I was asked this week if I would help my dog trainer by allowing Stella to have a "play date" with a client of hers that has a five month old puppy with problems. The poor pup is already on his second home but lucky for him seems to have landed an owner who is willing to work hard to help him overcome his issues. He is overwhelmed with the world and has no dog skills. My trainer had hoped that having the pup meet a female pup the same age and size would make the pup comfortable enough to possible want to play a bit. Unfortunately it turned out that the pup wasn't quite ready for that step so instead the trainer worked doing some BAT (behaviour adjustment training) which involves rewarding calm choices by the dog with distance from the stressful situation.
I was super pleased with Stella's behavior during all of these exercises. She exhibited very appropriate greeting style and offered lots of calming behaviours to the other pup. I felt that she was always quite comfortable and looked to me for direction when the other pup reacted towards her. I am also very pleased with her interactions when meeting other dogs, she is happy to play but also just as quick to abandon her playmate and come back to me when requested. It makes me so sad about this other poor puppy. His true history is unknown but I think it's safe to say that a little bit of work from the breeder and a proper first home that was aware of socializing would have made a difference in this puppy's life.
This episode reminds me of how I met a very good friend. I frequently attend an outdoor drop in class with Riley that lets us work basic obedience in a group of dogs and a distracting environment. We started back when he was in his @ss phase at around two years old. That trainer works with a lot of reactive dogs so there are often some in the class. One day a year and half ago a woman in the class was having a particularly hard day with her dog and was in tears. I offered to go walking with her if she wanted and luckily for both of us she took me up on my offer. Since that time we have developed a great friendship and her dog has improved tremendously.
Riley had the right set of skills to work with this dog (S). Sometimes when a dog makes a "friend" that is the start of the journey to realize that not all other dogs are bad. S will likely never be a dog that you would trust unsupervised or loose in a dog park but she is a dog that can ignore others and walk by them without freaking out. Riley ignored her for quite a while and then as they grew more comfortable with each other he slowly became more social and has even on occassion offered true play behaviours now. S has a huge crush on Riley and we all enjoy the walks we get to take together. I was quite horrified to hear the comments and reactions people have had in the past to her based on her dog's reactivity. Some people are just downright cruel and at a time when someone is already feeling overwhelmed can destroy all confidence and hope. Based on that I try to offer a kind word or smile when I see someone having problems with their dog. Perhaps that little bit of encouragment will help make the difference for someone to want to not give up on their dog and work through the situation. Pay it forward because we never know when we will need help from someone in the future and maybe you also will be lucky enough to gain a good friend like I did.
Here is a picture of Riley and his "girlfriend" S last summer after a fun session swimming at the river and a nice long walk. Riley was wearing booties because he kept ripping open a sore on his paw on the river rocks.