It was a chilly morning on a school playground. A half dozen other dog owners watched. I backed up 10 feet and called Annie, fully expecting her to run full-tilt toward me, just as all the other dogs had. But, no. She decided to stay with the evaluator at the other end of the 10-foot line and pretend she couldn’t hear me. Grr.
How many times have we done this trick on our walks? I release down the leash and walk away. Then I call Annie, and here she comes like a downhill freight train. But now, in the playground at Yaquina View School, surrounded by obedient golden retrievers and their owners, she did not come until I pulled the rope and reeled her in. We tried it again. No go.
Oh well. We had already flunked the practice test anyway for our evaluation as an Oregon Coast Therapy Animals Pet Partner team. Therapy dogs are not allowed to wear the pronged metal collars that Annie has used since we went to dog school two years ago. They look cruel with their metal spokes poking into the dog’s neck, but they don’t seem to hurt the dog and they work. Too bad. Therapy dogs cannot wear metal collars of any kind.
We tried a nylon harness. She pulled me across the pavement. We tried a leather collar. She pulled me across the pavement. We gave up and used the pronged collar. Confused and frustrated, she pulled me across the pavement.
Today I’m going to pick up a different kind of harness which I’m told will work. Please, God. I tried walking Annie with a regular collar yesterday, and it was like trying to stop a Buick. When she spotted the neighbor’s cat, I thought I was a goner. I outweigh Annie by a hundred pounds, but she packs at least a hundred pounds of determination in that sleek tan body.
She can sit, stay and down with the best of them, and they say she has the right temperament for a therapy dog, but my dog needs to walk without pulling me around. And she needs to come when I call.
I got in trouble, too. I need to temper that mean-Marine voice our dog trainer taught me to use. I need to say my commands firmly enough to get results but not so firmly that I scare old people and little dogs. Hmm. Stay!
The real test is in two weeks. Will we pass? I don’t know, but it’s a worthy experience that will make us a better team, whether we ever become official or not. The good news is that Annie was friendly with all of the other dogs. Whew. No fights.
I took Annie to Newport’s Bayfront the other night to give her some experience around people and pavement. The crowds and cars made her nervous, but the sea lions down below Port Dock One terrified her. You can’t explain to a dog that those monstrous critters can’t come up out of the water and hurt us. We had to go home.
On the way to the car, some drunken Oregon State Beaver fans, loyal to the black and orange, saw Annie and hollered, “Look, dude, an orange dog!” I guess if you drink enough Rogue Ale, she might look orange. . .
Got questions about pet health? OCTA’s next meeting is a Q & A with veterinarian Charles Hurty next Saturday, Oct. 23, 10 a.m. to noon in the education room at Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital.