Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Part 11, the Teeter

Choosing which of my dogs I love the most is like asking me which of my kids I love the most. I could not possibly choose. However, I must say that Jake will always have a special place in my heart… perhaps because of the way he protected Sarah or the fact that he has suffered such hardship, yet continues to greet the world with such happy enthusiasm. About a year after we got Jake I started looking into taking him to nursing homes. He is not only good-natured, but always very gentle when I ask him to be. He would be completely unfazed by wheelchairs, loud noises, or even hands that might pet too hard or grip too tight. And, he would fetch tennis balls for hours, each time gently returning them to your hand. I figured that some older person in a nursing home could benefit from the interaction. I started looking into getting him certified for pet therapy, and found out that the first step was to get him some formalized training. I found a place not too far from home and enrolled him in the next beginning obedience class.
Jake loved it. He loved getting out, he loved the attention, he loved the treats… and we had the best time together. And he was very easily trained. In fact, by lesson four or five, I was beginning to see a competition-worthy obedience dog. He is one of those dogs that heel by looking at the handler’s face the entire time, rarely looking at where he is going. He stays in heel position like we are have Velcro holding us together. And even his long sits were getting better.. he was now up to several minutes and his hips were much improved.
The lady that was teaching the class complemented us on how fast we were progressing and suggested that we consider agility as well. She also taught agility and had an indoor agility ring next to the obedience area. I longed to give it a try, but I knew that Jake’s hips would not allow him to do it.
We also talked after class about Maggie, who, by this time, was becoming overcome with anxiety when introduced to strangers and strange places. And, as she got worse, I took her out less, compounding the problem. The trainer suggested that I bring her and let her try agility… that perhaps putting her to work would help. It took a while for her to convince me, and I made an appointment for a private lesson, because I was too nervous to bring her there with other people around.
From the first moment, she was addicted. At the first lesson she was jumping, doing tunnels, and running the dog walk. I couldn’t remember when I had seen her so happy. We scheduled a second private lesson and I went home. The following week on our way to the facility, Maggie began screaming when we got near the place. Not a scared scream… more like the kids in the “we’re going to Disneyland!” commercials.
About halfway through the lesson, the trainer suggested that we work the teeter. She explained that she would keep Maggie from jumping off by holding onto her if necessary, while I encouraged her to the end. I said “but you don’t understand…no one but me can grab or hold Maggie. I have to muzzle her at the vet… she gets so frightened, that I’m afraid she will bite you.” In true Caeser Milan fashion, the trainer said “That was before; this is now… she loves agility and her mind will be on this, not on the past. As long as you stay calm, so will she” And sure enough, Maggie went up the teeter, the trainer put her arm around her to guide her to the end and Maggie never blinked an eyelash. And as that teeter tipped, Maggie’s life and mine, changed forever.

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