I should have blogged yesterday but some crazy events occurred during the weekend and I was simply too bothered by them to be able to sit down and write.
I’ve been replaying the events in my head and been contemplating whether or not to blog about it. A part of me thinks it’s totally unprofessional but another part says that maybe people can learn from my story.
I know I harp on the idea of being your dog’s advocate as being a critical part of responsible dog owners ship; well, this weekend I really had to put my money where my mouth is. I’m pretty sure advocating for my dog contributed to a potential student withdrawing from a class but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I bring Rio with me during my orientations as a demo dog. He demonstrates the skills we will cover, he demonstrates the homework for the first week, and we generally play a timing game with him so students can work on their timing with their marker words/clickers. He’s been my demo dog for over a year with hundreds of students, there has never so much as been a flicker of a problem. He is a gentleman when working the crowd, responds beautifully to me when demoing, and is willing to work for students if I have time to play a second game where they each get him to do a behavior.
I always make sure the group is okay if I let him off-leash to mingle before I do (and if someone isn’t comfortable, I don’t) and am very aware of what he’s doing while I talk. If he’s getting too lovey with someone or is being a distraction, my assistant will keep him busy or I’ll give him a Kong.
I was left absolutely flabbergasted and fumbling for words after an event this weekend. A potential student attending class was trying to get Rio to sit. She was leaning over him, staring into his eyes, and very forcefully telling him to sit. He looked at me and looked confused so I called him to me to demo something. I kept him busy and with me for most of the remainder of the class but I then used him to demonstrate greeting people appropriately using a hand target and afterwards let him o back to saying hi to the group (which he really likes to do).
He had been avoiding the student who was a bit inappropriate with him but she called him over and tried again to get him to sit. She leaned down even closer to his face, staring at him and forcefully telling him to sit. I was watching this and was about to call him back over to me when I saw her grab his collar and move her hand to start pushing down on his hips to push him into a sit. It all happened so fast and I was SHOCKED by what I was seeing that it took me a second to react.
Before she could do anything more than grab his collar I stopped, mid-word, what I was telling the class and requested that she not yank on his collar like that, “Oh, please don’t pull up on his collar like that. He doesn’t know that means to sit and he’s very sensitive.” I called him away once she let go and explained that he wasn’t trained to respond to his collar being pulled on and his butt pushed to the floor. I told her that he was probably not responding to her for a few different reasons. Leaning over him wasn’t body language that is friendly, that she had an accent and that he may not understand what she was asking, and that he had no motivation to respond to her. I hated calling her out and after the initial interaction was planning on talking to her after class but Rio is my first concern and her behavior was really unacceptable and potentially dangerous.
Ignoring for a moment that she was going to yank up on the collar and push his hips to the ground, she is extremely lucky that Rio is the dog that he is. Her body language alone could have easily caused a dog to bite. She was leaning over a strange dog, staring into the eyes, forcefully saying a command, all with a very stiff body posture–even a friendly dog could react quite negatively to such inappropriate interactions from a stranger.
I didn’t want to offend the student but I had to advocate for Rio. I knew that there was a good chance she would drop out of the class as a result but I’d rather deal with those ‘consequences’ than have Rio start to fear people or stop enjoying coming to work with me (though it is not the only reason there were a few other issues involved). It’s my job to be Rio’s advocate and this was a moment where he really needed me to advocate for his well being.
Anyhow, I was extremely flustered after this and have been replaying this in my head for a few days… should I completely stop bringing Rio to class? Should I have stopped letting him mingle the first time I noticed the inappropriate interaction? What could I have done differently?
Fortunately, what’s done is done and there’s nothing to do about it now besides learn from it. I’m not totally happy at the outcome (losing a student and probably offending her) but at the same time, I will always advocate for my dogs.