Thursday, February 7, 2013


On Sunday, Rubi had her first day of therapy dog class. Now, I don’t expect Rubi to ever pass a therapy dog test. I mean, it’d be nice, but that’s a lot of time an energy and testing and did I mention how much I hate taking tests? So not only would it be a lot of work, but I’m also just not that motivated to do it. I’m not ruling out the idea of Rubi ever passing a therapy dog test, but I’m also not about to put it on the bucket list.

I had several reasons for enrolling Rubi in this class, though. First, most of the other dogs in the class are therapy dog candidates, so they already have basic manners (ie, aren't likely to bark and lunge at us), and their handlers know what they’re doing as well (ie, they aren't likely to let their dog bark and lunge at us). Second, there will be many opportunities for Rubi to practice her impulse control. Rubi is about as friendly as the flu bug and almost as unpleasant what with her desire to jump on/become one with all strangers. Last, I’m hoping for a few new chances for socialization. Rubi doesn't have much, if any, experience with objects like walkers and wheelchairs. I’m looking forward to the chance the teach her a little self control when it comes to new things.

Our first day went about the way I’d expect from a dog who’s done lots of nothing all winter and then had to sit in the car for two hours before class. That is to say, she was just this side of obnoxious. Her impulse control was pretty much nil when it came to impulse control games with people and food, and she whined pretty much incessantly for the first twenty minutes of class. Whining and sighing dramatically for attention is not a new behavior, but it has gotten dramatically worse in the past three months, particularly in situations where there’s food. Or where there might be food. Or where there might be something that isn't food but might be edible.. At home, I've been able to manage it pretty well by ignoring her and making the food go away when she starts. But if I ignore Rubi in class, then she starts to ignore me in class.

Which is fair, I suppose, but you can see how that could be trouble in a room full of dogs.

I haven’t yet decided how to handle this in class. I’ve noticed a direct correlation between Rubi’s volume and how much exercise she’s had, but it’s going to be hard to ensure she receives an appropriate amount of exercise when she has the hour be fore class to nap in the car while Jai is in class. When she gets really obnoxious, I may try using time outs in a quiet area away from all the fun (that means the car), but I’m always hesitant to use time outs. For my other dogs, taking the fun away is a pretty severe punishment. For Rubi, I’m not certain she cares that much about me/what we’re doing in order for time outs to be effective. Still, it’s on the table, and I’m having a hard time thinking of other options.

On a happier note, Rubi was pretty dang fantastic with the other dogs in class. She was really appropriate working in close quarters with the other dogs and was able to tolerate them coming quite close to her, much closer than the length of a six foot leash. She even behaved herself for an (accidental) on-leash face-to-face greeting with another dog, something that even recently has been guaranteed to start a fight. And by “recently,” I mean last month. Personally, I think Rubi is just smitten with the black and tans. 

Rubi giving me the doggie finger for not  letting her go hang out with the  Rottweilers.

Two the end of our last session of RPE, I brought Rubi to class to watch the level one dogs. Afterward, a bunch of the regulars and their dogs were hanging out in the middle of the ring talking, and Rubi and joined them. After a few minutes of conversation, I turned to the lady next to me, who has known Rubi for even longer than I have, and said, “Look! No screaming.”
My friend gave me a slightly blank look and said, “I didn't even notice.”

She didn't fail to notice Rubi because B was being so quite either – it was just it had been so long since Rubi has had a meltdown that my friend hadn't realized that not screaming at other dogs was unusual. To me, Rubi's reactivity will always be a integral aspect of our relationship. It's a large part of why I decided to keep her, and it's part of her that will always need to be managed both outside and inside the house. It's nice to think, though, that others don't see our relationship as defined by reactivity. It means that I'm doing my job - the job of making my dog look good - the right way.

Some days it's easier to make her look good than others.

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