(Still catching up – this is from June 7, the last session we had before Ripley and I went on vacation!)
Through a misunderstanding, I arrived at class an hour early. It turned out to be a serendipitous mistake, as it allowed me to spend sixty minutes in a back room simply hanging out with Rocky, grooming her, stroking her, and playing; in other words, bonding in a way we haven’t been able to so far.
I sat on the floor, with my legs apart in a vee. She would wander across the room, sniffing around. I called her name, and she would come running, landing in a heap in my lap, or sliding full body between my legs. Then she would just lie there, head over my thigh, luxuriating in the attention. She will blossom in our home, I am sure of it. She is so ready to be with a primary handler, away from the kennel.
Ripley was a bit confused by me paying attention to Rocky, not sure what her role was. She wandered over periodically, checking in. I completely understand that she is trying to sort this out. Who is this interloper, taking up space in my lap? But there was no hostility or aggression. I tried to include her as much as I could, and she had her blanket, her “safe space,” to return to, when Rocky and I were involved with each other. Sabrina was also there to help out.
There was a poodle in a kennel in the same room who barked much of the time which was annoying and gave Sabrina a headache so that wasn’t great, but otherwise – the hour was very good. Only one incident. Rocky kept licking one foot. She let me look at her other feet, was very good about letting me touch her body all over. But when I tried to examine the troublesome toe, at first she was OK, but then she got squirrelly, and wouldn’t let me see. Jared, the trainer, came into the room towards the end of the hour, and I asked him about it. He called Rocky over to the couch, and commanded her to give him the foot. She did. He looked at it, and said it was just a scab. But then I noticed she had peed on the floor. Clearly there are some fear issues here. She will do what he tells her to, but only because, at times, he demands it. Jared is a good trainer; but our styles are different. He sometimes uses a stronger approach than I feel is necessary, and I can tell already that Rocky is as sensitive as Ripley is. Strong is not needed. She will respond to a much lighter approach. One more reason that it will be good for us to have her out of the kennel soon, and in our home, so that I am her primary handler.
I had to use to the bathroom before class, and I had Rocky, so I told Sabrina to take Ripley. That was weird for all concerned – for me, to be in a bathroom with another dog, and for Ripley, to let me disappear from her sight. Even in these smallest of things, there are going to be big adjustments for all of us.
For our training session, we had two other female classmates, one with a big galoot of a Mastiff, and the other with a young mixed breed, lean but taller than Rocky. From the get-go, it was a difficult night. The Mastiff wasn’t cooperating, so Jared once or twice got his attention with a squirt of canned air, each time scaring the bejesus out of Rocky. After the first blast, Rocky kept trying to avoid Jared, and leave the room, which meant each time one of our exercises landed us near the doorway, she pulled in that direction.
Jared was still trying to help the woman with the Mastiff, using verbal corrections, and they tended to be in the middle of the room. So everywhere Rocky and I went, we ran into them, with Rocky shying away. To make matters worse, there was a new kennel helper who was watching the class, and she was doing things such as praising Rocky when she executed a command correctly, or offering suggestions, talking to me, saying, “Jared told me that….”
I was trying to pay attention to Rocky, knowing full well what was going on and what I needed to do, and trying desperately to get Rocky to focus on me. Argh! By the end of the class, Rocky finally did some really great, attentive “comes.” Jared was talking to me, as I listened out of the corner of my ear, saying, “Yes, good, big praise for that one.” At the the same moment, the kennel helper said, “Good girl, Rocky!” I had reached my limit. I turned to her and said, “It would be very helpful if you didn’t praise my dog when I am working with her.” She immediately apologized, and stopped her interruptions.
After class, we spoke briefly, and I asked her name, said I hadn’t meant to be rude. She said Rocky is her favorite in the kennel, assured me she understood. I also spoke to Jared privately, said, ” I hope you didn’t mind; I had to say that.” He just smiled, said, “She’s new. She’ll learn. It was a hard day.”
And it was a hard day. But I left feeling hopeful, because Rocky and I had connected so strongly in play, and we had also persevered through the tough training situation, and had still managed to work as a team.