Wednesday, August 18, 2010
She Trusts Me!
Sometimes, dogs are reactive because they feel they need to take charge. For whatever reason, they’ve decided that the best way to take care of an anxiety-provoking situation is to act instead of looking to their handler to take care of it for them. For the longest time, Maisy has been a take-charge kind of gal, and I’ve always felt a bit sad about this. I felt like I was doing something wrong, letting her down somehow. Even though I’ve gotten a lot better about protecting her over the past year, Maisy has continued to feel the need to take care of things herself instead of turning to me to do it.
In the last couple of weeks, however, Maisy has finally begun to trust me with more responsibility. In our reactive dog class last week, we were doing our usual “box work,” where each dog does some simple exercises with a high rate of reinforcement in order to develop the ability to focus and work when other dogs are around. Maisy was one of the watchers- she was supposed to remain calm and on her mat while the other dogs did silly things like interact with a tippy board.
The tippy board, basically a miniature teeter, made some banging noises, which caused Maisy to get a bit upset. However, instead of barking or lunging, Maisy instead got off her mat and sat pressed up next to my leg. She still watched what was going on, and she was still distressed by it, but instead of reacting, she appeared to be letting me handle the situation! (For my part, I told her how awesome she is, fed her a few treats, and then quietly took her out of sight of the scary tippy board.)
As if that weren’t cool enough, she did the same thing around some kids! Long-term readers will remember that Maisy has conflicting feelings about children. She’s interested in them, but at the same time, they kind of scare her. I don’t blame her: they can be loud, they tend to run around erratically, and they don’t do a very good job of stopping when they should.
Anyway, we were invited to join my father-in-law for a family cookout at a nearby golf resort. I debated whether or not to bring Maisy along, because I knew there would be kids present, but as it turned out, she did fabulous. There were two young girls there, ages 3 and 2, who thought Maisy’s “trick” of repeatedly bringing back a tennis ball was fabulous. For her part, Maisy thought that their “trick” of repeatedly throwing it was pretty awesome, too.
Well, at least she did until the girls began chasing her when she was chasing the ball. I could see by her body language that Maisy was getting overwhelmed, and the last time that happened, she air-snapped at my nephew. She didn’t make contact- didn’t even come close- but because I live in the world of better safe than sorry, I decided I’d better step in earlier this time. But before I got a chance to call Maisy away from the girls, she trotted over, put me between her and them, and pressed herself up against my side!
I was so proud! It’s one thing to make good choices in class- it’s highly structured, and we go to the same place and see the same dogs every week- but it’s another thing entirely to make good choices in a new environment with new people around. Despite the challenges, Maisy was still able to say, “Mom, could you please take care of this, please?” So I did, feeling honored that she finally asked.