riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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The Path to Good Citizenship

Remember when I blogged about my worries of becoming a dog lady? Screw that. I am totally a dog lady. In fact, I have high hopes for my Ruby. I would love for her to be a Therapy Dog.

[photo source: disabled-world.com]

[photo source: disabled-world.com]

A therapy dog is a dog that’s been trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas, etc.  They come in all sizes and breeds. The most important characteristic of a therapy dog is its temperament. A good therapy dog must be friendly, patient, confident, gentle, and at ease in all situations. Therapy dogs must enjoy human contact and be content to be petted and handled, sometimes clumsily. In hospice environments, therapy dogs can play a role in palliative care by reducing death anxiety. [Wikipedia]

Kaz was visited by a therapy dog after his seizures. I wasn’t there to witness it, but his mother told me the encounter cheered him up immensely. I often think of him now when training Ruby. I feel like she has the right temperment for this unique job. She is calm, affectionate and very loving. People are naturally drawn to her. She’s even won over people who were initially afraid of her. She’s nowhere near ready to visit a hospital, or interact with tons of strangers. She needs a lot more training, and has to pass several hurdles. The first is the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test. 

[photo source: Wikipedia]

[photo source: Wikipedia]

To pass the CGC Test, a dog must perform the following:

•Test 1: Accept a friendly stranger

•Test 2: Sit politely for petting by a stranger

•Test 3: Sit politely while being touched and groomed by a stranger

•Test 4: Walk on a loose leash

•Test 5: Walk politely through a crowd (no lunging or barking)

•Test 6: Sit and down on command and stay in place (including when owner is over 10 feet away)

•Test 7: Come when called

•Test 8: React politely to another dog (no pulling, barking or lunging)

•Test 9: React calmly to distraction (Examples of distractions include dropping a chair, rolling a crate dolly past the dog, having a jogger run in front of the dog, or dropping a crutch or cane.)

•Test 10: Maintain good manners while owner is out of sight for 3 minutes 

Dodger and his owner Melissa after passing CGC test [photo source: pitsisters.org]

Dodger and his owner Melissa after passing CGC test [photo source: pitsisters.org]

Several weeks ago Ruby and I started taking weekend classes at a dog training facility that’s running a summer special. She passed Obedience 1 in one class, and Obedience 2 in two classes. This past weekend was her first Obedience 3, a class geared specifically toward preparing dogs for the CGC test. We’re with about ten other dogs, including a large grey poodle named Louie. He looks very similar to the dog pictured below.

[photo source: valleyviewdogs.com]

[photo source: valleyviewdogs.com]

Louie is so well-behaved, I’m not sure why he’s still in training. His owners, a somewhat pale and tired-looking husband and wife team, seem to be in control of his every thought and movement. If they weren’t so Jedi-focused on Louie, they might have noticed me and Ruby staring at them, dumbfounded.

At the end of class, we approached Louie’s parents and while our dogs played, I asked his parents how long he’s been training.

“Since he was a puppy,” they said. “Now he’s 13 months.” 

“You’ve done a fantastic job,” I gushed. “He seems perfect to me.”

“Thank you,” the woman smiled, “but he didn’t pass the test.” 

Apparently, Louie did everything perfectly until the very last test, when his owners had to leave him for 3 minutes. “He couldn’t handle it,” the woman sighed, then gave another little smile. “But we’re going to try again.”

By this point Ruby was running in circles around Louie trying to goad him into playing. Louie and his parents left, and I stayed behind to talk to the teacher. Does she think Ruby has what it takes?

“Absolutely.” She said even though Ruby might not be perfectly behaved like Louie yet, she is picking things up very quickly and she has a certain energy that will serve her well. She can be very still, calm and focused when she wants to be.

Who knows how far we will go, but we’re both having fun right now. I swear that training her is helping me in some way. I know it’s helping her. One day, if we work hard enough, we might get the opportunity to help others.

Ruby zen2


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The Slippery Slope to “Dog Lady”

This past weekend a friend asked me, “You’re not thinking of getting another dog, are you?” “Well, actually,” I replied slowly. “The thought has crossed my mind to get another dog eventually, but only once I have more living space.” “When do you see that happening?” “Within the next three to five years,” I answered, adding that I’m currently focused on building the life that I want. If I end up meeting another partner, great. But I’m not seeking or waiting for that to happen before moving forward with my goals. “But that’s how you end up being a cat lady,” was the response.

For those unfamiliar, in America, the term “cat lady” has long been associated with the concept of spinsterhood, and in more recent decades, with “romance-challenged (often career-oriented) women who can’t find a man” (paraphrasing wikipedia). Perhaps in your country there is a different term, but you probably recognize the concept of the older, unmarried woman who finds love with her pets instead of a man, right? In my case, it would be “dog lady” as I’m allergic to cats.

Another friend recently told me she doesn’t like to see people using their pets as a “crutch.” When I asked her to explain what she meant by crutch exactly, she said “like when the pet is keeping them from doing things, like dating.” She also asked if I was thinking about getting another dog (apparently, a common concern), and told me it would be better if I dated a man who already owned a dog. “Then you could merge the two pets into one household.” I said, “That would be great, especially if he had a big yard too.”

The summation of these, and other, conversations has got me wondering. Should I be concerned that I’m spending all my free time with my dog instead of dating? Is she an emotional crutch? Am I becoming (the dog equivalent of) a cat lady??

While it’s true that my dog is somewhat of a child/companion/protector/project, I don’t necessarily see myself living alone with her forever. I also don’t see any rush in finding another mate. I feel like I’ve experienced the major romantic milestones in life: falling in love, living together, marriage, sickness, death. The only thing I haven’t done is give birth and raise a child. But isn’t having a dog good practice for parenting on some level? When I said that to my friend this weekend, he laughed, “I’ve seen the way you discipline your dog. Your child would probably rob me.”

I should add that my friends and I love sarcasm and ribbing each other. We might sound harsh, but it’s all in good, playful, loving fun. I really do appreciate that they want me to find love again, even their fears of me living in a house overrun with animals. I just wish they could understand that before I can entertain the idea of being in another human-human relationship, I need to get my shit together and re-define my life on my own. It’s not that I don’t want to share the joys and adventures of life with someone one day.

Or perhaps this all hogwash and I’m actually becoming a “dog lady.”

(credit: sarahleavitt.com)

(credit: sarahleavitt.com)