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Scared, shy dog just needed a chance or two

By Sarah Thornton

To those who know Dakota, she’s a sweet couch potato who loves to snuggle. She likes walks, playing with toys and she goes all wiggly for a nice belly rub. But when it came to new faces, she was always very shy and nervous. She needed plenty of hands-off time to get used to new people and other dogs. Seeing a stranger while out on a walk made her freeze in place until she deemed it safe enough to move on. For Dakota, new was scary.

When Michael and Alena Eberle heard about Dakota, she sounded like the perfect match for them. And after seeing her snuggled up under a desk during their virtual meet-and-greet, they knew they had to meet her in person. But when the meeting took place, they hesitated. Would she do well in their home? Would she eventually warm up and be the snuggly, lovely dog her caregivers knew?

Michael and Alena took a chance and brought Dakota home that day. And she ended up being so much more than they expected.

[Virtual pet meet-and-greets open doors to new families]

Michael and Alena with Dakota the dog in the snow

Slow start for a shy, scared dog

Dakota’s first few weeks in her new home were difficult. She was nervous and shaking all the time with her tail tucked between her legs. New was still scary, and now everything was new.

When Dakota left Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, her collar, harness and a GPS tracker went with her. Michael and Alena had been warned that Dakota could be a flight risk, especially as she got used to her new home. On walks they noticed this, as Dakota pulled against the leash, trying to run and hide. When she spotted another human or dog, she reverted to past behavior by freezing up.

Michael says the one place Dakota seemed comfortable was on the couch. “Dakota spent her first month mostly lying on the end cushion of our couch, only getting up to eat, drink and go on walks,” he says. “It was her safe place and we let her have it.”

At home, Dakota’s new family tried to give her all the space she needed to feel comfortable, get used to them and become familiar with new surroundings. When it was time to go for a walk, they stuck to a familiar routine by staying on one trail.

“Routine was good for Dakota,” says Michael, “and she definitely became more comfortable relatively fast. First, she wouldn't stop when passing other people or dogs. Then her tail got out from between her legs. Then she started smiling and passersby would comment on how happy she looked. Then Dakota was walking up to five miles round trip and enjoying it.”

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While Dakota got more comfortable on her walks during the day, nighttime was still a struggle. Because she had to stay on her leash, any potty trip from the apartment to the front lawn in the middle of the night was an ordeal. And when she wasn’t waking up her new family to go to the bathroom, she had nightmares.

After bringing Dakota home, Michael and Alena noticed they seemed tired all the time. “My wife and I were feeling like new parents,” says Michael. “For about a month we didn't sleep more than three hours at a time, either due to Dakota needing to go out or Dakota having doggy nightmares and whining, barking and crying in her sleep.

“We let her sleep at the foot of our bed on a blanket chest so that she would feel close to us and we would be close by to wake her up during a nightmare. Dakota was having four or five nightmares a night and would require a quick pet or hug to wake up and relax. I felt like I was sleeping with my eyes open just waiting to hear her cry so that I could get up and wake her up.”

The lack of sleep and Dakota’s continuing anxiety caused Alena to wonder if the adoption was a mistake But they gave it more time, and it paid off.

[Shy dog no longer lets fear get in the way of happiness]

Dakota the dog running and playing in the snow with her two adopters

Going to work with a confident new Dakota

Dakota the dog in a ski shop with a personBy the time the three of them moved to their new home (a house with a backyard and a doggy door so she could take herself out at night), Dakota had gotten so used to her people that settling in was much easier than her first move. She knew her family and her home. She finally felt safe, comfortable and secure enough that even new things weren’t so scary anymore.

Michael and Alena spent several months at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and when it was time for them to return to work, they worried about what Dakota would do all day with them gone. She had that nice new doggy door, so they weren’t worried about her needing to go to the bathroom. But Michael, who works at a ski shop owned by Alena’s parents, had a better idea.

The family’s black Labs always came to work with her parents and hung out for the day. “They are the happiest dogs you'll ever see,” says Michael. “I knew that Dakota had a chance of being the same kind of dog.”

He started bringing Dakota with him every day when he went to work. And once she knew what was waiting for her (a big ski shop to run around in, fun new dog friends, shuttle rides and customers’ laps to fall asleep on), going to work became her new favorite thing.

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Dakota sticks to Michael like glue. “When Dakota is with me at work,” he says, “she wants to be right next to me. If I start walking away to go into another department of our shop, Dakota follows right behind me. She lies down when I am behind the counter and absorbs all of the love from our customers.

“Customers ask me how long I've had her and they can't believe it's only been a few months. Dakota receives so many compliments about how well-behaved and how well-trained she is. She is the most loyal dog ever and follows me everywhere … She never lets me leave her sight.”

Michael says Dakota has truly blossomed in the months since she came home with them. She’s a confident, energetic dog whose tail never stops wagging. She meets new people with enthusiasm and new dogs are all potential playmates. Now, new is good.

Michael and Alena couldn’t agree more about their decision to adopt Dakota. “We couldn't be happier and we love Dakota so much,” says Michael. “I think Dakota is forgetting whatever past trauma she had, and she is starting to enjoy life again in a relaxed manner, like she is finally at peace and stopping to see the flowers along the way.”

Man wearing a mask giving a treat to Dakota the dog in the ski shop

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Photos by Molly Wald

Tags: Dogtown