So, not long before I signed up start training with Rhonda Bilodeau, I signed me and Rudy up to do the Humane Society's Doggie Fun Run on June 9. Rudy was attending Vermont Dog Socials with Rhonda and Nickie and I was hopeful that by the time our training was underway and he had attended a few socials, he might be able to participate in the fun run with me.
The fun run would be a 3.5 mile run for the Humane Society and it would be limited to 100 runners, with or without their dogs. For those of you that know me and Rudy's story, you know that he doesn't always have the best track record when it comes to socializing with other dogs. Rudy has a tendency to be reactive, and has on two separate occasions gotten into scuffles with my neighbor Danielle's black lab Cash. In addition, he had been growing more reactive to dogs that we would meet while out walking on leash. Any dog that seemed to approach Rudy would be meeted with calmness at first, and then a sudden onslaught of barking, growling, and gnashing of teeth. Rudy's insecurity caused him to immediately react to any dog that greeted him.
So, bringing him to a run that started in Battery Park and ran along the bike path with 100 or humans plus another 30 to 40 dogs seemed like a crazy idea to me, despite our hard work. I knew we would have to get there at 8:00 am to hand in our donations, then stand around for 30 minutes with groups of people and their dogs, and all their crazy energy that seemed to go along with it. I felt like I might be setting Rudy up for failure - that expecting him to accomplish such a task after 7 weeks of training was a lot to ask for. I went back and forth for days on whether I would bring him with me. On the Friday before the race, I emailed Rhonda and she encouraged me to bring him. So, I resolved to do so.
We arrived downtown at 8:00 am, and we parked on Pearl Street near Battery Park. Rudy could see all the dogs walking toward the park before we even got out of the car, and he was already getting excited. I got him settled and out of the car. He immediately wanted to run toward the park, and I had to correct him a few times with the e-collar to get him to settle in and walk with me. As we walked toward the park, I could see his excitement and intensity growing. So before going to the registration table, I walked him around a few times, correcting him as needed. Once he seemed to settle in, we walked over to the registration table to hand in our donations and pick up our t-shirt. There was a crazy energy yellow lab behind us, so I moved Rudy in front of me at the table, and made him sit. He sat patiently while I signed in and handed over my donations. The woman at the table even commented on how well behaved he was, all while the lab behind us barked and whined at him.
I knew standing around was going to be hard for him so we walked around for a while. I purposely chose to stay away from groups of people with high energy dogs that were barking or whining. Instead, I walked him by calm dogs who were sitting or calmly relaxing next to their owners. Rudy even approached a few, and sniffed them, and let them sniff him. We moved along quickly with any dogs he greeted, since it seems like lingering is always a problem.
When the rae was about to start, we went to the back because I didn't think being surrounded by runners and their dogs was good for Rudy's confidence. So we picked a spot near the back, and settled in next to two dogs that appeared calm. The race started, and Rudy did fantastic! He ran along beside a few dogs for quite awhile, glancing at them casually and staying focused on the run and me. I only had to correct him a few times during the race, and most of the time it was for running out in front of me because he was trying to catch up with the dogs in front of us! He greeted all dogs that passed us calmly, and let them pass without incident. There was no tension, and I think around mile 2, I finally relaxed and just enjoyed the run with my boy!
We finished the race, and Rudy had his own cheering section as we crossed the finish line because before the race, I had shared his story and touted the great work of Vermont Dog Socials with a group of women who were very interested in Rudy's background. Their daughters loved Rudy and he enjoyed hanging out on the grass with them until the race started.
We only had one negative interaction when a crazy hyper chocolate lab ran and jumped into the kiddie pool that Rudy was cooling himself off in. Rudy immediately reacted the adrenaline the other dog had, and went in to full adrenaline mode himself. But, I corrected him quickly, and took him out of the pool. I made him sit, using the ecollar, and he immediately settled right back down. I was then able to have the owner of the chocolate lab sit next to her (who I happened to know), and we were able to have a conversation for a few minutes while both dogs sat at our sides. I would catch Rudy staring, and would tell him no, and he would look away. We said our goodbyes, and went along our way! I was so proud of Rudy, and proud of myself for staying calm, and just giving him the correction he needed to calm down.
Rudy was so good, he got to then go to the Ben & Jerry's tent to claim his free vanilla ice cream while I sat patiently and waited for him to eat it! I let him enjoy it, and lick the bowl clean, because he earned it - every last bite of that ice cream.
We continue to work on training, and I am treating every opportunity and interaction with Rudy as a training experience, and I knew eventually we are going to get to where all we have to do is sit back and enjoy each other's company!!