Putting Our Best Paws Forward

Right from the start, our dog Izzi has had a special quality of patience. Shortly after she came to live with us, I started to think she might be a good therapy dog and we might someday volunteer in the Reading with Rover project.

John reads to Izzi.

Reading with Rover’s mission is to: “Inspire children to discover the joy of reading while developing literacy skills and confidence in a safe environment, using Reading with Rover dogs.” The dogs are willing listeners for child readers at schools, libraries and bookstores.

Our Izzi turned six this year. We signed up for a pet therapy training class this summer. She is one of five dogs – with two great Danes and two labs – who gather for weekly sessions at MyPuppyNanny near Snohomish to prepare for the Reading with Rover certification test.

Monday’s tasks included walking calmly through an area of busy people, sitting, and staying. Then came the task that our instructor, Annemarie Kaighin, called “the deal breaker.” She would bring in another of her dogs from the adjacent kennel. The five dogs being trained must remain quiet as the new dog entered the room.

Izzi barked. My heart fell.

But all is not lost. Annemarie coached me to train Izzi not to bark at strange dogs. So Tuesday, Iz and I hung out at a nearby pet store. Every time a new dog came in I gave her treats. She seemed indifferent to the dogs but loved the chicken bits.

Wednesday, we walked around Green Lake. At first I gave her treats each time we saw and passed another dog. Pretty soon she’d see a dog and look to me for the treat. Mostly she ignored the other dogs or sniffed toward them with interest. Apparently she thinks dogs in pet stores and dogs on the walking path are not bark-worthy.

How can I replicate an indoor situation where strange dogs come by and I can treat her for not barking? We are both scratching our heads, and not because of fleas.

Meanwhile, Izzi and I are working on all the other stuff. She sits reliably at my side when I pause during our walks. She walks well on a leash. Whether or not I am able to teach her not to bark at new dogs, it is truly fun to work with her to sharpen our skills.

And I still hold out hope that our patient pup will pass the test. Stay tuned.

Izzi waiting for John to come home with her best friend, Hudson, our daughter’s dog.

8 responses to “Putting Our Best Paws Forward

  1. Izzy is so full of love. she soon will be a Rover star.

  2. Congrats to you and Izzy for patience and love! Your adventure with Izzy going to dog training school is a wonderful story. Anxious to read chapter two!

  3. Skeeter Britton

    Loved reading Izzy’s reading dog story. And such great pictures. She’s such a sweetie.

  4. Sounds like a great opportunity to help readers relax and enjoy in the company of a sweet, friend/dog without fears of criticism. I hope it works out for you!

  5. Laura – have you considered taking Izzi to PetSmart or PetCo. That is a great place to meet strange dogs in an indoor environment. Also, I would suggest you contact a local obedience trainer and or club and see if they have a CGC (Canine Good Citizenship) class that she could attend. I could help you find one if you don’t have any resource to find one. Loved the blog and still have a photo of you, Izzi and your *Dad* Duffy taken at Enumclaw about 5 years ago.
    Carol Callahan

  6. Thanks so much for encouragement from all quarters — especially from Izzi’s own family, Carol Callahan, owner of her Dad, Duffy, and (via email) Chris Alver, Iz’s mom, Sophie’s, owner. We continue to practice. Early this morning as we waited in line for the Orcas ferry, we met the fellow in the next car when Izzi barked at his dog. He trains dogs for commercials through his business, Gone to the Dogs, Inc., in Lake Oswego, OR. He generously worked with Izzi and me during our hour wait. I realize so much of the training is what I have to learn. I must lead confidently and not telegraph that I am nervous she will bark at new dogs. I plan for us to complete a Canine Good Citizenship class before trying the Reading with Rover test. Wish I had done it long ago.

  7. I had a poodle that was afraid of puppies. They made him mad and he’d want to jump on them. I did the same training you’re doing, as well as moving him away from those scary puppies. I found out when the puppy kindergarten classes were at the HS near me. We’d go, and hang out with plenty of distance so no puppies would come near him and I’d treat when they went by or came out of doors. Etc. Moving a little closer when he was comfortable but never making him interact. He never fully got over his fear, but he lived many many years doing the same thing Izzi is doing already, See puppy, Look at mom. He would smile even.
    Reading with Rover is such a wonderful program. This same boy, Andy and I had wanted to do that, and went through the training. His fear of children (yep, kids and puppies) kept us from that. You’re on the right track, Laura. Just keep those treats coming!

  8. With patience and perserverance, I know Izzi and your hard work will pay off and Izzi will be a Rover pup in no time.

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