Barley and I do have a lot of fun. She's silly and she's adventurous and she makes me laugh. But living with a reactive dog is hard.
|What do you mean? I am the most serious dog in the world.|
Last week, we had one of our hardest moments in a long time and I've spent the last week trying to process it.
Last week started a new 6-week session in our agility class. We got a new classmate this session, which is always a challenge for Barley because she's so sensitive to changes in energy in the class.
We've been with one of our classmates since our very first agility class over three years ago. Another one has been our classmate for over a year while a third has been with us for several months. They are the most wonderful, patient people in the world. They give us the space we need, but still love and accept my girl. They celebrate our successes in class and support us when we're struggling. They are never impatient when I'm struggling to remember which side is my right and which one's my left. When Barley gets nutty, they understand. They never make me feel like Barley is a "bad dog"--and there have been classmates in the past that have expressed those sentiments.
Six weeks ago, we got our first new classmate in a while, but they fit in beautifully. The dog is an adorable beagle mix who has a funny battle cry every time he charges into a tunnel and his mom is good at chatting with us from a distance to keep Barley sane.
This time, I was worried, though. Our new classmate is a Jack Russell mix--and if you've been with us a while, you might remember that Barley's arch nemesis is a Jack Russell our neighbors own and leave out in the yard unsupervised, so if Barley and I are outside and it sees us, it will charge at us and then when I shove Barley inside and slam the door, it attacks our French doors. Barley can be dead asleep and hear that dog barking outside and she'll wake up and start tearing around the apartment looking for it. If she happens to see it out the window, she cries. It is a sound I have never heard her make at any other point in time.
|Barley can hang out 6-feet from a deer, but she can't even be on the same planet as a Jack Russell.|
So, when I saw our new classmate, I was worried. We warmed up a bit with some heeling exercises and Barley had noticed the new dog, but she was staying focused on me. When we went around the room introducing ourselves, I gave my standard "we keep our distance in class--not because we aren't happy you're here, but because Barley's a little weird with other dogs" speech and then it was time to set jumps. What happened next is really a blur.
Barley and I have a jump setting routine. Some of our classmates can put their dog on a sit-stay at one end of the room and move from jump to jump, but Barley needs me to help her; if I leave her to her own devices, the other dogs are too big of a distraction for her. We approach a jump, I have her sit, and then I set the jump while still holding on to her leash. It also helps us reinforce sitting and staying in front of a jump until I release her, so it might slow us down on setting jumps a bit, but our class is good at helping me manage Barley and there are enough of us that things get done quickly despite our routine.
I saw the new dog walking past us--at a distance--from the corner of my eye. I said, "What's that?" and Barley looked at me. The next thing I know, she's flying across the room towards the little dog. Theoretically, the leash should have had to not only get out of my hand but also go over the bar I was holding. It should have been more difficult for her to get away from me, but it happened. And Barley's fast, so she was flattening her new classmate before the owner could pick her up. Everyone was fine (at least physically--I might still be traumatized) and our trainer assured us that because Barley inhibited her bite and just slobbered on her dog that her intentions were to offer a correction to the dog not to hurt her, but it doesn't make it easier to wrap my mind around things.
In addition to having wonderful classmates, our trainer is the best. She immediately lined us up with the dogs on the outside and herself in between us and had us heel together and get the dogs focused again. Then when it was our turn on the floor, the new dog went into the crate room and stayed in her mom's arms (just in case Barley decided to run in there). When it was the new dog's turn, Barley and I went in the hallway where I could watch the dogs working on the floor but Barley could have a distraction-free zone to relax.
Our new classmate has proven to be as wonderful and patient as the rest of our class. When I checked to make sure her dog was ok, she told me that her dog had probably sassed Barley as they walked by (and another classmate who was nearby when the fracas occurred told me that Barley had been reacting to a stare down from the new dog--but I can't confirm that and it doesn't make it less nerve-wracking). I brought some homemade treats for the class this week to try and diffuse any lingering awkwardness and make sure our class knows how much we appreciate them.
|She smiles even in exile.|
We'll be continuing our exile during the little dog's turns to give Barley a chance to decompress and they'll probably be spending time in the crate room during all of our turns. This week was better, but Barley is still very focused on her new frenemy and on her first turn ran to where she'd seen the new dog across the room while we got the course at the beginning of class. As soon as she realized she wasn't there, she came back and we had a good turn--but I think this will be a long journey for us. One thing I'm learning, though, is that Barley and I are not alone on this journey. We've got the most amazing support system along for the ride with us and we couldn't be more thankful for them.