Riley dog has a genuine heart to please, seriously, he is ALL heart! Back in January when I made the decision to begin training Rye as a therapy dog; I had reservations concerning lack of confidence he often displayed when presented with new situations. The world is a big scary place, noisy, crowded, and wildly smelly (the smelly part, that’s fun!) , and so, certain parts of the world , push Rye’s ‘worry now’ button. Think, the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz. What Riley needed was “courage,” but how do I help a timid dog become brave? You practice courageousness.
Our first hurdle, I have not known Rye since birth, I inherited relationship with him a little over 2 years ago when I married the Incredible Mr. T. Since then, because he’s a cautious canine, it has taken a minute for Rye to connect with me; I’ve had to earn his trust and vice versa .
Then we first started exercises, honestly, I didn’t know if we’d end up being a ‘team success.’ I can’t tell you how many times Rye has side-eyed me like, ”are you crazy lady?” Yet I seemed to spark interest so Rye just went with it.
(Note: training should always be fun NOT just a demand of commands.) It was clear early on, whatever Riley lacked in confidence he excelled in obedience. If he was ALL in, well then, so was I! When effort meets exuberance, an amazing experiences can happen?
Riley started to realize, ”hey, maybe this lady isn’t just a roommate who feeds me and gives occasional treats?” We started to become buddies. Think, “You’ve got a friend in me.”(Do you know how many times I sang that song to him? A lot!)
And so, Jan 01, 2019, ‘Operation Build Confidence’ officially began.
It would have been easy for me to take advance of Riley’s sweetheart disposition, his readiness to please, but blind submission does NOT produce confidence. Teaching Riley, I understood it would take a ‘make-it-fun’ with ‘ lots-of-praise’ kind of approach. (Clearly, Riley’s love language is words of affirmation. Treats, oh sure, there good, but not his motivator.)
It wasn’t long before Riley clicked into what I was teaching. Every ounce of what we did together became a block of building clear communication of commands. I became Riley’s advocate, vigilant to protect him while he learned to be confident in new surroundings.
Riley is a mastermind at reading human body language, it was vital that I understand his too, important to watch for signs of extreme anxiety. Forcing an already submissive dog to suffer prolong scary situations could have an adverse effect. Instead of docile, you’d will end up with aggression
’Operation Build Confidence’ now in full swing. Everything we did was a progression of slow steps toward the end game of bringing hope and comfort to our community.
We used all of Kansas City as our launching pad. We trained everywhere. (Hardware Stores, Coffee Shops, Bass Pro Shop, downtown at the Crossroads District, Westport, Record Stores, the Plaza, Pet Stores, (human) parks, walking trails, and Off-Leash Dog Parks. )
Almost 6 months under the collar, Riley’s disposition started to transform. He started walking into buildings without shaking , but standing tall. He started greeting strangers with curiosity vs. caution. ”Perhaps the world is less a scary place and more a curious place?”
April 20, 2019, the big day, Pet Partner Evaluation Day: Test location, North KC, in the industrial area of Kansas City, MO. Not going to lie, I felt anxious that morning. First, at the prospect of getting lost. Second,at the prospect of failure.
Honestly, I wasn’t feeling fully confident myself. So, how was Riley supposed to remain poised?
I watched Riley through the rearview mirror as I drove. “Yeah, you’ve got no idea do you, buddy? Smart enough? Sure. Sweet enough? Of course. Confident enough? Well, Rye, I just don’t know.”
Fast forward to the evaluation, it was going pretty well. I was pleasantly surprised. But, obviously, my nervousness transferred down the leash to Riley. Halfway through the evaluation, someone behind us caused a sudden VERY loud ‘BOOMING’ bang (a planned distraction on their part). I jumped, and Riley was spooked. And even though, we recovered quick and finishing the course, after the BOOMING BANG I knew Rye felt vulnerable. With a quiet-steel-will, he refused the next command. Nope, no way, he has not going to be put in a submissive ’down/stay’. He just kept glancing up at me and then the exit. I knew he was done. The evaluation immediately ceased. We failed.
Initially, I was pretty disappointed. We had worked hard.
As I drive home I kept reviewing each exercise over and over in my mind. Okay, maybe not all was lost; the evaluator did complimented us on tight communication. “It is obvious that Riley trusts you,” she had stated as such. (Ha, pretty amazing considering all we had experienced in the months prior.) “Yeah, I guess we’ve bonded, boy,” Riley briefly glances at me and then back out the window. He’s glad to be going home.
We are not quitters and most teams don’t make the first drift anyway. Back to practicing we go…
Strategically planned, Riley and I started hanging out in some of Kansas City’s noisiest places. We clocked SO MANY hours, the busiest part of the day, at Lowe’s Hardware.
I have found it is key to allow Riley the ability to acknowledge loud noises rather than working to distract him from them. If he is can investigate it, try to understand it, then he can tolerate it. (Yet still NO submissive down when vulnerable.)
6/16/19 Max dog died after 12 years of faithful services. I was so devastated I stopped working with Riley. All I could do was mourn. Exactly a month after Maxie’s departure, Riley stroll over, put his face on my lap, and averts eyes up at me. (Therapy Dog) I knew it was time to stop grieving Max and time to move forward.
An so, we began again…
We have worked, practiced, and visited every day of the week without fail. One Monday morning we stopped by Oddly Correct Coffee Shop downtown KC. We thought we’d kill two birds with one stone. We’d visit Luke while simultaneously try to acclimate to a noisy-wildly-smelly environment.
Upon entering the shop, I moved to situate myself on a countertop stool and order a drink. I hand-motioned Riley to ‘down’ and ‘wait’. AND, I’ll be if he didn’t do it like he’s been doing it his whole long-lived life!! I was so shocked and proud, I kind of froze staring at him speechless for a second.
Then I hugged and hugged and hugged him, “Good dog, Riley, good boy!” Somehow, Riley found courage. Since that day, he has done it again and again. Riley has learned he can be a-okay even in environments he doesn’t fully understand. We are edging closer and closer to our goal.
06/29/19 The second go around, Evaluation Day, the test. What’s different this time around? We both are confident. I trust him. He trusts me.
Did you pass? You bet we did! We will start working with local hospitals almost immediately.
We gave ourselves 12 months to accomplish the goal. We finished in 6 months. I swear, this morning, Riley dog walked out of that hospital 10 feet tall with a smile on his face. Every dog needs a purpose.
How do you help a timid dog become brave? You practice courageousness.