The dogs don’t get any more relaxed than this. I’d taken them to the creek on a Friday morning with my son, an old ford that is deep enough in places for the dogs to swim, and that flows into rapids, and that has a bank of soft white sand. Kevin Behan suggested to me that Pundit’s insane love of water is a reflection of my own love of water, and maybe it is. There was a time, when Pundit was still in his prime and before I had kids, when I took Pundit to the Potomac River with my kayak. As I paddled the quarter mile upstream to the main rapids, he swam beside me. He ferried small rapids, pulled himself out on rocks, leapt to other rocks and back into the water to ferry some more, his small paws paddling rhythmically, his determined puffs of air as he swam making him sound like a seal. He has lost so much strength. I could see the little rapids of the creek pulling him downstream as he struggled across. He lost sight of the stick in the water and circled around, unsure. I threw him another stick and he got it, brought it back, and barked for more. I threw his stick in a few more times and he seemed to get his rhythm back, swimming more smoothly and doing better at finding the stick, sticks he once would have been able to mark and swim straight to. And then he took his stick over to a spot in the sand and contentedly chewed. Even there, I had to help him once, when a wood chunk got stuck between two of his old teeth.
Cholula is not especially comfortable in the water, but maybe again because she feels the draw it holds for me, she tries. She followed Pundit out into the creek, grabbed a stick, and brought it back, picking up her feet too high, stumbling a little on the pebbly bottom. Then her ears tensed into total prey mode as she honed in on some tiny bubbles that were floating downstream in a solid circle. She stalked that full moon of bubbles, poised as it floated towards her in utter concentration, and then snapped her jaws right onto it. She looked up at me with creek water running down her chin, surprised that she’d come up with nothing but water and air.
But that’s not why this photo, taken back in our yard after our morning at the creek, shows Cholula as relaxed as I’ve ever seen her. It turned out that the creek was the perfect place to get to Cholula’s bark and bite. After we had played at the water’s edge with the dogs for a while, we settled on the sand, warmed just to comfort by the sun. My son and I played with the sand, some rocks, and some fluffy seed things from the huge tree overhead, which he pretended were worms. Mostly, we had the place to ourselves. But from our perch we had a perfect view of not only our side of the creek and the dogs who occasionally walked by behind us along the drive, but also the other side of the ford, where a muddy bank led into a wooded path along the creek where people would walk by with their dogs.
Cholula, having staked herself next to us in the sand, interpreting the spot as our own, got a full-fledged charge every time she saw another dog, whether it was across the creek or alongside of us. I started goading her slightly and encouraging her to speak whenever she honed in on a dog, and a torrent of barks emerged, almost a rolling chant of barks, varying in pitch and measure–some high, some low, some clear, some gutteral, some more like howls and others more like whines, some with even a kind of yodel and a rolling growl. She barked right in my face and snapped her teeth at me, unconstrained. It sounded like she was accessing something deep in her soul. And for days afterwards, she was an especially sweet and mellow dog. I hoped that the experience might be our breakthrough for speaking on command. But in the yard, without the stimulation of those dogs looking her way, she’s still sneezing, rather than speaking, on command. I have a new respect for what she is holding inside, and a renewed hope that I’m going to get to it.
Another thought I had after that morning by the creek, that doesn’t exactly fit in this post, but I thought I’d add it anyway, is of two things I’m especially thankful for about Natural Dog Training regarding my journey with Cholula. The first is that in my first telephone conversation with Kevin Behan, Kevin released me from feeling guilty about not bringing Cholula on family outings she wasn’t ready for. For a long time after that conversation, over a year, I basically never brought Cholula with me in the city on hikes or walks in the park with my kids. When I didn’t trust her not to lunge unexpectedly at a random dog, having her along just made the experience more stressful for all of us, but before I spoke to Kevin I had this sense that I needed to bring her out with us, to give her as much stimulation and exercise as possible in the hopes of helping her calm down. Kevin explained that for a dog in her state of fearfulness and, as he called it, constant charge, stimulation– including the stimulation of exercise–would only make things worse. He released me from feeling guilty about not taking her on our family outings, and from worrying about giving her as much exercise as possible. As long as I ensured her morning and evening walk around the block, and a chance to pee before bed, that was sufficient–and the additional walks and hikes, and, as she improved, eventually jogs, my husband or I did take her on fairly regularly but without the kids, when we could fit them in, those were extra–not something Cholula had to have. This was good for both her and the family. And now, I am thankful that, due to the changes in her that have come about through my efforts to work with her using Natural Dog Training, I’m more and more comfortable bringing her along. She is so much less reactive, so much more relaxed, and I am so much more aware of what might set her off and how to handle it, that, slowly, the crazy shelter dog is becoming the family pet.