Nicknames: Dancing Cavy's Pain in the Butte W-FDM/MF RE RL1 (AoE) CA CGC WCX Ris, Pain, Pest, Goober, Smiley, Grinny, Furball, Fuzzball, Hey, Ri Ri, Bug Hunter, Crazy dog, ADD Dog, Fuzz, Maniac, Mystery Mutt, Squeaker, Squeak, Squeaker Wheek, Muttski
Gotcha Date: July 15th 2006
Birthday: January 10th 2004
Likes: Running, playing with close doggy friends, canine musical freestyle, walking with other dogs, chasing things, playing tuggie, obedience class, agility
Pet-Peeves: dogs that just run right up to her, strangers, going to the vet, getting her nails trimmed, thunder and lightning
Favorite Toy: The Wubba, plush toys, flirt pole
Favorite Food: Anything raw. ;-) She also likes Wellness Pure Rewards, meatballs, and apples
Favorite Walk: Riverfront Park, Lake Elmo, Erie Canal, Onondaga Lake Park, Cove Island, Knox Farm
Best Tricks: Shake, hi-ten, speak, spinning, jumping over my leg, playing dead, sitting pretty, backwards circles
Arrival Story: Since I had moved out of my parents' house and had a decent job, I decided it was finally time for me to get a dog. I'd never had one before and had been waiting for YEARS. I started looking online and found her on Petfinder. She sounded like exactly what I was looking for. I went through a bit of disappointment first. I was told she was no longer there, just to find out within hours that she WAS available (Fate?). I drove 3 hours to meet her. When she was running around in the outdoor enclosure, she kept stumbling in the same gopher hole. I told her that she was such a goof, she had to come home with me! She was 36 lbs, skinny, and shy when I took her home on July 15, 2006. Now she's a healthy 42 lbs and still a bit reserved in new situations and with new people/dogs. We've come a long way but we've still got quite a ways to go!
Bio: Though Risa's true mix is completely unknown, she's likely a sighthound/herding breed cross. Maybe greyhound/border collie and half a dozen other things too. I doubt she's a 50/50 cross!
I think there was a mistake. I was a completely inexperienced dog owner with big dreams for her first dog. I wanted to be able to take her anywhere with me. I wanted to compete in agility and other dog sports. I had lofty goals and minimal dog training skills. I’d never had a dog before. I should have been given a basic model. Somehow, I ended up with the advanced model and no instruction manual!
Most of my posts about Risa these days are relatively happy. They speak of me knowing what to do, brushing off reactive incidents, describing how I’ve trained behaviors, etc. Early posts were not so upbeat. We struggled a lot in the beginning. I didn’t understand the time and patience required working with a fearful dog. Oh I thought I knew. I talked a good talk but I clearly stumbled in the walk. Life with Risa was a struggle for us both. The lines of communication were down. There was no trust. There was simply a fearful dog and a handler ill-equipped to handle it.
I shed so many tears working with her. Out of frustration. Out of sadness. I felt like I couldn’t help her. I didn’t know how to show her she could trust me and I certainly failed to earn her trust on multiple occasions. My dreams of an agility/sport dog were dying right in front of my eyes. I often wondered if I could ever even just enjoy a walk with her without having to watch her flee in terror from people or lunge at other dogs.
It was never easy but we had great support. Our clicker trainer showed me a new way of working with Risa. One that put us on equal footing and taught me to listen to her especially if I wanted her to listen to me. Friends online lent their support and shared similar experiences. I had a group to commiserate and celebrate with. Friends who I originally only knew online became friends in real life. Their journeys with their dogs helped shape my journey with Risa. (I owe them so much.)
I laugh inside when I tell people about Risa’s past. So few of them believe me after watching us together. They can’t believe she’s fearful and dog reactive. That she’s shy around strangers. But she is. She always will be. It’s simply that she’s learned to cope. That she trusts me to keep her safe.
We celebrated Risa’s 6th Gotcha Day this weekend (July 15th). I always try and do something special for her for her Gotcha Day and this weekend was no exception. The organization I volunteer with was having a fundraiser involving lure coursing and other dog sport run throughs. So we packed up the car and were on our way.
Though we had a slight detour before we could start our fun. Risa had an appointment with the vet for her annual visit. Despite pacing, panting, and trying to exit the waiting room even before her name was called, she was relatively okay. Once we got into the exam room, she was even better. I always take her leash off when we’re in there. Originally because it was annoying holding onto it as she paced back and forth. But now, I think it’s easier for her to get a chance to check out the room. So she paced back and forth for a while but not nearly as badly as she used to. When the vet had to check her over, she didn’t even flinch. She was still uncomfortable but I barely had to hold her in place. Risa warmed up to the assistant in the room as well and even allowed herself to be petted! That was a shock. After all the handling, she would lay rolled onto one hip once everyone had left the room. I’ve never seen her so relaxed. It was a far cry from her first ever vet visit when she climbed into my lap and shook the entire time we sat in the waiting room.
Then it was time for lure coursing fun. As soon as we pulled in and Risa saw the lure whip by, she knew what was up and she was elated. We didn’t get to course right away, though. Instead, we went to watch a search and rescue demonstration. While we listened, Risa was close to several other dogs and people. As long as the other dogs kept their distance, she was totally fine. She did one high-pitched bark and lunge at a Lab who got up and moved in her direction before I could create enough space. But it was very minor and the worst she did all day. Risa met that dog three times today and they greeted appropriately each time. Risa simply has a harder time with dogs close by when she is “parked” in one spot. She walked alongside that same dog a couple times later without issue and even walked alongside the lure course operator’s dogs. Even if other dogs were barky and upset, Risa seemed to take it all in stride. Even when we passed an “exploding car” (the dogs inside were not happy with us passing by), Risa simply kept on walking.
She got in three coursing runs which made her day. I had volunteered to assist with rally and ended up deciding to try a run through too. I hadn’t planned on it originally; Risa sort of loses her mind when it comes to lure coursing. But, by the time rally run throughs were on, the lure coursing was over. It was also far enough away from the coursing area so I thought we could chance it. We haven’t worked on rally in a while and it was HOT so I didn’t expect much from her. In fact, I wasn’t even planning on having her off leash. Despite some wandering and peeing in the ring (this is part of the reason we trial indoors), she was actually really good. I did relapse into my high-pitched cues which I caught and stopped. Doing that seems to cause Risa to wander more and seems to only be a problem for me in rally. I don’t do it in freestyle! I was also good and rewarded her with some treats and she got a nice petting session after a particularly nice sequence. This is the first time I really treated a run through like a FUN match and not like an event.
Overall, it was a splendid day and demonstrated just how far she’s come in every way. She went somewhere new and wasn’t scared. She met another dog and greeted him normally. She was practically non-reactive. She let strangers pet her. Risa wasn’t super-stressed at the vet’s office. She paid attention to me and worked with me. She trusted me to keep her safe. It’s been a long journey since the day I brought her home from the shelter. Now the tears I shed are tears of joy. We did it. She’s almost exactly what I had wanted at the time. “A dog I could take anywhere and do dog sports with.” It just took a while to get there. I’ve always known she is the dog I needed, not necessarily the one I wanted. But maybe she really is both.
I’d always wanted a dog. I used to beg my parents endlessly for one but they held firm. It wasn’t until I got out of college and got a steady, well-paying job that I was finally able to fulfill my dream and get a dog.
As soon as I had moved, I started looking. I knew I wanted a herding breed mix who was young but no longer a puppy. My apartment was on the 3rd floor so potty training was out of the question! I wanted to compete in dog sports, specifically agility, and knew I desired an active companion.
I searched long and hard for a few months before stumbling upon the ‘perfect match’ on Petfinder. She was listed as a Border collie mix who was 2.5 years old. Though shy, it said she was good with dogs, kids, and had a sunny disposition. This had to be the dog for me, I thought. I got in contact with the shelter, spoke with them about her, and planned a visit to check this dog out. She came home with me that day. I named her Risa, short for the Spanish word ‘sonrisa’ which means ‘smile’ because I became enamored with her grin. (‘Risa’ is also a word in Spanish meaning ‘laughter.’)
The shelter was up front with me about her fear issues and she was also underweight. I felt up to the task of working with this dog to help her gain confidence. Though I’d never trained a dog before and knew it would take a lot of work, I was totally unprepared. Like, drowning in quicksand over my head.
I tried my best to do some remedial socializing with her; get her out and about to see the world isn’t so scary. But I went about it all wrong. I had no relationship with her yet and I should have given her some time to adapt before thrusting her into situations she wasn’t ready to handle. While I was successful in teaching her basic behaviors like ‘sit’ and ‘down,’ I was failing miserably at making her life less scary.
Fortunately, we signed up for a clicker training class several months after I adopted her. I hadn’t initially wanted to use a clicker. I didn’t want to have to carry around the stupid tool all the time and I believed my dog should do what I say because I told her to. I was very resistant to the idea of clicker training at first but I attended classes and saw amazing results.
Despite having success with clicker training, I was still reluctant to give up using the prong collar at first.
We completed our “Head Start” class with flying colors. Though Risa cowered and wouldn’t let anyone approach her in the first couple classes, she had started to come out of her shell by the end. I was having so much fun training her that I signed us up for the Level 1 classes as soon as we graduated. After Level 1, we found out our trainer wasn’t going to offer agility classes like she had planned initially (not to mention Risa wasn’t ready for them). Instead she was going to offer canine freestyle. Much like my thoughts about clicker training at the beginning, I thought this was stupid too. Dancing with your dog? You’ve got to be joking. But I wanted to try something new with Risa; not just standard obedience classes. Along with enrolling in the Level 2 class we signed up for canine freestyle.
It turned out that Risa is a dancing fool. Something about freestyle just clicked with her (pun intended). As stupid as I still thought it was, I couldn’t deny how much fun Risa was having with it. And so, I started to enjoy it too.
We signed up for our trainer’s Level 3 and 4 classes, took some rally classes, performed two canine freestyle demos, attended seminars, did a practice therapy dog test, did an agility flatwork class, and became assistants to the “Head Start” classes. If our trainer offered a class, we took it. Risa enjoyed training so much that we became dog class junkies. :) Despite having moved away from our first trainer, we still take classes and attend seminars whenever we can!
Despite taking classes and having some time to socialize with other dogs and people, Risa was still very nervous and shy. She did not like strangers trying to pet her and she had become dog reactive. Her reactivity was very frustrating and scary. I was really confused as to what was going on and was having no luck curbing her behavior when it came to other dogs.
At the mere sight of another dog she would be lunging, barking, hackles raised, bouncing or spinning in place. It was embarrassing and I knew everyone was judging us when she acted like that. I tried everything I could think of to stop it including collar corrections and yelling. I was getting nowhere fast and was just making things worse! An online friend mentioned the book Scaredy Dog by Ali Brown which I picked up after reading several others. The light bulb finally turned on. Risa was reacting the way she did because she was AFRAID. It was so obvious, really. She’s always been a fearful dog. But her aggressive displays just didn’t seem like a frightened response to me. They were. I finally understood what I was dealing with and we FINALLY got on the right path.
Of course, it was not easy. And, for what it’s worth, it still isn’t. ;) I tried several methods to curb Risa’s reactions to other dogs. We slowly saw improvement. As time has gone on, I have refined my tools and learned what does and doesn’t work. While Risa is still dog reactive, she is a million times better than she used to be. She is able to walk past other dogs without losing her mind. We can be in close proximity to dogs and she can even greet them nicely. Risa is far from comfortable with her own kind. I think of her as a bit of a social misfit; that wallflower at the party who’s kind enough to introduce herself but then retreats to the safety of being alone.
We’ve come a long way together, Risa and I. I thought I knew a lot about dog training before I got her. I was sure I knew how to read dogs too. Risa taught me how wrong I was and how much I still needed to learn. She’s an outstanding teacher and I owe her so much. In fact, I’ve learned more about myself from my interactions with her. I’ve become a better person. She forced me to step back and evaluate what I am doing. To calm myself before letting frustration and anger take over. Risa is an amazing dog. My Awesome Dog.
Mom popped me in the car this morning and we drove a little ways and when we parked, we were right next to my best friends!! I haven't seen them in a month since we moved. It was so exciting to see them again!
Even more awesome than seeing my friends again was why we were there. LURE COURSING. It's been 2 years since I've gotten a chance to really run free. And running at a full sprint is one of my favorite things!
My first time up I was excited. I ran right up to the person in charge and said "Hi" to her and let her pet me a bit. Then I got ready to run. Mom held onto me as the 'rabbits' got moving and then let me go. It was awesome to run full out like that feeling the wind through my ears. It was over all too fast and then Mom called me to her and leashed me up. I went back to my kennel to take a break.
My second run was even better. I dragged Mom to the starting spot because I was just SO excited I got a second chance! I took off like a shot. . .totally on Cloud 9 as I sprinted the course. When it was over, I decided I didn't want the fun to stop. So I ran another lap in the field. Not content to stop at a second lap. . .I ran a third. Mom was calling out to me but I had nothing of it. I was having FUN!! I went on a short tour of the rest of the facility before deciding it was finally time to return to Mom. I was a bit tired but just so happy. Mom wasn't really mad because she could see the joy of running on my face the whole time.