Ever since I began agility classes at the place I'm currently taking classes at, I've noticed a change come over Dahlia. It happened quickly and it took me by surprise. She was never a timid dog, but she was a soft dog who was overly sensitive to certain things: being run into, loud noises, and dogs who wanted to play rough, specifically.
I had her for over two years before we began classes here and she had yet to overcome any of these things. Some of that was because I simply allowed to it be. I didn't work on acclimating her to being run into. I didn't work on getting her used to loud noises. And I kept rougher dogs away from her.
The first of the trio of "issues" she has (being run into) has been successfully solved through this class. We got her so involved in tug that I started to incorporate running into her as part of the game. We'd play tug for a time and then I'd step forward and run into her side, or use my legs to manipulate her side. She would hang into the tug and growl and start tugging harder. It was a signal for "amp up the play, girl!" and she took to it brilliantly. Once she was comfortable with my running into her during play, I would begin to run into her on purpose and then offer her the tug toy. She'd grab onto it and play. Now she sees running into her as a signal to play and she is instantly up and excited. If I don't have a toy there, she settles right down. But she's not shutting down and that's the important thing!
The second of the trio I'm only beginning to work on more, so we'll leave that for another day.
It's the third of this trio of "issues" that is the real subject of this post, though seeing her play with the tug toy the way she has been is also beautiful in and of itself. But this last one, playing with dogs who are rough, has been something that has weighed on my mind for some time. Generally, interaction with a wrestle play type dog goes like this:
1. Dog approaches.
2. Dahlia gets super excited about meeting this dog.
3. Dog jumps on Dahlia.
4. Dahlia issues a pretty clear warning growl.
5. Dog either persists and gets more warning growls or the owner pulls the dog away because my dog is "aggressive." (This depends on the person at the other end of the dog's leash. More knowledgeable people recognize the warning. Less knowledgeable people think she's starting a fight.)
I've gotten used to this. I really have. And I've explained to other people so many times that my dog "is really just a chaser and doesn't like to be jumped on." I've apologized countless times and tried to explain to the less knowledgeable that "no, she's really not aggressive...this is just how dogs communicate."
Saturday morning before class we saw one of the other dogs approach us. Rebel is a lab puppy who is approximately 8 months old at this time. Dahlia has met him before and he has certainly gotten the warning growl. His owner is, thankfully, one of the more knowledgeable people and recognizes that Dahlia is helping to teach him something. On Saturday morning Rebel clearly had a lot of excess energy to burn because as soon as he saw Dahlia and I, he took a flying leap...straight up into the air. And then he came bounding toward Dahlia, alternately leaping in the air and rearing up.
I was expecting to experience my list above, step by step.
But I didn't get that.
Instead, he immediately rushed up and jumped on Dahlia. Dahlia backed up briefly, but then launched herself at him with a big excited growly play face on and leapt on him. She just pounced, like she pounces on her stuffed toys. He jumped back. She rushed forward and jumped on him again. And they briefly wrestled.
It brought tears to my eyes. Yes. For real. I admit to being a complete sucker when it comes to my dog. Any time I see her grow like this, I get all teary-eyed. I told Rebel's owner that this was amazing and I'd never seen her do that before.
And her response?
"I guess all she needed was a little bit of Rebel in her life."
Yes. I think we all need a little bit of Rebel in our lives!