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Weekly Training Update (May 16)

I totally cried at the end of our class on Sunday. And, not from happiness. I was shook up and exhausted. I ranted Sunday about the final straw, but here’s the rest of the tale.

You’d think early Sunday mornings might make for a lighter-than-average amount of activity in a creekside park in Boulder, but that’s not the case … especially on Mother’s Day. It was a zoo. Initially, Lilly did fine despite the environment and despite the fact that there were a bunch of new, very young, super-silly dogs in class. In fact, a sweet homeless man approach me to say that clearly Lilly was the best trained dog in the group. How nice is that? So, I made sure he knew that she also is 4 years old, not 6, 12 or 18 months. She’s simply had far more practice.

As class got going, we did our best to steer clear of the wild pups and keep our protective bubble of space, but we did have a few accidental face-to-face encounters with a couple of the new pups. I’m happy to say that Lilly took it well. I suspect the fact that theses dogs are quite small helped.

Lilly even gave me a good case of leash burn, when she got excited about some ducks and squirrels, but the confidence faded when a classmate let the trashcan lid slam. The noise flipped a switch. Apparently, there was much to toss away and many people needing the port-o-potties because lids and doors on both slammed the entire time we were having class. Bang. Smack. Bang. Smack. Bang. Smack.

I had some operator error on one exercise designed to get your dog to move out of your way because all it did was make Lilly paranoid. That’s when I knew she was off her mental feed, and that the collective noise was getting to her.

But, we did our own thing and worked our relaxation program as best we could. She continued to work, even though her tail was firmly glued to her tummy.

While we waited our turn to do some recalls, however, some guys on skateboards whizzed by, banging the front of their boards back and forth. Not good. Then, a pack of guys behind a big pine tree started ranting and talking really loud about the war or some such. Since Lilly is super-sensitive to tone of voice, this put her over the edge. She was literally quivering in fear. So, I moved her away and sat on the ground to hug her. I just rubbed her butt and kissed her and repeated over and over. “You’re not alone. I’m right here. You’re fine.”

She did two tremendous recalls. Fast, straight, focused, but I suspect it’s because she just wanted to get back into my lap. So, I dropped to my knees and cheered her in the entire way. Then, proceeded to have a big kiss-fest.

As we made our way back to the parking area on the paths, she gave wide berth to the loud-talking men and flatly refused to work to my right, even after we passed them. She was in panicked-flee mode, so I did my best to make our way along the busy path.

When the rest of the group lagged behind and broke off in other directions to get back to their cars, I chose to keep walking straight and cross a later bridge. There was a wide open section of trail. I could let Lilly reel out a bit on her leash and have some freedom to relax. She seemed to let loose with her posture a bit, so I relaxed too.

I often use our classmates to block loose dogs, but I never imagined I’d need them to block a loose child. This little girl scared the holy crap out of Lilly who was already emotionally spent. She basically ran straight at us, arms up high. She was tiny enough to put her face right at Lilly’s mouth level. Trust me, I know that stressed dogs have very low bite thresholds, so we basically turned and ran, but this child kept coming, so I finally yelled at her mother to grab her, that my dog was afraid of kids, etc. Terrible incident averted, but it still took it’s toll on me.

I probably should have continued my retreat and walked back to another bridge to cross over, but Lilly just wanted to go home, and she could see my car. So, once the child was contained, with her mother alternately glaring at me and laughing at what her daughter had done, we crossed over.

Lilly literally crawled on her belly past this family. Not funny people. Imagine some lunatic scaring your child into a catatonic state.

It was so sad, and I was so amped up from the scare that tears felt like the most reasonable outlet. My thanks to Chester’s family. (I don’t even know their names.) He’s a new classmate. A blue-eyed corgi with some leash aggression issues. They sat with me until I collected myself enough to drive. They let me vent about stupid people. They sympathized and offered perspective.

As I often do when we’ve had a tough day, I took Lilly to a favorite trail on the way home, and we went for a long walk. I just let her unwind and relax, but we ran into a few scares there too, including a pack of Tween-Aged girls running around and flapping their arms at Lilly as they circled us. Since they were big enough, I just said, “Hey, gals? She’s afraid of kids. Could you give her some space?” And they apologized and backed off. I’m pretty sure their mothers also shot me looks.

Then, about 100 feet down the trail, we passed a young Aussie on a flexi. We got past no problem, but then I heard the distinct whir of a the leash reeling full-out. I turned to see the dog max out and snap back about a foot from Lilly’s butt. We kept walking, and Lilly was fine. But, holy cow!

Food is my outlet of choice, so Lilly and I went to our favorite middle eastern cafe and shared a bowl of hummus on the patio. It was sunny, warm, quiet, and we had a nice relaxing lunch.

Once we got home, Lilly took up residence at the top of our hill and watched the world go by all afternoon. She needed down time, as did I. When we finally came inside for dinner and such, she pried open the basement door and disappeared into her crate for the entire night.

P.S. I’m sorry to subscribers who got a couple test emails last night. Tech support was working on a video insert problem for me. That entry will post for real on Sunday.

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Rox - May 19, 2008

You’re the second person (a friend emailed me privately) to say they’ve had their dogs tackled by small kids. Her dog is amazing with kids, but it still freaked him out, and he air-snapped instead of biting the child. Whew! Still … that’s a close one.

A couple weeks ago, I joked about a force field too. I even made force-field sounds … as I recall it went something like whomp-whomp.

Thanks for visiting and for the empathy.

Valerie - May 19, 2008

It’s terrifying when it’s another dog your dog might bite, but I can’t even begin to describe how much worse that fear is when you realize it’s a child. I fully sympathize and I know that all out drain that happens after a near escape. -hugs- I’m glad both you and Lily made it through the ordeal, as well as that child whose mother should have stepped up to the plate.

I’m lucky in the sense that my boy loves kids, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget dragging him away from a spot, him still in mid panic attack when he was tackled behind by a small boy. I thought for sure he was going to bite the kid – he was way past threshold and had it been a dog I’m 90% sure it would have been a bite. I think I shook for days after that and although it’s been two weeks, I haven’t walked him down that strip of the neighborhood again… not yet. I can only imagine your fear with Lily. Sometimes I wish I had this magic little button that could erect a safety-wall around us whenever needed… I hope things are going better for the two of you since then and hang in there. You’re not alone out there.

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