Read Part One here
Read Part Two here
Read Part Three here
dr. A snapped the leash onto riley's collar and told him to sit. riley eyed him warily, but sat. (it is one of his most reliable skills.) as a reward, he got a tiny shred of hotdog. this perked him up a little. after all, he hadn't eaten in two days, and now this kindly old man was feeding him a delectable treat the likes of which he had never had before. he watched dr. A with a little more interest.
"what is it that you want from riley?" dr A asked me.
"well," i said, "he's afraid of everything noisy, and when he's afraid, he barks and lunges and gets frantic. i'm really worried that he might bite someone some day. so i'd like to be able to calm him down. and i'd like him to pull less on the walk--he's always lunging after squirrels and things."
the other thing i wanted from riley wasn't so easy to explain. how could i explain that riley didn't seem to particularly like us? he seemed indifferent. he didn't cuddle the way boscoe did, and although he had gotten pretty good about coming when called, it was seldom with enthusiasm. he clearly adored boscoe, but doug and i were just ... i don't know, the parents.
i found this embarrassing; aren't all dogs thrilled to see their owners? don't all dogs want to snuggle on the couch and leap with joy when they get to go in the car? riley was impassive all the time, except when he was playing with boscoe.
i wasn't sure how to explain this to dr. A.
"and i'd like him to cuddle with us more," i said lamely.
dr. A took a piece of hotdog out of the little pouch he wore on his belt, put it on the palm of his right hand, and closed his fingers around it. then he let his hand hang straight down at his side. riley moved closer, bumped the hand gently with his nose. this was something we had worked on in puppy class a year ago--"targeting," it's called. the point is to make the dog pay attention to you, and not to the various distractions around him.
"good boy," dr A said, and unfurled his fingers so riley could have the hotdog.
oh, man, he gets hotdogs? and i'm the perfect one and i'm starving?? i could hear boscoe moaning from the kitchen where he was locked behind the baby gate.
dr A put another piece of hotdog in his hand. he walked up the stairs. riley followed him with great interest. they walked back down the stairs. he made riley sit. he gave him the hotdog. "see? now he loves me," dr A said, and he scratched riley's ears.
ha. as if it were so simple. try that with a roller blader and a dump truck going past, i thought.
dr A and i sat back down at the dining room table. he explained to me, over the course of the next hour (he's a professor, after all, and they always talk in blocks of 55 minutes, don't they?) about dog psychology.
1) think of dogs as perennial teenagers. teenagers should be grateful for all that their parents provide, but they aren't. they take it all for granted: food, safety, shelter, love. they see all that as their due. and once those needs are met, they want more and more. they're naturally greedy. dogs are the same way. therefore, you must not just give him those basics. make him earn them. make him do something every single time before you give him anything. make him sit for his food, lie down and stay for his treat. make him sit before you let him go outside.
2) this goes for attention, too: don't cuddle with him. make him cuddle with you. make him come to you, make him lie down, make him put his head on your knee, whatever it is you're looking for. then and only then can you give him attention. make sure he knows that everything you do, everything he gets, is on your terms, not his. remember that it is not natural for dogs to want to be held. when you put your arms around a dog, you think of it as being affectionate, but a dog thinks of it as being entrapped. you have to teach them to like it.
3) dogs need to feel secure. the gentle leader (which dr. A invented) will help with that. it's a head harness that goes around his nose and fastens at the top of his head. dr. A said that the top of the head is key with dogs, and having pressure there is a calming influence. get a gentle leader (actually, we had one, but riley hated it) and make him wear it all the time, even in the house, even when we're not home. the pressure on his head will calm him down.
4) work with riley on his fears. for instance, get out the vacuum cleaner. have doug stand in another room with riley, a bag of chopped-up hotdogs at the ready. then turn on the vacuum cleaner. vacuum slowly, never moving the vacuum toward riley, which would scare him more. have doug and riley move slowly toward the vacuum cleaner, feeding him treats the whole time. as soon as riley barks, stop. move back a step or two until we get to the place where he feels safe enough to not bark. feed him treats. continue to vacuum slowly. move him forward again. feed him treats. the idea is to eventually get him to think that whenever the vacuum cleaner comes out, good things will happen. repeat this training with all the other noisy things that bother him: trucks, roller blades, bicycles, and on and on.
clearly, i thought, I will be training riley for the rest of my life, in all my available free time.
and it's fine for dr. A, who made me starve riley for two days and then bribed him with hotdogs. but how will this work when it's just the course of the day, and riley isn't desperate for food? will any of this work then?
dr A stayed all afternoon.just before 5, he walked back out into the snowstorm, climbed into his SUV, and drove away.
after the door closed, both dogs looked at me with great expectation. you got any plans for the rest of those hotodgs, sweetie? boscoe asked casually.
riley was more direct. feed me! i'm just a little guy, but i'm hungry!
TO BE CONTINUED
24 minutes ago