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.
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.