It’s hard to believe that it’s been three months since I took Archie on as a foster. I mean, it’s baffling that it’s been so long and so short, all at once. It feels like a lifetime and the blink of an eye, somehow.
I’ve been too overworked and distracted to keep up with his weekly/monthly pupdates, and, to be honest, it felt like he plateaued there for a while. We weren’t really seeing new behaviors emerge, just continuing old ones driving me insane. Nothing great to report, and I don’t have time to say “same old same old in 1500 words.” That is not the case anymore.
In the past few weeks, it seems like Archie has been skyrocketing again in regards to his personal development. Lemme tell you. Or hell, go look for yourself @ archiewheeliepup on the instas.
Also, a reminder that Archie has his own podcast episode and blog post. Check this out.
Clearly, since he has poor muscle coordination and balance, Archie’s biggest struggle is learning to walk, sit, and stand. You know, like dogs do.
When I got him, Archie was capable of scooting around in his wheelchair using the heavy duty harness that suspended him. He was effectively held in place, and just scrambled his legs around on the ground to make the cart move. Out of the wheelchair, he was able to make 3-5 steps in a row every so often. It was a crapshoot if he’d get on his feet, at all, and his flights were very short lived.
Also, Archie was weird looking when he moved. His legs were weirdly disfigured in a bent, ducklike stance with his feet splaying out in all directions. He hyperextended his wrists, so that his legs were oddly angled. He had next to no strength in his front legs, as the wheelchair harness relieved him from holding himself upright. Best case scenario, he could sit for a few seconds at a time without support; quickly tumbling over as soon as he lost concentration and started to wobble.
Since then, we’ve worked hard. I got rid of the wheelchair harness and switched to less supportive measures that force him to use his front legs to make a move. Sometimes I take out all front support so he’s holding himself up. Sometimes I keep his back legs rather lofty compared to the front height, so he’s primarily using his front toes for movement. Other days, I let him stretch out his front legs so only his tippy toes are touching the ground, and wrap his lower legs to keep the joints straightened.
We also do a lot of work walking around the yard without the chair - both with me “two finger holding” his harness so he can learn to balance and fall without hurting himself, and by coaxing him to stand and come on his own.
The results? Oh shit, that dog can MOVE these days. He’s easily standing up and prancing around for 10-60 seconds at a time, depending largely on his concentration and motivation levels. Sometimes he’s too mobile. He’s actually become a bit of an escape artist, and I’ll find him plopping around the yard, chasing mini horses when I’m not paying enough attention.
I never, EVER would have imagined that his walking would suddenly take off the way it has. He’s still reluctant to sit, but when he does it, the boy is stable and well-balanced. His wheelchair is basically used for morning exercise at this point, so I can keep him moving without killing myself escorting him around the yard. He still needs a lot of calling and coaxing to make him move around, but I think that’s just old remnants of his lazy lifestyle making him a sloth.
The biggest challenge we have right now? Figuring out how to keep him from dragging his knuckles on the ground when we walk on pavement. He tries to “brake” with his toes or just gets lazy and lets his feet scrape along the cement with no regard for the abrasions he’s giving himself. This is challenging if we’re ever not in a big open grassy area - it’s not cool to walk him down the street or sidewalk, because he cuts his feet open and starts bleeding before long. Booties? Don’t work. Hoping that with time and maturity, he’ll just realize that it hurts to let his toes grind on the ground. Or, he won’t need the wheelchair anymore. Fingers crossed.
You know wormtime? The behavior Archie has in which he shakes his head, involuntarily stiffens his limbs, and therefore falls on the ground, writhing around?
Well… I don’t know what to say, but this activity has become annoyingly common for Archie. Where it used to occur maybe 3x an hour, it’s now more like every 3 minutes. I have no idea what to think about this… except hating it because I find it extremely annoying and difficult for training purposes.
I haven’t been able to find any literature about what this weird brain short-circuiting is. Any clues? I’d love to hear them.
So, another weird Archie behavior is his utter terror when he sees food or water headed his way. Since I’ve had him, the dude has been flinging himself across the room to “escape” the “threat” of his bowls. I’ve tried so many different dishes and other solutions, all the way down to feeding him on a placemat or a fabric frisbee before. Nothing ever stopped this wild retreat from sustenance. Nor, was he ever interested in scooting himdamnself over to a source of nutrients or hydration. It was like force-feeding the growing dog, and it was exhausting/stressful to approach several times a day.
Oh lawd, am I happy to report that I’ve found solutions. Rather than torturing ourselves with the dreaded “piles of food,” I started first dumping his kibble out into the grass. This way, he could rummage around for pieces without the apparent fear of seeing a whole scoop of food all at once. It worked! Except it took forever and he lost half his food bits in the dirt. Then, I switched him over to this rummage bowl that’s meant as an enrichment activity for dogs. He can root around in the felt bowl and “grass” to find all the hidden pieces of food. He loves it. He accepts his food HAPPILY and it keeps him busy for a while as he boops and snoots the fabric. I got my time back in my day and I’m happy that he’s no longer trying to kill himself.
On the water front, things are equally improved. I bought a raised feeder/waterer stand that he can access from the height of his wheelchair and slowly started introducing him to the new idea. After a few weeks of coaxing him to stand near the feeder while I held his water bowl, I was able to put the bowl on top of the feeder and transition him to lapping off the doggie furniture. It was still a challenge to get him to go near the water, though.
But, guess what? As of 3 days ago, this dog is scooting himself over to the feeder and accessing water ALL ON HIS OWN. Is this a small feat? Yes, but it feels huge. Also, now I have the unwanted downstream effect of seeing him scoot over to drink water on his own too late in the day. This is bad news for our sleep schedule, so I have to be diligent about keeping him away from the self-serving water bowl now. (seriously, universe?) It quickly became a gift and a curse.
Like I already stated, Archie has gotten strong and secure enough that he’s now a bit of an escape artist, which has made things interesting.
I can’t count on his outdoor playpen to hold him all the time, because he rolls right out of it when he wants to. I still leave him outside for most of the day, where he’s happiest and has the most freedom… but I have to keep a careful eye on him and reinforce his playpen infrastructure if I need a break. It’s still his best option for having the chance to practice tooling around on his own, but you never know when he’s going to be found trotting around the yard all of a sudden.
I also can’t rely on his pop-up kids’ playpens anymore because… well, he fucking ruined both of them… but, also, because he can rear up and get his front legs out of the top at this point, putting him in a precarious situation. After trying to sandwich his cribs in between furniture and patching up all the holes he ripped with his talons, I finally just had to give up when I found him half-in and half-out one day. Eek.
New solution: bought this cool canvas pop-up dog kennel with reinforced steel sides. Essentially, it’s a massive portable dog cage made of strong materials with mesh windows so he can see out. This thing is saving my life. He can’t escape out of it because it’s too tall. There’s less fragile material for him to rip apart with his claws. And it has a zippable top door, so I can lift him in and out just like the crib setup. The only issue? He can tip the kennel over if he gets thrashing wildly enough. The whole jig will flip if his weight is applied too high up on the containing walls. So, he has to be sandwiched (again) in the hallway, where there’s no room for the kennel to capsize.
Want to get strong? Get a 50lb dog that needs to be carried around half of the time. Bring him up and down a flight of stairs at least once every day. Practice directing four flailing limbs into their appropriate compartments as you bend over a moving wheelchair several times a day. I promise, your arms and core will be hulk-ish in no time at all.
Want to get better on your feet? You’ll practice walking backwards, doing cartwheels, and working your glutes with some low squats as you convince a dog to walk back and forth across the yard for several miles a day. Also, helping him to walk next to you as he stumbles and crashes in all different directions is great for improving your balance and footwork. You never know when he’s going to run right into you or tangle his crazy legs up with your feet. Get steady or you’ll both eat shit.
You know what I really don’t have? Patience. You know what Archie requires all day, every day. Yep. Patience. I’ve really had to figure out how to slow down my instinctual reactions (stressing out, beating the crap out of myself, getting upset) and distance myself from my pre-programmed operating manual. I don’t want to be a piece of shit owner, I can’t break my head because of a dog’s non-compliance, and it doesn’t serve me to be stressed out when neither of us can control the situation. No surrender with this pup. Just calm down and figure it out.
I can’t believe that this dog has only been with me for a few months. His progress has been incredible. Also, our mutual learning has been so adaptable and good for everyone. I’ve had to learn patience, less co-dependent behaviors, and out-of-the-box problem solving to deal with his quirks. He’s had to learn to be less of an entitled dweeb and use his damn legs.
There are still challenging days when I feel like he’s trying to murder me, but then there are times when he’s the most joyful and people-pleasing puppy you could imagine. Cumulatively, we’re getting there! One step closer to acting like a real dog every day. And I'm a better human for having him.