I think my dog class with Zukini this morning actually set me up to have a great time with Sunshine today. In dog school, a new dog who also has some reactive tendencies, has joined our tiny class. Today when we arrived, that dog and her owner were in the arena. Knowing that she is a reactive dog, and not wanting to set things awry, Zuke and I waited outside and worked on getting him to pay attention to me. The other member of our class arrived and walked in. That’s when the vocal fireworks went off. There was a lot of big barking going on inside. My little brown dog, however, focused on me when I ask him to watch me, and did the simple requests I asked of him. It showed a lot of progress and heart from my little brown dog.
During class, Zuke had the best focus he ever has. I was very proud of him, and was delighted to hear that our instructor noticed all of these changes. I was so proud of my little brown dog, and felt that he was stepping into the role of a reliable partner (on leash, we won’t push too far). I was pretty confident that the positive state that I was experiencing was also apparent to my dog. And this feeling of connection, openness, and fun carried over to my time at the barn.
I knew that I wanted to work with both of my boys today, but I wasn’t sure what the order was and didn’t have a solid game plan. I went out to close some gates, and saw Sunshine eating from the round bale. I made my way back around and saw him over by where I had been by the outdoor arena. I walked into the field, and shut the gate. I turned to see my red horse walking up to me.
No biting when I haltered him!! This was very very exciting news, and he even let me run my hand down his forelock all the way to his nose. I felt some of that connectedness and fun that I had experienced with Zuke earlier in the day, and Petey in the round pen. How funny in retrospect, thinking about how just petting a horse’s head I would consider fun. Just like a little kid. Things have sure come around full circle.
I brought Sunshine into the arena, left his halter on, and decided that movement was in our plan for the day. One of the things that I would like to see, in addition to him starting to trot without pinning his ears, is some licking and chewing while he is walking. I asked him to move around the arena, making circles, straight lines and changing direction. I paid careful attention to the curve of his body, watching for the very first hint that a brace was coming. Usually, if I am quick enough to catch these, I can find a way to give, or reduce a pressure, in a way that stretches Sunshine’s comfort level and he ceases to resist.
As we were working together, I felt a softness from him and that element of fun was here, too. This is what I’ve been hoping for with my red horse. I couldn’t help it, my thoughts went to how much fun it would be to ride him and experience that same connection. I brought myself back to the present moment and being grateful for what we have right now.
Of course, there was some releasing that Sunshine wanted to do after that. I let him choose where he wanted to be, and watched him come so close that his hair was almost brushing my coat. I remembered to breath as I kept an eye on his mouth (always ready to move away from those teeth). Sunshine had put himself in the “leg up” position. Curious, I put my hand up, and got about 2 inches from his withers before there was the slightest hint of a tail swish. I held my hand there and Sunshine started yawning and then gave a big shake. It felt like enough to both of us, and we went back out into his field. To my delight, there was no biting as I unhaltered Sunshine, and I gently scratched his face before we parted ways. All of the practicing, learning and experimenting is worth it! Thank you both for your willingness to trust and give me a chance, Zukini and Sunshine, I appreciate you so very much.