Family falls for shy canine escape artist

Smokey the dog, outside, wearing a blue collar
Smokey’s a notorious fence hopper who’s not really into snuggles, but it was love at first sight for a new family that adores him just as he is.
By Sarah Thornton

Smokey came to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary as an already accomplished escape artist. He’d kept members of his previous foster family on their toes after figuring out his trick — “parkouring” right over any fence in his way. As soon as he knew no one was looking, he was out, off and searching for new dogs to play with.

Other dogs have always been his preferred friends. Shy with people, he backs away from attempts to pet or handle him. It just takes a while for him to feel comfortable around new people. That, combined with a general dislike for getting into the car, made it even more complicated to fetch him when he ran off. He always made it back by the end of the day, but the worry that something could happen never went away.

At Best Friends, with help from his caregivers, canine companions and another foster family, he started to gain confidence. And though his “flight-risk disclaimer” remained and he wasn’t an overnight snuggler, he made it into a home with people who love him, and he loves them right back.

Discovering the fun of supervised adventures

When Smokey arrived at the Sanctuary, he was shy, but in a kind of set-in-his-ways manner. Caregiver Janna Kruse says they had to figure out how to work with what he was OK with, rather than try to get him to do things he said “no” to. “Things we usually work on with every shy dog — like let’s get a harness on you — just never happened,” she says.

He walked fine using his collar, though, and quite enjoyed his walks. So, his caregivers decided not to press the harness but, instead, work with what he was comfortable with and build from there. At first, he would only walk as long as he had one of his dog friends with him. As he got familiar with the trails and more comfortable with his caregivers, he could go without another dog. And then he graduated to walking alone with volunteers.

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Smokey simply knew what he liked (dogs, treats, and walks) and what he didn’t. He was nice and polite but he just didn’t want to be touched. And he certainly didn’t want to get into someone’s car all willy-nilly. It presented a challenge because to go to a new home one day, he’d need to get in a car.

“That was really hard for him,” Janna says. “He would do it when he wanted to, but nothing would motivate him the same every time.” (Everywhere fun that he went, he walked. So why get in a car?

A turning point was when some family members came to Kanab, Utah (near the Sanctuary), to do some remote work and have an extended vacation. They contacted Best Friends to locate a dog they could foster, and Smokey was the first to come to mind. “Shy dogs do better in foster, generally, because of the one-on-one time and the routine,” says Janna. “And the reason this was so exciting to me was (the fact that) they wanted a hiking buddy. And to go hiking you have to get in a car to go somewhere to hike.”

So, with a GPS collar just to be safe, Smokey headed to his new foster home.

Although he loved the family’s dog, at first he wouldn’t follow him into the car. When they tried treats, he happily ate them without making much “carward” progress. It ultimately came down to lots of patience. But once he was finally in the car and traveling to the start of a hiking trail, Smokey realized that getting in the car meant the start of an adventure. This would make him much more cooperative on future car rides.

The family also worked on getting Smokey more comfortable with people. They taught him tricks, including a high-five. (He was never comfortable with a full handshake.) And they worked with him on anything that would get him a little closer to them in a fun way. He was comfortable with guests coming over, and he wanted to be in the room with the family.

“It was just really neat to see him in a home,” Janna says, adding that Smokey’s foster experience made her feel that he would do well in a permanent situation. Soon, he would have a chance to prove it.

Love at first sight

Skip and Kitty Brown came to the Sanctuary in search of a furry family member. A year earlier, they’d said a sad final farewell to one of their dogs after a good life together. And they were ready to welcome another adult dog into the fold. With them was their little dog, Tucker, so that he could meet any potential siblings.

They had a list of a few dogs they were interested in, but as soon as they met Smokey, there was no question about it: He was the one. “I remember seeing the look in Skip’s eyes,” says Janna. Smokey was the one, and it didn’t matter that he couldn’t touch him. “I just liked him from (the time) I first saw him,” Skip says, matter-of-factly.

Smokey, it seemed, returned the sentiment. When they took him for a sleepover at the Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile, he quickly warmed up to his family-to-be. He especially took to Tucker, more than happy to let him take the lead in all their interactions. He even accepted a few head-pats from Skip and Kitty. He fit right in.

In the morning, Janna met up with the family (in case they needed help getting Smokey into their car). But without prompting, he jumped in all on his own. And back at the Sanctuary, he even let his caregivers put a harness on him for extra security. Smokey was ready to go wherever this new family was headed. 

Patience and fun, right at home

Smokey had no complaints on their long road trip home to Oregon, and after every bathroom break, he loaded right back into the car behind Tucker. And after they made it home and he started to settle in, car rides became one of his favorite things. He’d made a lot of progress with his foster family, and being with Skip, Kitty and Tucker seemed to seal the deal.

True to form, once Smokey decided on something, his mind was made up. And he decided he was happy to hop into the car as long as it meant he was going somewhere with his family. He likes going places so much that he can barely contain his excitement. And while his leash is 30 feet long (to give him plenty of space if he needs it), he rarely takes advantage of it. “He doesn’t always get very far away from Skip, even though he has a long leash,” Kitty says.

Shortly after they arrived home, Smokey’s love of going places did result in him taking a quick foray into the neighbor’s yard. But he followed Skip right back, and now everyone is extra careful to never let him out of their sight.

[Loving a shy dog: An adopter’s story]

Smokey likes to keep tabs on his people, too. He follows them from room to room, always keeping them within his line of sight and, of course, looking out for any tasty treats they may have for him. “I was doing stuff in the kitchen the other day for a couple of hours,” Kitty says, “and he just lay there watching me the whole time.”

Skip and Kitty make sure not to pressure Smokey into anything he doesn’t want to do. Instead, they keep the cookies flowing to reward his interactions and good behavior. And while he’s still not up for full-body skritches and petting, he does enjoy a nice head-pat a couple of times a day — something his people are happy to provide.

It’s safe to say that Smokey has made himself at home. He has his new best friend, Tucker, to show him the ropes and lead the way, while Skip and Kitty are there to coax him out of his shell so he can blossom even further. He might always have an itch for exploration, but with his family keeping a watchful eye on him, he’s learning to enjoy all the adventures life has to offer that don’t involve traipsing off on his own.

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