By Kathy Morrow
As a volunteer dog walker at Animal Friends, I have walked quite a few dogs over the years. Last summer, my friend Sue asked me to walk one dog in particular. All of the others had already been walked and she said he was too strong for her. In large block letters next to his name, it said “very nervous.” I told her I wasn’t comfortable walking scared dogs because they might bolt and my biggest fear is losing a dog. She persisted and eventually we agreed to walk him together.
When we went to leash up the dog, he backed up against the wall with his tail tucked between his legs. He was so scared. While on our walk, he didn’t potty at all … he only did that in his kennel. I felt so bad for the poor boy. This dog had come in through the Humane Investigations Department. I don’t know what he had seen or experienced, but it was obvious he was terrified of people. When we got back from the walk, I stepped into the kennel with him as he retreated to the back corner once again. I sat down on his bed and all of a sudden, he jumped in my lap and covered me with kisses!
I adopted the dog I didn’t even want to walk. Sometimes they choose us.
Immediately, I signed up for obedience class at Animal Friends. Yes, I’ve spent years volunteering at Animal Friends and I’ve had dogs my entire life. I know how to teach a dog to sit, lie down, watch me and a plethora of other commands. Still, I strongly believe taking a dog to class is extremely beneficial. It’s a great bonding experience, the dog and the human have to work as a team.
One of my foremost goals for Angelo (named for the angel wings my friend Lisa said he has on his back) was to develop his confidence. Everything was scary to him. The microwave would ding and he’d jump. I’d put on a Sarah McLachlan CD and he’d run from the room. At first, he couldn’t be left alone in the house for even five minutes because he’d rip down curtains and run frantically from room to room looking for me. He would tear apart anything he could get a hold of. He panicked when he was left alone.
Most of all, Angelo was afraid of people – he still is. He’s better if other dogs are around, but he needs to learn that people are kind and not scary. Classes are the perfect setting for this lesson because he can see people treating their dogs lovingly. Angelo has so much fun in classes with dogs and their people. Doing fun activities around people and dogs helps build positive associations for him. At his first obedience class at Animal Friends, Angelo shook almost the entire time. After a few classes he began to warm up and actually started to like some of the people that were there each week!
I remember one session in particular that the instructor had to stop class because “Angelo was having a moment.” He had actually jumped into the arms of one of the men and covered his face with kisses. This was a dog who would pull me up our driveway and shake uncontrollably when he’s see a man approaching. That moment I realized that Angelo was making progress! The other people in the class were so supportive and understanding of Angelo. All of the instructors have been phenomenal – they’re all so kind and knowledgeable. When something isn’t working, they always have great input and suggestions. I’ve learned so much from them.
After our first obedience class had concluded, I wanted to continue Angelo’s education. We signed up for “The Nose Knows.” I really didn’t know much about the class, but it sounded like fun. Your dog has the opportunity to use his nose to find a hidden scent, similar to training a bomb or drug sniffing dog. The activity gets their nose and brain working. As Angelo worked to find the scents, it was clear he had a knack for it … he found it in the correct box, in between the pages of a book in the library, he was on a roll. At first I think he did this because he was rewarded with food, but eventually he really didn’t need the food. His reward was finding the scent!
All of this continued to help build Angelo’s confidence. He was good at something and he enjoyed seeing his doggy friends and, more impressively, his human friends each week. After we finished “The Nose Knows,” we moved on to “The Nose Knows Level Two” and Angelo got to have even more fun, searching outdoors and in vehicles.
What we learned in these classes is also great fun as a rainy day activity at home. Believe it or not, these fun searches are a great way to tire your dog out. As they say, a tired dog is a good dog! We would do a few quick nose games and some obedience before I’d go to the grocery store and when I returned there was no destruction to the house … it was almost a miracle!
Most recently, we finished taking an agility class at Animal Friends. On the last day of our obedience class at Animal Friends, the instructors brought out the agility equipment for fun. I couldn’t believe that my shy, fearful dog had such a blast running through the tunnel, jumping through the tire and climbing up the ramp. I’m certain he had never done any of these things before, but he was obviously a natural so we signed up for agility class.
We will shortly be taking another class at Animal Friends. Angelo and I both enjoy these classes so much. We’ve met so many nice dogs and great people. When I think of all the classes we’ve taken through Animal Friends University, I think to myself that I’m giving Angelo a pretty fun life. Now all we need is for Animal Friends to add more offerings to their class selections!
Photo credits: Debbie Thomas and Angela Pulice