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Adoption Update: Willow

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Willow’s journey started out in Minnesota when she was rescued by a family who had another resident dog. After Willow was adopted, the family realized she was quite reactive to other dogs, despite being able to coexist with their other resident dog. The family eventually moved to Connecticut, but had continuing issues with Willow and her reactivity towards other animals, along with navigating a home with two dogs and young kids. One weekend, Willow got out of the family’s yard and unfortunately had an altercation with a small dog from the neighborhood. The family made the difficult decision that they could no longer care for Willow and contacted Our Companions for help.  Luckily, Our Companions was able to step in and offer a spot for Willow at our Sanctuary in November 2021. 

Willow settled into the Sanctuary routine quite nicely, and we loved getting to know her! Her mix of German Shepherd and Husky really shined through as she was very smart and excelled in her training classes! She already knew many skills, but love learning new things and showing off her training skills to her human friends! Willow never met a puzzle feeder she couldn’t master in just a few seconds!

Getting to know Willow, we even started to hear different “barks” from her! Her barks were intended to convey emotions, like excitement or demand barking. We also found out she had a fear of hats, or things covering our human faces. We were able to adapt certain protocols for Willow, such as waiting until she was calm and not barking to enter her room and to meet her with your hat off! Reactivity can show itself in many different ways, so learning more about Willow and her personality helped us set her up for success!

Along with basic training, we worked with Willow to decrease her reactivity when she saw other dogs out on walks with positive reinforcement, interrupters, treats, and lots of praise when she was calm! We also did muzzle training with her so both Willow and the community could feel confident and safe on walks around other dogs. She didn’t mind wearing her muzzle at all and it was just another great skill that both Willow and her handlers could use to be safe, but still have fun on walks!

As we continued to train with Willow and decrease her reactivity through reward-based training, we began to see improvements that made us confident we would be able to curb her reactivity into something more manageable. It is so important for us human companions to meet our animal friends where they are in life, and help them navigate the world! With Willow, she had hurdles with other dogs, but after getting to know her and helping her decrease her reactivity with training, we knew with the right companions she could thrive in a home environment and we posted her for adoption!

Willow was approaching her senior years and with the mark on her record, it unfortunately did deter some people from adopting her. Despite her being an absolute sweetheart to everyone she met, we understood that we needed to find her perfect match that would love Willow for who she was and continue working on her training. A lovely couple was interested in Willow and had a Husky/Shepherd mix in the past so they were familiar with some of the aspects of the breeds. We had open discussions about all of Willows behaviors – how sweet, loving, and smart she is, and other important aspects like her reactivity towards other dogs. We discussed how we are working on her reactivity and the tools to keep her behaviors manageable. The couple had not had a reactive dog before, but appreciated OC’s adoption process and how much support and guidance we provide to our animals and adopters.

The couple came to the Sanctuary to meet Willow for an Adoption Showing. Of course, Willow was very sweet, loving and received lots of pets and cookies! After discussing her story and her time with us, the couple couldn’t help but fall in love with Willow and was determined to make things work! We set up another meeting to have a mock training session with another dog who was not dog reactive to demonstrate how Willow’s friends help redirect her away from other dogs .We were able to walk with the couple at a safe distance away from the other dog so they could see what we meant by “dog reactive”. Willow started to alert, which is an early sign of her reactivity, so staff was able to redirect Willow and treat her once she was in a calm state. As soon as we began our positive reinforcement, smart Willow went right into training mode and showed off her skills! Willow was able to quickly calm and continue on her walk without aggressively reacting, pulling, or barking. The couple was able to see what reactivity looked like with Willow and how to manage the behavior and felt that would be very manageable for them, as well as in their neighborhood.

To no surprise, Willow won them over with her 5-star personality, but it was very important and beneficial to show all sides of Willow and what she will need in life to truly thrive! During Willow’s home visit, Willow made herself right at home! We went on a tour of the home with Willow and as soon as she entered the bedroom, she jumped on the bed and rolled around right away! It appeared Willow thought the bed was not too big, not too small, but just right.

We are glad the couple felt the same way about Willow being just right for them too and she was adopted in October 2022! She settled in to home life again quite quickly, snuggling with her new mom and dad on the couch after the first night. After only a week, they did of course see her reactivity but said:

“Willow is doing so well. She’s such a cuddly love bug and has already stolen our hearts. Your redirection tips have worked even better than we had hoped”. Her new people felt confident that they could decrease her anxiety around other pups, but also stated they are just happy to have her in their family.

Every update we received about Willow through the first year of her adoption just kept getting better and better! Within the first week, she was going out on hikes and runs with her new family, she loved watching the wildlife out the large windows, and basking in all of her de-stuffed toys! By 3 months she was settled – snuggling on all the comfy spots and even sleeping in bed with her head on a pillow, like a human! Thus they started calling her Willow Pillow – too cute!! Willow has been very social with anyone invited over to her new house, happily greeting and befriending any guests including little kids!

“Everyone who meets her just absolutely falls in love. She’s fantastic with all of our friends’ kids, and even her dog aggression is very manageable. It all goes to show that she only needed to be with us all along. 🙂 We’re so happy to have her in our home, and forever grateful to you all for saving her and helping us find her.”

We are so grateful for Willow and her forever family, and the work everyone has put in to giving Willow the chance she deserves at living her best life!