In honour of her dog’s birthday, the author of 24 Paws of Love has issued a challenge:
“Tell us in a post what was the most monumental moment that you and your dog shared, that changed the course of your lives together. How ever big or small, what happened that brought an understanding between you and your dog and brought your relationship closer than it was before. What is that one story in your mind that stands out and you repeat over and over to anyone that will listen? Tell us all about it!!”
Never one to turn away from a chance to blab on about my dog, I quickly hit on a moment Shiva and I shared that fits this idea perfectly. I am sure I’ve written about this before, though I couldn’t find the exact link. If I haven’t then I am long overdue.
Near our old house there were two paths that went around the lake. On one path I felt comfortable letting Shiva run around off-leash in the early morning and on the other I did not. According to HRM by-laws, both paths were strictly on leash areas. However, one was always vacant in the pre-dawn hours when I walked the dog and the other stretched directly behind homes and was a lot more popular. Given Shiva’s lack of recall at the time, not to mention her reactivity, we played it safe on this second path like good law-abiding citizens. Unfortunately, others did not.
On one particular day, about eight months or so after we had brought Shiva home for the first time, I headed home on the second path. There was a long boardwalk over a marshy section of the lake and I often liked to pause there to snap a few photos. You’ve seen a number of them on this website, I am sure. After a brief photography session, I slipped my camera back in my pocket and we continued down the wooden section over the water.
We had taken about five steps when I heard the barking. Before I could take action to re-direct a reactive Shiva still in the early stages of training, a small off-leash dog appeared on the boardwalk ahead of us, yapping and snarling.*
Anyone who has ever walked a reactive dog knows exactly what such a situation feels like. I am pretty sure I stopped breathing.
Shiva and I had made some decent strides in our training at this point. We had found our trainer who had given us the tools to work together. But I still crossed the street to avoid other dogs and people as much as possible. I just wasn’t confident enough in my own skills as a handler and I was still getting my timing down.
Since this was a boardwalk with railings on both sides, there was no way we could avoid this dog. The only option was to turn around. The question was, would I be able to turn quickly enough to prevent Shiva from taking a piece out of the wee barker?
Holding my breath, I turned to look at her. To my amazement – I still tear up a little – instead of staring at the other dog and preparing herself to lunge, Shiva was looking back at me! We actually made eye contact!
For the first time Shiva was looking to me for direction and guidance. I wasn’t just the person holding her back, I had become member of her team, her partner. She had learned I was on her side.
I’ll never forget the expression on her face either. I am almost positive she had a single eyebrow raised. If Shiva could talk, in that moment I am sure she would have sworn under her breath.
Luckily I didn’t let my joy get in the way of practical matters. Almost in sync, Shiva and I turned around on the spot and walked away. The little dog remained in his spot yapping behind us and we didn’t look back. Once we were out of sight I am sure I was wiping away tears and dancing. No doubt Shiva got more treats in the ten minutes it took us to get home, than she ever has before or again.
To this day I look on that moment as a turning point for us. It was the first real success we had with her reactivity and it showed me that things really could get better. Of course, it wasn’t all uphill from there and we endured many more moments of frustration, but it was a huge start full of promise. On that day for the first time Shiva and I were a team.
It felt awesome.
Is there a moment in your relationship with your dog that stands out to you as a turning point? I’d love to hear all about it!
*Incidentally, this was the same dog dog who attacked us several months later in this post.