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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Puppy Issues

Ruby at the cafe

Ruby at the cafe

My baby girl is 10 months old now. I can hardly believe it! Seems like just yesterday she was this little pip-squeak. Soon it will be her 1 year birthday (July 7) and I’m already thinking of what to do for her. Before then, however, I need to deal with some of her new behaviors.

Issue #1 – She barks at people.

I know dogs bark and don’t expect my dog to be mute. But I’ve noticed that she’s barking more often lately in inappropriate situations. The other night I took her to a friend’s party and she barked at other guests entering the host’s house. She also barked at a guest walking out of the bathroom because he startled her. Last night she barked at a neighbor who wanted to take the elevator with us, then at a homeless man walking behind us on our evening walk (he wasn’t doing anything suspicious).

I always tell her “No” or “It’s okay, sshh,” then I tell the person, “She’s actually really friendly,” and they look at me like I’m nuts. Folks are already scared of her because she’s a pitbull. When she’s barking at them with the hair raised all along her back it’s hard to see the friendly side. To her credit, I’ve never seen her growl or bare her teeth at a person. Her barking doesn’t sound like “I’m going to kill you!” It sounds like “Stay away!”

What’s strange is that in other contexts, for instance when I take her to the cafe in the morning, she sits there like a little lady. She does the same thing at street lights or whenever I tell her to Sit. She also never barks at other dogs even if they’re barking at her. People are always saying how well-behaved and sweet she is.

I go out of my way to be friendly to people on our walks. In fact, I’m probably much more outgoing with her than without her because I know she picks up on my tone. Yet in certain situations, even when I’m being friendly, she starts barking at the person.

Is part of the issue that we live alone? She doesn’t get to interact with other people like she does with me. She’s also extremely attached to me and still follows me from room to room. My gut tells me it’s a combination of protectiveness, testing her assertiveness, shyness and/or a general wariness of strangers, especially men. But how does a puppy learn who is a creep and who isn’t? I suppose I have to bring her around people more, which means being less of a hermit (sigh).

Issue #2 – She has bursts of uncontrollable energy while on the leash.

For the most part, she walks/heels very well. She will walk right beside me without pulling for 75% of the average walk. She gets compliments on this too because people can’t believe a dog that young can walk that well.

However, if she sees a squirrel, bird, stick, small dog or any other interesting creature, all bets are off. She will either lurch forward with all her strength or jump in the air and twist her body around with excitement. If I don’t anticipate it, she could yank my arm out. When she does this around small dogs, albeit because she wants to play with them, it totally freaks them out – and who can blame them?! I haven’t been too strict about it because I figure she’s a puppy, that’s what puppies do. But as a friend recently pointed out, if I don’t curb it now soon she’ll be full-grown and going berzerk. Then what?

We’ve slacked off from puppy class the last few weeks, but this Saturday we’re going back to discuss these issues with her teacher.

Has your dog ever had these issues? If so, how did you deal with it?