A few months ago we posted several updates from Elizabeth Lujambio, founder of Marley’s Pit Stop in Los Angeles, on Liza Bean, the shy pit bull she’s fostering whose debilitating fearfulness was the subject of a phone consultation Elizabeth won with It’s Me or the Dog star Victoria Stilwell.
Well, it turns out that Victoria, a true dog lover, went above and beyond the call of duty and paid a visit to Elizabeth and Liza Bean in person!
Here’s Elizabeth’s account (see all her posts here):
The movie studios in Los Angeles couldn’t have staged a more perfect Manhattan Beach day: a slight ocean breeze, warm sunshine, a gorgeous dog and a beautiful British import!
Lucky Liza Bean finally got to meet her trainer extraordinaire, Victoria Stilwell, who took time away from her family on her only day off to give Marley’s Pit Stop volunteer Dave and me even more tips on how to help Liza prepare for a new home.
The first thing we noticed was that when Victoria was making eye contact
with Liza, Liza did not seem intimidated as she usually does when
someone approaches her. We noticed that Victoria was blinking frequently and thought maybe she had
something in her eye, but Victoria explained that,
while eye contact is important in establishing a relationship
with a pooch, it’s important to make sure the dog understands the
eye contact is friendly. A quick closing of the eyes means the difference between a
stare and a friendly look to a dog. Who would have known that
batting one’s eyes also works with dogs!
We also learned that, although Liza likes people, having a new person step back from
her — so that it’s Liza who decides to make the first move towards the person — is a key gesture in building Liza’s
In addition, since Liza actually shrinks when a person pets the top of
her head, Victoria told us it was important that Liza’s first physical
contact with a new person come in the form of a gentle pet under the chin and not on
top of her head. Liza loved her petting session!
the more challenging things for Liza has been to begin a walk with a
new person at the other the end of the leash. More often than not, Liza
would make herself a big anchor and lie flat on the floor. In the
past, we would give her a few little tugs to get her going and she would eventually follow reluctantly.
we instead use Liza’s own desire … for treats! She let Liza smell the yummy treat (in this case, Dick Van Patten’s turkey
sausage) and then moved a bit ahead so that if Liza wanted the treat,
she would have to go and get it. Not only did Liza make the decision
to follow a friendly person for a treat, but it was done on Liza’s
terms, further building her confidence. It got to the point where Liza
actually started walking towards Victoria whenever she would see her!
Victoria recommended we put these new tips into practice with any
friendly people we meet so that the world will once again be Liza’s friend.
While we understand that the most important gift we can
give Liza is time and confidence training, she will at some point be
ready for her new home, and Victoria helped us see that our usual manner of doing home
deliveries may not work for Liza. Traditionally, after we
conduct a home-check, do sniff-’n-whiffs with other animals in the
home and sign paperwork, we have the adopter take their new
companion for a walk and then come home. Then the
new guardian walks one way and we walk the opposite way back to our car.
This would not be a good way of handling a dog with confidence issues, since a shy pooch might feel
abandoned. Victoria recommended we stay in the home and leave only
after the new pooch is on the walk, or in some cases wait for
the guardian to come back so the pooch feels the new home is a familiar,
safe place. Since Liza is an extreme case, we will practice this exercise
a few times before we actually leave her in her forever home.
The next step for Liza, barring her finding a forever home, is to secure
a new loving and safe foster home so that she learns about another
environment and can continue her confidence training. This will be a
bit like me, her current foster mom, sending a child to college … I
know I need to do it, but I want to take it in baby steps to help disguise the
fact that my “baby” is growing up!
I can’t wait to let you all know
about when Liza gets “married” and moves to her forever home and hope you will all remind me that I’m
not losing a child, but gaining a family! As always, without the
support of Petfinder, Victoria Stilwell and all of Liza’s fans, this journey
would not have happened and we thank you from the bottom of our
hearts. Wish Liza well!!
[Editor's note--The family who adopts Liza Bean will also be entitled to a 20-minute phone consultation with Victoria. To learn more about adopting Liza, visit her Petfinder profile here.]