Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Tajji Diaries: The Wolf in Winter

Tajji December 2016
It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about Tajji, the retired seeing eye dog we adopted in 2014. She is a sweet, loving dog, but had become leash-reactive (not aggressive) to other dogs and sometimes people, making her unsuitable for service work. We worked with her, enrolling in “reactive rover” classes that used positive techniques to lower her anxiety and teach us to help her out in challenging situations. Although she was already an old dog, she learned new tricks: eye contact with humans, “let’s go!” detachment from stressful situations, “puppy Zen” and more. She’s made significant progress, and even though from time to time we are surprised by oncoming dogs on our walks, she trusts us to get her to a safe place. Consequently, she’s better able to tolerate the presence of other dogs while on leash. We’ve been able to walk her by yards with barking, lunging dogs, using our management techniques. Although we continue practicing, we don’t hold out hope that one day we will be able to walk her anywhere, with pass-bys with other dogs and other difficult situations. This is fine with us. Our deal with Tajji is a safe and happy retirement, and so far that’s the case. She clearly enjoys her walks (and all the neighborhood dog and wild animal smells); when we get out her harness, she romps around the living room, tail wagging madly, before dashing for the back door. Her joy is contagious, especially on frosty mornings when we aren’t all that enthusiastic about going for a walk. She gets us out the door.

In addition to walking on paved roads, we have found a place to take Tajji hiking. A nearby retreat center has given us permission to walk with her on their trails as long as we pick up after her and she is on leash. For this, we use a retractable lead to give her a greater range to roam. Some of the paths are fairly smooth and level, but others are definitely hiking territory, narrow twisty trails that involve changes in elevation and scrambling over fallen trees. She loves these hikes, and clearly they exercise her brain as well as her body.

Tajji and Shakir hanging out
Tajji came to us with only rudimentary cat skills. We’re pretty sure she was exposed to them by her initial foster family, but her blind owner didn’t have cats. She has a very low prey drive for a German Shepherd Dog, undoubtedly due to Fidelco’s breeding, selection, and training standards. We took our time introducing her to our two dog-savvy cats, and she has become fast friends with the male. They play chase, he rubs up against her, and they often “hang out” or cuddle together.

In the 2 ½ years we’ve had Tajji, she has become noticeably more gray in the muzzle. Although she has no major health issues, she limps occasionally and moves stiffly on cold mornings. She will trot willingly, but no longer wants to run. The vet prescribed supplements and NSAID arthritis medicine as needed, and the combination seems to make her more comfortable. But given her age and how hard she has worked (physically as well as psychologically), we feel she is entitled to take it easy. We try to take her for a walk or hike every day to keep her joints and muscles in shape.

The other major physical change we have noticed is a deterioration in Tajji’s hearing. As far as we can tell, her vision is still quite good, but she no longer responds instantly to someone knocking at the door or being called from across the house. Commands spoken in a soft voice must often be repeated more loudly. Fortunately, we began teaching her hand signals as soon as she came to live with us, and we have been relying on those more and on verbal commands less. She seems quite content with the shift.

I’ve heard folks say they want to get a puppy so the dog will bond with them and won’t come with any bad habits. Tajji came to us with her own history, training, and personality. She presented us with challenges; some we have resolved better than others. She isn’t perfect, and neither are we. But with a little patience, a bit of perspective on what’s really important, and a huge serving of love, we get to share in the joy of her twilight years. 


  1. Thanks so much for the update. Our "furry family" mean the world to us -- warts and all. I have three dogs and four cats. They don't always get along, but they try. I don't know what I'd do without them!