Jamie pays tribute to crossover dog Risa

Since Jamie is a great clicker trainer, I’m not surprised that her timing is impeccable.  Returning home from the family reunion to find that dogster had honored Monte as their first “Dog of the Month,” I also received a new submission for Project Monte from my friend, Jamie.

Jamie is mom to dogster <a href=”http://www.dogster.com/dogs/417572″>Risa</a&gt;.  Risa, like Monte, was rescued with some reactivity issues.  Having had the pleasure of spending time with Jamie and Risa, taking Ris and Mokie on walks together, I can say that what Jamie and Risa have accomplished as a team in Risa’s rehabilitation is nothing short of inspirational.  Risa is one of my favorite dogsters, and Jamie one of my favorite dog moms/fellow behavior (and Harry Potter) nerds.

Below you will find a picture of Risa shortly after her rescue:

Jamie has offered to share Risa’s story with all of you.  Trust me, this is a gift, as Risa truly is a diamond in the rough and luckily, found a mom who is similarly distinguished.  Thank you, Jamie and Risa, for the inspiration and support you gave Monte and I and continue to give other pet parents.

Here is a picture of Risa now:

I had wanted a dog for as long as I can remember.  My parents always said “No.”  So I spent most of my life learning all I could about dogs.  Reading dog books, hanging out with friends’ dogs, researching online, and watching dog training shows on TV.  I thought I knew all I needed to know about raising and training a dog.

As soon as I got my first real job, I started looking for my dog.  My patience was waning when I finally saw her listing.  She was listed as a 2.5-year old Border collie mix.  It said she was okay with dogs and kids, though a bit shy, with a sunny personality.  She sounded like exactly what I was looking for.

I called about her and was told she was no longer available.  Crushed, I emailed the shelter employee I had been in contact with.  She sent me a couple emails about other dogs they had available.  Then I got another email informing me my dog was at the shelter and to call immediately!  My heart leapt!  I spoke at length with the shelter worker and she sounded like the perfect dog for me.  I took a 3 hour drive just to meet her and I knew she’d be coming home with me.

The shelter was honest with me about her fears.  I knew I was going to have some work to do and I was dedicated to the work ahead of us.  Unfortunately, I was soon to realize I was in over my head and ill-equipped to deal with my new dog’s problems.

I knew Risa needed some remedial socialization but I went about it entirely wrong.  I placed her in overwhelming situations shortly after her arrival.  We hadn’t even had a chance to bond yet.  In my ignorance, I inadvertently showed her I would not protect her from scary things.  That she needed to take things into her own paws.

Though she may have been predisposed to being reactive from the start, I did nothing to help her out.  She started out very stiff and fearful in dog-dog interactions.  From there, she progressed to snapping at dogs who approached her as I sat her alongside the path at the park.  Soon, she was putting on a huge display at the mere sight of another dog.  I was at a loss as to what was going on.

While I was knowledgeable about teaching behaviors like ‘sit’ and ‘down,’ I had no idea how to fix a reactive dog–let alone know what one was!  I had been walking Risa on a prong collar so I started correcting her for the out of control behavior she exhibited.  This only lead to more frustration for both of us.  I had no idea why she behaved the way she did and she didn’t know what I wanted. I spent many nights crying in desperation unable to help my dog.

We were already enrolled in a clicker training class by the time I realized we had a serious problem.  I talked with our trainer about Risa’s behavior as well as consulting with friends online.  Initially, I couldn’t get a satisfactory answer or game plan.  I bought some dog training books about reactivity and finally the light bulb went on.  Risa behaved the way she did because she was afraid.

It seemed so obvious all of a sudden.  She was afraid of so many things; why wouldn’t she be afraid of dogs too!?  I finally had an answer.  A reason why.

I started working on a new training regimen based on suggestions in the books I’d read.  I needed to prove to Risa that other dogs weren’t scary and that I would protect her if she felt overwhelmed.  I also had to learn to control my frustration with her behavior.  Getting upset didn’t help either one of us!  Most importantly, I had to learn to listen to my dog; an alien concept at the time.  After all, wasn’t I the one in charge?  Shouldn’t she listen to me no matter what?  It was a major mentality change for me but it was the leap I needed to make.  I needed to become my dog’s partner, take her thoughts into account, and be less concerned about being an alpha.

I tried various methods, all focusing on creating positive associations or giving her alternative behaviors to her reactions.  I ditched the prong collar early on and started using a martingale.  Soon I switched to a front clip harness to keep Risa from hurting herself when lunging and to give me more control over her if she reacted.

After a year of hard work, we really started to get visible progress.  Her reactions were much more subtle.  She recovered quicker.  Risa was able to meet other dogs while on leash.  She could be in tight spaces with them without being overly worried.

Her training went into overdrive when we moved back east to a busy city.  There we saw countless dogs and people daily.  I started doing some classical conditioning with her; stuffing her full of goodies whenever she saw another dog.  Soon, she was able to walk past other dogs without blinking an eye.  It was still hard for her to not react if another dog stared or reacted first.  But she was much easier to control and it didn’t put her on edge with any dogs we saw afterward.

Risa’s transformation has been amazing.  I started off with a fearful dog.  One who was only comfortable inside.  Outside she was distractible and always on the lookout for the scary things.  A dog who soon became reactive to other dogs.  Risa even thought people were terrifying especially if they tried to pet her.

Today, she almost looks normal!  She can walk through crowds of people, dogs, and kids without worrying.  Risa actively investigates new people and can quickly become friends with them.  She even has some dog friends she can play with!

I knew when I read her Petfinder listing that Risa was the one for me.  I knew we had been brought together for a reason.  I often joke about who taught whom more over the course of our 4-year friendship.  If I’m honest, I learned more about myself and about dogs in general from Risa.  I am a better person for having known this dog.  She truly is the dog I needed.

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2 Responses to Jamie pays tribute to crossover dog Risa

  1. Enjoyed reading your tribute Jamie and the last three sentences are especially wonderful! Also the fact Risa can now comfortably walk through a crowd! Risa’s relaxed yet incredibly joyful expression in the second photo says it all – you’ve done a great job Jamie! 🙂

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