Saturday, April 2, 2011

We represent The Lollipop Guild

Most recently I've realized that Abby has grown into a fear of children.  I'm not sure that I can pick a point where it changed because I don't know that there is one.  Rather it was a slow evolution based on her lack of opportunity to meet kids and be around them.  My husband and I don't have children, and the majority of our nieces and nephews are older.  The few kids in our neighborhood often were not out during the hours we took Abby on our walks, and on the few opportunities where they were it did not go well.

The first time Abby saw a child was when we were walking down our street, and she saw two young kids on Hot Wheels.  Have you ever tried to walk a dog past something on wheels, particularly a reactive puppy?  If not, let me tell you what goes down.  There is a moment where your dog will stop and assess the collateral damage.  Rather quickly she will decide that she wants no part of the situation whatsoever, and as if she is suddenly Spiderman, she will try to repel herself away and swing from her imaginary webs to safety.  This ends up displaying as her tucking her tail between her legs, straightening all four legs, and trying to pull herself out of her harness as she backs away quickly.  As a new dog owner I had no idea this would be her reaction or else I would have turned before she had the opportunity to see the kids on Hot Wheels.  Instead at the same moment Abby saw the kids, they saw her and wanted to play with her.  The only problem was that they didn't abandon the Hot Wheels.  Instead they lead a pursuit after Abby as she tried to run away to safety.  Now there were little people on wheels giving chase all culminating into a recipe for disaster.

On a separate occasion we were walking down the same street a month later when suddenly four kids carrying swords came running out of their house.  And just as suddenly as I saw them came the cries of, "Doggie!" and "Puppy!" and they came running towards us.  Abby freaked out.  Now there were four of them, and they were brandishing weapons!  Abby was petrified; you could just see it on her face and posturing.  One of the kids was older and had a developmental disability and asked if he could pet her.  I told him that she was very nervous right now and said it wasn't a good idea.  One of the youngest kids, Kevin, did not hear me and came running over.  Abby had her tail between her legs, which I noticed in particular because Kevin said that with her tail like that it looked like a turd.  Yes, clearly NOT my target audience for teaching Abby to be tolerant of children.  It was with that I took her back to the house.

There have been times where Abby does OK with kids.  After a particularly harrowing Christmas Eve where Abby was followed around by our youngest niece who just wanted to befriend her in the worst way, Abby showed considerable interest in our friends' children one Sunday at football.  The youngest of the boys was about the same size as our niece, but considerably calmer.  He went to play video games, and the other sat down to watch the game.  In Abby's estimation they had ignored her, so now they were interesting.  She actually approached them and wanted attention from them, which was really cool.  However, that would remain one of Abby's last positive interactions in the coming months.

This week Abby has had a particularly great week with kids.  The other day I took her for a walk and she bumped into her buddy, Dexter.  Dexter is a Portuguese Water Dog/Australian Shepherd mix who is insanely sweet and so darn goofy.  He loves other dogs, and he cries if he can't see them.  Abby was really interested in Dexter, and nearby was a younger girl from the neighborhood who seems to be really good with dogs.  Caitlin and Dexter were playing with a ball, and Abby didn't immediately growl and run away from Caitlin.  It is really hard to find kids that are patient with reactive and scared dogs, and who don't run around.  But Caitlin instantly got that Abby was a bit nervous and she made an effort to make sure Abby didn't feel scared around her.  Instantly I loved this girl and have decided that whenever she has time for Abby I will make sure Abby has time to say hi to her.  Abby was still very tentative at first, but inevitably when Caitlin tried to give a ball to her Abby did at least target the ball.  Finally some forward progress!  Abby stayed to play with Dexter and Caitlin for about ten minutes before I brought her home to eat dinner.

But Abby's true test came today after a long walk through the condo where we checked out every bird and squirrel flying and hopping through the place.  There is a new dog in the condo, Charlie Brown, and Abby has been very tentative in her interactions with Charlie.  I know the reason for this is because Charlie has typically been on a leash held by Kevin, the same boy who has scared her over the summer.  Abby typically welcomes any opportunity to play with a new dog, particularly puppies.  I don't know if she feels a need to show them the ropes, but she definitely is a bit of a welcome wagon to dogs that are a bit shy or socially awkward.  The first time we saw Charlie Brown I could see that she was excited to see a new dog... and then she saw Kevin holding the leash.  All excitement was gone, and she really just wanted to get away from the situation as fast as she could.  The few encounters we've had with Charlie have typically been with Kevin and his dad, and all have ended with her wanting to flee.

At the end of our walk today we saw Dexter playing with Charlie Brown, and Kevin and his dad were close by.  Abby stopped near them and watched them playing.  I stopped with her just to see what she was going to do.  I didn't want to take her away from the situation because I didn't want her to be fearful or think that she can't play, but I also didn't want to force it on her.  So Abby watched for a solid 3 minutes before she started to sniff the ground near her.  About a minute after that she took a tentative step towards them, so I did also.  Then she began walking towards them.  Now her tail was down upon approach, but in under a minute her tail was wagging and she was enjoying playing with the other dogs.

Then she noticed Kevin.  In fairness to Kevin, having Charlie has definitely helped him mellow out.  In the past he would have come running towards a dog full speed, but now he is much more calm around dogs.  You can tell his dad, Ken, has worked with him to understand that not every dog enjoys being greeted this way, and Ken has been very patient with understanding Abby's unique needs.  So today Abby was a little bit hesitant, but she did go up to Kevin and touch his hand lightly with her nose. I cannot begin to tell you how proud I was of her!  One of the biggest things we've worked on with Abby and her stranger anxiety is the ability to "go say hi," where I can ask if she would like to say hi, and she will touch the stranger's hand and come back to me for her reward.  There have been times she hasn't wanted to, and today I was so proud of her for wanting to try and for feeling as if she could.

There are days like today where you reflect back upon where you were, and how far you've come with your dog.  Honestly, I could not have possibly dreamed that at some point I would have a dog who is just slightly less reactive and wanting to approach children.  I feel so proud of her progress, and her ability to trust me as her touch stone to come back to in these situations.  My girl works very hard.  And her progress, while sometimes maddeningly slow, is forever moving.  The ability to look at where she is today versus nearly a year ago is truly awesome.

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