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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Good day, everyone. I'm new to the forum but not new to owning dogs. However, the dog I am fostering is different from any of my previous dogs and I'm at a loss. :(

To sort of set the stage, I live on a sailboat in the Caribbean. During Covid lock downs and curfews, my husband and I decided that fostering a dog would be a good idea. I came home with Pi, a 2-3 year old tripawd island dog, in mid September. Her right hind was amputated in July (the vet said the break looked like she had been kicked), and her owner didn't want a 3 legged dog. The foster deal with the animal hospital is that I provide a home and food, and they take care of veterinary needs.

It's been a long 2.5 months trying to figure out the cause of the allergy symptoms she presents (ear infections, paw licking, face hugging). She also had tape worm when she came, which she was treated for. She's now on Apoquel while I try a fish based diet. And yes, I'm fishing just about every day to feed her as there are no dog foods available without chicken...and we already tried a chicken and rice elimination diet with no success. To be completely honest, I think this is a failed foster in the fact that.....she's probably mine. No one here, local or transient, is going to want a 3 legged dog with allergies.

Anyway, at first she was super impressionable, and easy to train. The boat is such a change from her previous life (as basically a street dog), she was probably just insecure and clinging to me as I meant "safety". She was surprisingly easy to potty train to an astroturf mat on deck, we seemed to be making solid progress with basic commands like "sit, down, high five, come". She was especially food motivated when she was on a course of steroids (to reduce allergy inflammation) and had an unknown case of tapeworm.

Now? She's ignoring my commands (particularly recall) despite having zero distractions and rewarding the crap out of them consistently and immediately. I'm pretty sure she has an abusive background, but I've never raised my voice or hand to her. I try to set her up for easy success to get our training jump started again, but she doesn't go for it, even for her favorite treats, like cheese. I've reached an all time low of resorting to bribery, and even that doesn't work these days. Sometimes she's wild about the peanut butter baked treats I make and cheese (she'll spend 30 minutes trying to dig it out of my hand at night) and other times she'll barely take it, let it fall from her mouth, and be totally disinterested (with no apparent stressors in her environment). My husband has been a little frustrating with his own "training ideas", which has been annoying but I've worked hard to show Pi that I'm consistent even if he is not. What I mean is that he will call her, and give up if she doesn't come - giving her permission to ignore and often throwing a treat at her for absolutely nothing. He gives commands at inappropriate times (like at night, I taught her to wait beside the bed for a treat-stuffed-Kong, and he calls her to get on the bed....which she ignores). Anyway, at this point she will just lay there and maybe look at me when I call, but....that's it. Right now, she doesn't even come out to the main salon when I'm holding her rice, fish, and veggie breakfast in my hands. Honestly, it's totally possible she's on strike and wants her chicken and kibble back.

Now, some of you may be thinking that living on a boat with a dog is cruel but....let me just say that she really has adapted better than most 4 legged dogs and when we go ashore she is very fearful. I've finally got it so she's comfortable playing with me on one of the marinas big docks, but ask her to step ashore into the world - and her hackles raise, she actively avoids all living creatures (occasionally growling, but that has reduced), and will stop dead and refuse to move unless it's back in the direction of our dinghy. If I let her off leash and walk towards the dinghy, she will lead and hop in to go back to "her island" (the big boat).

It's only been 2.5 months since she moved aboard, and about a week ago the vet gave me an Adaptil collar to put on her. She's been getting progressively more reclusive and spending time alone (since the Adaptil collar?). If she had her way, she'd spend all day curled up in our cabin - alone. The vet gave her a clean bill of health before she came (of course, we realized she had allergies and tape worm...). There has been one other mysterious health issue, but it's been impossible to figure out. On two separate days, over a month apart, she had "episodes". By episode, I mean she is resting comfortably (not asleep) and suddenly she yelps and cries. She tries to move away (from ??? - nothing touching her), and then she acts lethargic for 12-24 hours. She never indicated through licking or pointing where this "pain" is coming from and no amount of poking or prodding produces a "eureka - that's it!" moment. She poops, pees, and eats normally (she never drinks enough, I have to add a lot of water to her food). The vet is befuddled. Her coat looks beautiful, and she appears to be super healthy.

All this to say...it's probably a case of "if I could train the dog a fraction as well as she trains me, I'd have a superstar". I don't know what to do. A good recall is going to be the difference between life and death on a sailboat. It's important, but I'm failing. Suggestions? Tips? Be aware that there are no resources here on this tiny island beyond basic veterinary care. I'm not going to be able to go to a behaviorist or a trainer. It's all on me.

Thanks for reading my book! ;)
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Quite a challenge you have there, Pi does seem to have landed in a good suitation though

One thought is that when you are feeding a really highly yummy diet like raw or home cooked, that in a dog who may not be super food motivated to begin with it can really reduce the persuasion power of treats.
Maybe try some toy rewards? Tug or such?

A few months into a new home is a major adjustment period, she may be slightly stressed and just need to have more downtime.

Her "episodes" with lethargy afterwards make me wonder about maybe a seizure? Dogs can have epilipsy, the good thing is that usually inexpensive human epilipsy medications work for them too.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thanks, Shell! She had no idea what a toy was, never mind how to play when she came. It's been a hysterical progression. She plays more like a cat than any dog I've ever known (lots of paw action, and pouncing/pinching anything that moves under the bed covers). Anyway, we have learned tug and she enjoys a good game - but not all the time. Like treats, sometimes she considers her favorites to be high value and other times there's a total lack of interest. I've even thought about withholding her food and having her work for it instead of trying to work with an already satiated/full dog. I do think she is much more enthusiastic about kibble and chicken than this home cooked fish diet.

She was used to nearly zero one on one attention, and now she is saturated with it. She could just need the down time. However, she does enjoy attention and belly rubs whenever offered but doesn't seek it out. I think under her fearful/insecure shell - she is probably a pretty independent dog which is why I'm trying not to be too alarmed with the latest development of retreating to be alone in our aft cabin. She likes to play on our bed the most (it's the one soft pad she can really throw herself around on - everything else is hardwood) and likes to cuddle most of the night.

I've read that focal seizures can manifest as behavioral abnormalities. I'll keep it in mind to mention to the vet, who is probably sick of my constant worry & analysis of Pi... I've described the behavior to them, and they agree it's very strange but say "I guess the important thing is that she recovers from whatever it is and it doesn't happen too often."...
 

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Nothing wrong with having her "work" for her meals. You can use her regular serving size of meals spread out into several training sessions or feed one normal meal and break the other into parts for training.

a note on home cooked diets though-- you have to be extra diligent about balancing the nutrients including minerals like calcium and phosphorus. Too much and too little are both bad. Organ meats like liver and kidney are important for iron, zinc etc. Egg shells can be a non-bone source of calcium.
I know meat can be expensive in most of the Islands (I worked a summer in Barbados and I think I bought non-chicken meat once maybe cause that price tag!) but if you chat with a butcher or small time farmer, you might be able to get some scraps or offal to supplement.

I get where the vet is coming from about well, if it doesnt happen often and she bounces back, then shoulder shrug. I would suggest getting a notebook and writing down your observations of her with dates. Not just medical (but you do want to track frequency of episodes) but ups and downs of training, her response to food, toys, to other places and people etc. Not a novel but maybe a couple sentances each day.
With adult adopted dogs, sometimes change is gradual and hard to notice and sometimes its ups and downs and you can't see the progress when its in a down. You can pick up patterns and find successes better if you can remember what she was like the month prior.
 

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Maybe the dog gets seasick? Kind of joking, but maybe the feeling of being in a boat is unnatural for her?
Just a thought.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Maybe the dog gets seasick? Kind of joking, but maybe the feeling of being in a boat is unnatural for her?
Just a thought.
I've entertained the thought! I haven't been able to conclusively correlate her lackluster performance periods with a particular motion of the boat. At anchor we generally sit pretty still aside from the occasional ferry wake or westerly swell, but it still probably is very alien to her. Even if it's not the whole problem, it could a contributing factor if she's not super seasick - just slightly nauseous. It's also frustrating for her that the floors are hardwood, and slipping is an issue - especially with 3 legs. I made her some booties with baby socks and caulking beads, but they tend to fly off as she runs. I have an order of toe grips, grippy dog socks, and a set of Ruffwear grip trex boots - but won't be able to try them until they are sent in a bigger shipment we are putting together from the USA.
 
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