + 360 (initial supplies (i.e.: food, brush etc…) and crate) + 400 (toys, play pen and other treats) + 500 (dog walker for 1 month (twice a day for about 1 hour 30 mins every day)) = 2010 dollars in the initial month.
Money I will be spending  every month will probably be about 100 (food) + 500 (dog walker) on an ongoing basis.

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