So. We failed the Canine Good Neighbour Test. But, we failed in such spectacular Shiva style that it was impossible to feel disappointed. Not only did we not pass two of the twelve steps, but one of those two was the very first one. After that was over, and I realised there was no way in hell we were getting that certificate, I was able to relax a little more and enjoy the experience.
If you haven’t taken such a test, I can vouch for the fact that it is not easy!
I didn’t think I would be that nervous. We had sat in the waiting area for over half an hour before it was our turn. Shiva had been showing excellent focus on me. Despite being crammed in with ten other people and who knows how many other dogs, including two rambunctious Akitas, she managed to stay calm. Two years ago we wouldn’t have been able to enter the building. In my eyes, she passed the test long before it even began. That’s why I was feeling so confident when our name was called.
Unfortunately, just before we were about to enter the testing space, a large man walked in from outside. A large man who apparently didn’t realise not all dogs appreciate a full stare. Shiva’s reactivity is in remission, with the one exception of strange men who walk towards her with full eye contact. (Since I don’t like being stared at by strange men either, I usually let it go.) I didn’t even know he was there until she launched into full barking and lunging mode. The poor guy was really nice about it. He owned one of the Great Danes being tested. He looked more hurt than anything else. I explained the problem and he and Shiva made friends, but the scenario was enough to rattle all my mental preparation.
Regardless, I still walked in with confidence. I stood in the centre of the room and told Shiva to sit. Which she did. For exactly half a second.
This is when she chose to remind me she is insane. How I seem to keep forgetting I don’t know.
The evaluator tried to explain the first stage of the test – Accepting a Friendly Stranger – but I wasn’t listening as I was trying to prevent Shiva from diving towards a piece of fluff on the floor. When the kind woman stepped towards us I knew it was all over. Shiva kept getting up from her sit. Without the benefit of treats, I could not convince her to stay still. We have such a brilliant sit-stay and I was so frustrated she wasn’t showing it off. My nerves kicked in and my legs and hands began to shake. The evaluator smiled at me and reached out to shake my hand. That’s when Shiva jumped. I can only assume she thought the woman had food in her hand.
Immediate, decisive failure.
We continued through the rest of the steps. I was still feeling really nervous and no doubt Shiva picked up on it. But we managed to pass the worrisome grooming section, as well as the walking through a crowd, and walking by a baby stroller. I thought we may have failed again when Shiva sniffed at the doll’s hand but the evaluator may have been feeling generous. I’ll take it!
And then it was time for Test Nine: Reaction to a Passing Dog.
If we hadn’t already failed, I may have tried to request a re-test as the other dog was one Shiva has a history with. A very brief history, but when it comes to wacko dog, that’s all that matters. I must have mentioned before, Shiva has an obsession with dogs that don’t like her. This dog, an older Border Collie, definitely fits in that category. She refuses to leave him alone, even when he growls to make it clear he is not interested in her antics. Before I took one step, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to prevent her from crossing over to greet him. Without treats, the dog who hates her is much more interesting than my boring praise.
The handler of this Border Collie happens to be the instructor of our advanced life skills class. She knows Shiva fairly well and looked like she was about to laugh. At one point her dog started barking and growling to keep Shiva away and she chuckled.
“Even my dog is failing right now!”
Immediately, I felt better. Somehow I managed to get my brain together enough to finish the test.
The last two sections went much smoother than anticipated. I knew we would nail walking through the gate but since it came after the feared three-minute isolation, I didn’t have much hope for Shiva’s mental state. Amazingly enough, she passed both!
It was one of the longest three-minute periods I can remember. After around a minute and a half, I could hear her starting to whine. The whining grew progressively louder but I guess not enough to count as “excessive.” When the time was up, I made sure to hold out my hand as I re-entered the room. The last thing I wanted was for her to pull the poor leash holder over in her rush to get to me. If we had failed, I wanted to look remotely in control.
All in all, I can’t say I was that disappointed. As the evaluator said, it’s better for Shiva to over-eagerly meet strangers, than to cower and hide. We know what we need to work on now and I am planning on re-taking the test in the fall. She’ll earn those fancy letters one day. I’m not giving up until we have another certificate to put on the fridge!