Friday, April 30, 2010

Regarding Shadow’s Social Skills

It has been brought to my attention that I have “a very sweet dog.” People have been cooing over her lately, telling me how good she is, what a sweetheart, what a noble beast.Where, I ask myself, has Cujo gone? The black lab who lives with me began a couple of years ago to become a hyper guard dog, throwing herself at the front door when the UPS man came, practically pulling my arm out of its socket to chase cars down the street, challenging any dog we met on walks, head down, lunging and barking. If my dearest friends have pointed out to me (even in fairly recent months) that Shadow’s anxiety was due to fear she was reading in me, then am I to get credit for her new-found calm as well?

It started about three months ago. My book group met here and Shadow carefully introduced herself to everyone, bringing them each a toy to admire, rubbing them gently to give them permission to pet her. Then she lingered in the living room all evening at people’s feet, looking up at them adoringly, craning her neck in case they wanted to pet her again. The latter is accompanied by “the look.” She tilts her face up to theirs, cocks her head slightly and rolls her eyes up just so – if a dog can have “Bette Davis eyes” Shadow’s got ‘em. How anyone can resist this, I do not know. If they give her any encouragement she escalates to laying her upturned face against them, sometimes her entire 65 pounds slides down their legs landing, a puddle of fur, at their feet.

We also had a church committee meeting here last month – same charming dog, same exclamations about her sweetness. Then about a week ago I was walking Shadow past the church when one of the committee members saw me and called out happily. Then he saw the “Gentle Lead” around Shadow’s nose, jaw and neck. “Why do you have that on her?” he asked, and he actually seemed a little hurt on her behalf. I told him that she has an unpredictable sense of humor. I never know when she will have an issue with another dog approaching or walking past, or a car driving down the street. The man looked at me in disbelief: “But she’s the sweetest dog in the world!”

I know. Tell that to my friend who had perfectly good hearing before riding in the car with us as we passed people walking dogs and Shadow barked like a maniac until we were well past them. Or to the bicyclists riding peacefully along the road until we drive by and the dog goes nuts barking at them. And yet, today when a couple stopped us on a trail to ask, in pitiful voices, why my dog had a “little ribbon on her nose?” I began to ask myself the same question. She has been utterly calm for months now! No lunging, almost no barking in the car. She waits calmly when I lead her off a trail to let other dogs pass. She has even stopped herding the cats, though she still wants to do it.

I sat in the living room the last few nights and noticed that all three cats have been getting lap time with me, sometimes all at once. If I am, or have been eating, she is still bothered by the fact that they might get a taste of a dirty plate which is surely, as all plates must ultimately be, meant for her. But instead of her usual stealth, spring and chase, she begins her approach slowly and when I intervene vocally she listens and responds! Last night my dinner plate was on the floor by the couch and Gracie was having a taste. Shadow came from the dining room, head down, walking slowly towards Gracie and I said “come around this way” motioning with my arm and hand for her to walk around the large coffee table and sit on my right side, which would allow Gracie enough space to do as she wished. Shadow did just that, and obeyed my “Sit. Wait.” until Gracie had her fill and walked away. Then Shadow bent to lick up the rest. It was all so civilized.

Something is clearly different right now. I’m not sure what. And I’d still like to get her professionally evaluated at Legacy Trainers in Sequim and get some training myself.

It’s not that I actually want credit for her current behavior, but I have to say we really are both a lot calmer and happier these days.

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