Three giant steps forward and one teeny step back

First, the happy news: this weekend we had two (two!) amazing, relaxing, stress-relieving walks along the harbour front with Shiva. This was seriously unprecedented. Until now neither my husband nor I were nearly brave enough to go to such a public place with so many dogs and so many strangers around. It took us this long to work up the courage, and the trust, in our dog. After so many months of jumping and barking and lunging, after all the hard work and frustration and worrying, we have started to see actual results. What was left of the stress and tension faded away as we took in the harbour views. Instead of internally freaking out every time another dog approached, we just walked. There’s no precedent, baby! 

It was fantastic. A total win-win for Shiva and us. She got to meet countless other dogs and we got to see our hard work paying off.  The novelty of exploring the downtown, I think, was thrilling for her. I wish I remembered to bring the camera because she was adorable as she raced from one sniffing spot to the next. So much to explore, so much to smell – the ecstatic, tongue-flapping grin didn’t leave her face the whole time.

This was gigantic, I can’t stress that enough. Shiva has been steadily getting more confident over the last year but it’s really in the last few weeks or so that I’ve noticed real changes in her behaviour. Every time we pass a person on the street without having to cross to the other side or run up a driveway I feel jubilant. And if that wasn’t exciting enough, last week at the dog park we not only passed humans we passed dogs, dogs, and Shiva barely looked up. This was repeated again in our neighbourhood the next day. Success, success, success!

Naturally, as I’m human, all this excitement went a wee bit to my head. Instead of watching her carefully for cues as I normally do, I’ve let myself slide a little too much. On our morning walk yesterday, after a run in the forest and a stroll around the neighbourhood, Shiva had a teeny little bout of regression. Which is normal, I know. I’m trying not to let it get me down. I’m trying not to obsess over it. It could have happened for a number of reasons. Perhaps I took my attention away from her for too long. Maybe I didn’t reward her in time. Maybe the older gentleman passing us looked at her too hard. Who knows? It shouldn’t take away anything of what we have gained in the past while. She’s still doing so well and being so brave.

In the evening we were back on track, though I admit I was hesitant about passing anyone directly. This morning I tried to be as brave as Shiva and didn’t immediately cross the street when I saw an off-leash Golden Retriever headed in our direction. We’ve met this dog before. It’s older, fairly docile, much like the owner. She’s a sweet older woman who slowly ambles down the road, never bothering to leash her dog. Last summer this totally freaked me out. The Golden would trot over, barking in greeting, and Shiva would lose her cool and attempt to eat him. All the while the woman would be waving at me from a distance saying “Don’t worry, he’s friendly!” But I digress. This morning we met this dog again and the same thing happened. It trotted over, barking and Shiva tensed. However, this time I was able to get her out of her trance and instead of eating the other dog she ran to sniff him instead. Fantastic, right?

Right. One more thing this dog is trying to teach me is not to focus on the negative. It’s not easy because I’m pretty patterned that way. But if Shiva doesn’t give up on me, just like I haven’t given up on her, she may make a confident human out of me one day.