Raven is our wild child. She is our goof ball. She is our great at rally/agility/obedience work dog. She is the dog we allow brand new families to work the rally course with because she makes everyone look good. She is also our loose canon.I post these “let’s be honest” posts every now and again so that any one who may be considering a DAD/Service dog understands that having a SD (service dog) is a tremendous amount of work. And that work is forever on-going, for the working life of the dog. You have heard me talk before about Raven, and why she is with us, but here is a brief recap.
We were initially hoping Major would be our one and only. But his previously abused life created some issues that we just can’t work out. He is ABSOLUTELY amazing at what he does, and he is our day time, public access DAD. But he doesn’t alert at night or in the car. The harder we push or train, the more pressure we apply, the more he pulls away. So we have learned his strengths and his limits, and we work within them.
We initially borrowed Raven to try and help us train Major. Raven is a strong night alerter. She was no longer in the DAD program, as she is a barker at times and gets a little possessive of her space, making her a tough placement for someone to take to school or work. More info about that is here and here.
Raven hadn’t been active in the DAD program for awhile, so it took us some time to get her back up to snuff in the alerting department. We didn’t get our first night alert from her for almost 3 weeks. We worked really hard to get her back into diabetic alert shape, and once we were there and had her alerting, it became very obvious to us that Major wasn’t going to be able to alert at night. But Canine Hope saw how well Raven fit in with us, and as they were about to possibly re-purpose her as maybe search and rescue, or even a pet, we were given the opportunity to bring her into our home permanently.
Now Raven is a strong personality, and at the time we also had an older female Great Dane, she too a strong personality. Our Dane had cancer, and wasn’t feeling well. The Dane was getting more and more reactionary and possessive of her things. One day we accidentally left out a dog toy, both Raven and Roxy went for it, and the Dane got Raven pretty good. It was at that point we realized our Dane was much worse off then any of us thought, and we had to make the tough decision. At 9 years old, we probably couldn’t have asked for much more.
After that, Raven seemed to be very leery and cautious of other female dogs and small animals. We had some concerns, and then it seemed to get a little worse. A couple of weeks ago, we had her spend some time with a Canine Hope trainer to work through some issues and evaluate. She came back a little better, and we have been working pretty diligently with her, paying very close attention to triggers, anticipation, and working thresholds.Issues like this will come up from time to time in the life of a dog. Maybe not this exact problem, but there will always be scenarios that cause problems. SD’s may be attacked while walking through Petco. You may be in a car accident that could frighten your dog. Your child could let a door slam on the backside of your dog. There are any number of things that could create things that will need to be worked out, thought out, and hopefully trained through.
Fast forward to last night. With daylight saving time, I have started meeting some friends on Mondays to go for a run around our local lake. One of the people I run with has Molly, a female shepard mix. Molly is a great dog, and perfectly capable of handling herself, and Resa (my friend) is a great dog handler. I trust both of them, and made Resa aware of what I wanted to do. I figured I would bring Raven out to see how she would react.
We got there and I brought Raven out of the car. she cautiously walked up, and when she got within a foot, she started snarling, hackels up. I put her on a down and kept her there. When she calmed down, lots of love and petting. We did this a couple of times. After awhile, Raven was showing no signs of aggression. And off we went for our run.
I keep Major and raven on my left side, and I had Resa and Molly run on my right. We did that for about a mile. I started to notice that Raven wasn’t really reacting to her normal triggers. A rabbit crossed, and nothing. A coyote ran across our path twice, and she hardly noticed. So for the next 2 miles, I had Resa run on my left side, and she would vary her speed, sometimes right next to Raven, and then in front, behind, and passing. Raven didn’t flinch. She also seemed a little more relaxed than normal. We would stop for water breaks and I would administer lots of praise, and we would let the dogs linger around each other.
We stopped and took some pictures and then started running again. Between the training we were doing, the love and rewards, and the physical exercise working off the tension, I knew what I wanted to do next. Resa and I both use the Buddy System Hands Free Leash to run with, so I asked her if it was okay if I ran with Molly for the last 1/2 mile.
I added Molly’s leash to my belt, and actually put her on Raven’s left, so Raven was the middle dog. We finished off our run just like we had been running together forever. I wish I had a picture of us running together, I was so happy to see Raven calm, relaxed, and non reactionary. It was amazing. I am no fool, so I will continue to work with her, and I will continue to bring her on these runs. It is great training for all of us. I do feel like we had a tremendous breakthrough last night though.
As I have explained before, I normally don’t exercise Raven late in the day. I find that she normally sleeps to heavily at night on days when we run after 10 am, and won’t wake up to alert. That was the case last night. She didn’t get up for her first alert until 4am. But I knew that would happen, and my wife made sure she checked Stella when her alarm went off. Knowing your dog is very important. Just like if we had spent the day dock diving or at Disneyland, I knew that on this night, things wouldn’t work as normal. This particular training, and Raven’s mental well being far outweighed a night of alerts. We will continue to work with her on things like this, and with Molly. Molly seems to be a great match for her. And perhaps, as she gets used to the newer schedule, we can work on night alerting on those days. If it carries over into the following night, we will back off.
Constantly working to improve the lives of our dogs, both physically and mentally.