I logged onto my dashboard to install some updates, and I realized that I haven’t posted since March of last year. I’ve meant to. I’ve wanted to. But the drive wasn’t there. I was more focused on everything life was handing to me (read: tossing violently at my head), and when the fog lifted, I had no words.
My dad had a bad fall in May; helping him recover took a lot of that time. Diabetic injuries are never straightforward. I had to take a break from taking classes at Fenzi to ensure he was getting the best care possible. He passed at the beginning of October. I went from parental caregiver to nothing (if you’ve been there, you know what I mean), and that caused a rift in the space-time continuum that I struggled with for awhile.
I am forever grateful for Rob (who became more than a rock… it’s more like he was Mount Everest) and for the compassion (at least I think it was compassion) I received from Blazer.
Last year, I enrolled in a class at Fenzi called Dealing with the Bogeyman. The focus of the class was helping your dog conquer his fears utilizing play (among other things). I really struggled with this class because I’ve worked with Blazer for so many years that it didn’t seem like the provided tools were going to work. A lot of the suggestions were things that I had tried with Blazer at the beginning, and because he was so stressed at the time, nothing stuck.
What the class did for both of us was magical. It didn’t help Blazer conquer any fears he had when we started the class, but it built a bond between the two of us that we never had before.
All the years of giving Blazer his space, of not touching him except to desensitize him ended up putting a wedge between us. The jealousy I felt when he greeted someone he cares for was, in part, my own fault. I didn’t realize leaving him alone discouraged him from engaging with me.
For the length of the class (and actually even now), I went into the bedroom when I came home and just sat. I didn’t say his name or encourage him. I just waited. I have to admit– this exercise was painful. For the first couple weeks, I’d get a small wiggle and a yawn, and then he’d go about his business.
A year later, I don’t even need to sit. He comes right to me, spins around, leans into me (in a “u” shape), and turns his head toward mine and gives me kisses and wiggles. We call it “huggy buggy”, and I can even say it (capturing at work!), he’ll come right over and get into position. Sometimes, I’ll get three huggy buggies in a row! He’ll walk away and run right back to me.
And if that gives you warm fuzzies reading it, imagine how I feel writing it!
He’s much more responsive when I call him. While he does still sometimes ditch before he reaches me, he’ll often come right up to me, give me a big kiss in the eye or up the nose, and then I’ll throw his favorite toy of the moment (currently it’s a toss-up between Bertle the Turtle and his brand new Rammy the 3rd) to reward him for my prize.
This is a dog who, for years, wouldn’t come if I called him. If he did, he’d reluctantly come like I was a scary aunt who was going to pinch his cheeks. He would barely wiggle if I tried to get his attention. But letting him decide whether it was worth coming to me made all the difference in the world. Now it’s Christmas every time he huggy buggies into my arms.
Again, this wasn’t exactly the point of the class, but this was such an accomplishment. You can’t fulfill the hierarchy of needs if you don’t have every piece covered. We had to work from the ground up to get things better.
And better they are!
Blazer officially switched to harness last year, and I am finally at a point where I don’t dread
the move. His decision-making with the extra freedom has grown leaps and bounds (and every so often goes backward). I will admit there have been a few cracked fingers and a lot of rope burn (we’re not perfect), but I think it’s worth it to allow him to pick up sticks and play while we walk.
Recently, out of nowhere, after a few days of being unable to tolerate bicycles at all, he suddenly became okay with bicycles again. If they’re moving slowly enough, we can even walk while they pass. In most cases, we move over and wait, but his body language is relaxed, and he’ll usually look up at me as they meander by (the ones that speed by loudly are still an issue, but baby steps!).
When joggers go by, Blazer barely even looks at them. Sometimes he’ll look at back at me, or he just keeps on going. I never thought I’d get to this point. It’s hard because I want to jump up and down and celebrate, but I don’t want to call attention to something he’s finally able to ignore.
He doesn’t even bark or lunge when someone tells him he’s a good boy! (I know that sounds weird, but trust me, it’s big.)
We continue to work on his backyard playing. His desire to sit under the azalea is still strong, but if we tell him to get out from under the bush, he’ll toss the ball to us. He almost always returns either to the bush or to us, which is an improvement. His frisbee returns (as long as we don’t push the play sessions) are fantastic now too. I think he may actually be starting to understand if he brings it back, I’ll throw it again. Maybe.
He’s been making better decisions at home. He has a lot more self-control when he it comes to animals walking up behind him or trying to take food from him. Outside of a couple bad decisions that weren’t entirely his fault (the cats almost egg him on), he has been a model citizen with the cats and Captain Awesome. Just a few days ago, Emily walked up to him while he was sleeping. She started sniffing his toes. This would have caused him to launch off the floor in an all-out war years ago. This time, he sat up, nosed her and returned his head to the floor.
About a week ago, we had an incident. After a walk, Blazer decided to throw himself on the ground and roll. We always get a kick out of him rolling (he seems to really enjoy himself), so I let him do his thing. When he jumped up and shook, his leash yanked out of my hand. When he realized he was free, he took off. Toward a woman and a toddler.
His life flashed before me. While I have worked endlessly with him and strangers, I can’t exactly train for this particular situation. He ran around them in herding fashion, barked. The woman yelled at him and threw a ball she had, and instead of trying to herd them or grab the ball, he came flying back to me.
There are a lot of things we can take from this. You can imagine I ran the scenario in my head a million times after it happened. But it’s the decision-making that I always come back to. He decided to come back. He came back. On his own.
We took the boys on our first “family vacation” last fall. This included bringing fifty-five foot leashes to have them out with us, as we rented a cottage in Maine. Being able to throw a frisbee for Blazer was a big treat for him. After the success we had while we were away, we used them all winter to play with the dogs when walking wasn’t feasible or all that much fun. Outside of an incident where the wind carried a ball much further than the leash and caused a rib injury I’m still healing from, it’s been working really well.
I’m still amazed at how well-adjusted Blazer is when we travel. He loved the place we stayed at, and as usual, he played non-stop. He struggled with the trails we hiked (Acadia National Park has gorgeous, wonderful trails, but a lot of them are very narrow), but as the week went on, he grew more comfortable with the terrain and the area.
That does appear the theme– he adjusts. This is a dog who couldn’t adjust to anything. Now, depending on the change, it can take him seconds to days to adjust. I would say it’s miraculous, but I know it’s all the hard work he and I have done.
Every day, we work. This will continue for his lifetime. But it’s incredible considering how far he’s come. How far I’ve come. How far we’ve come together.
Rob and I now joke that my “little angel” can do no wrong. But can you blame me for thinking that? Look at that face!