Riley was about 4 months old when we got him from the pound in forest lake. he had been with a family, but they had returned him. the reason stated in his file was cryptic: "aggressive children, jealous older dog."
we have no idea what riley endured in that unknown house, but it's not too hard to imagine. clearly, nobody had wanted him around. this might explain his standoffish behavior, his impassive expression, his wariness, when we first brought him home. try to pet him, and he pulled away. (as in this picture above with erik. note the slight flinch. sometimes, five years later, he still flinches as though he thinks we're going to strike him rather than scratch his ears.)
he didn't know how to do the play bow. he didn't fetch, he didn't romp. he hid under the kitchen table, and he didn't want much to do with us.
but the file said good things, too. it said he loved going in the car. it said he liked other dogs. it said he was good with children.
lies. all lies.
we discovered his fear of the car immediately. that is, the day we took home. he wouldn't get in. most dogs love going in the car. ann's dogs have all loved the car. i was used to toby and boscoe, who practically levitated with joy when i said, "do you want to go in the car?" they'd dash out to the garage and squrim with impatience until you opened the door and then they'd squirt into the garage and prance around. sometimes, if you leave the car door open while you are retrieving groceries, boscoe will hop in and wait. for hours. border collies are very patient. a couple of times we have had to drive him around the block, just so he would have the car experience and would get out again.
riley, once you got him in the garage (he'd run to the far end of the yard and hide behind the lilac bush), would waste a lot of time circling the car, keeping it between you and him, refusing to go anywhere near the open door. when you finally grabbed him and stuffed him in the car, he'd hop right out again, so you had to be quick--stuff him in with one hand, slam the hatchback with the other.
it was risky. possibility of decapitation was high.
when i took riley to behavior classes over at Dog Days on Grand Avenue, he'd slither over the seatback and crawl into my lap. it was charming, in its way--it was pretty much the only time he wanted to be in my lap--but it made for tricky driving. he seemed more comfortable facing forward and looking anxiously out the windshield, like a nervous back-seat driver.
we bought a pet gate to keep him in the back, but he figured out a way kind of flatten out his body, snake-like, and work his way underneath it. once he got stuck, and screamed, and we had to pull over. so that was the end of the gate.
i did treat-training with him, luring him out to the garage with Charlee Bears, then luring him into the car with Charlee Bears, then very cautiously driving around the block, stuffing him full of Charlee Bears the entire time. (this took weeks, not hours. just Step One took pretty much an entire canister of charlees.)
riley eventually learned to love doug's Jeep. usually when we all get in the jeep, it means we are going somewhere wonderful, like the woods up north, or the dog park, or nancy lo's house. he is still wary of my subaru, i think because the back isn't completely flat, and he slides around. there are still days when i have to chase him around the garage and beg him to get into the car and then try to get some Charlee Bears into him before boscoe grabs them. (when it comes to food, boscoe is very quick. riley likes to cautiously sniff whatever i have, in case i am trying to poison him. and sometimes he who hesitates is lost and boscoe swoops in and grabs the snack.) and on those days i think back to the paper we got at the pound that said he loved riding in the car, and i think, liars!
and then i think about his first few weeks before we came into his life, living in a house with a jealous older dog and aggressive children, and my imagination goes a little wild, and my heart melts at the imagined pain.
riley is the strangest dog i've had. he trusts us now, but he still goes through life with an expression that says, "i don't need nothing from nobody." he has no idea how much he needs us. he has no idea how lucky he is.
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