Honey Goes Shopping–For Confidence

Honey Visits the Sniffing Shopping Mall

Golden Retriever admiring a display of knitted animal  hats

I feel strangely drawn to these hats. I wish everyone wore them.

You’ll be disappointed to know that when we took Honey to the Pet Expo at the Shops at Ithaca Mall two weeks ago, Victoria’s Secret did not want her to pose in their window display. Or maybe you’ll be pleased because you don’t like buying bras with dog hair already in them.

Either way, we had a great time seeing all the other pets at the mall (including a pair of very handsome rats perched on a young woman’s shoulders).

But it wasn’t all sniffing butts and accepting treats. No, we had work to do. Our trainer had given us a homework assignment to expose Honey to various pieces of equipment and moving objects to build her confidence. And the 4-H Junior Tailwaggers Dog Training group had set up agility equipment at the mall. What would Honey make of it?

Spooky Agility Equipment

Honey had been the star of her puppy manners class. She came in already knowing sit and stay. At four months old, she was far advanced over the three month old lab mix puppy in the class. And she ran circles around the six month old puppy, who, the trainer explained, had lost her brain as all Golden Retrievers do at about that age.

When the trainer brought out umbrellas and balloons to test their socialization with unfamiliar objects, Honey wasn’t fazed a bit—not even when the balloon popped.

Golden Retriever with agility tunnel

Hey, I put my head in. Where's my treat for being so brave?

But then out came the agility tunnel. The trainer squished it together so the dogs wouldn’t have to go through a big, scary tunnel. And after a little coaxing, both the other dogs went through with no problems. Honey? No way.

After several minutes and me finally getting onto the floor at the other end of the tunnel with a big piece of meat in my hand, I was able to coax her through. What would she do facing the tunnel at the mall?

Well, weeks of training her to feel comfortable with her Doggy Ride bicycle cart which involved giving her treats for calmly putting her head into the cart made a big difference. At the first sight of the tunnel, Honey stuck her head right in. I couldn’t see her expression but I’m sure it said, “Hey, I’m looking in this dark, scary thing. Where’s my treat?”

She had a similar accepting response to the weave poles and a low jump. But given the slow progress we’re making in just using a wobble board, I wasn’t surprised that she barely sniffed the teeter.

I feel we had a very positive homework experience.

Expose Yourself to What You Fear

No, I don’t mean moon the plane the next time you have to fly somewhere or flash your breasts at the snakes at the zoo. Although I guess it couldn’t hurt.

Guides for dealing with phobias tell you to gradually increase your exposure to things that scare you. That’s what we’re doing with Honey. And it’s what we’re doing with ourselves.

Last year, I took sailing lessons and spent the entire summer practicing. I can tell you now that I have absolutely no fear of sailing in a light breeze on a boat in the middle of a lake where I could easily swim to the shore on a warm, sunny day.

Golden Retriever doing agility jump.

Anything you can do I can do better. I can do anything better than you.

But I had a bit of a shock after a summer of light winds to experience 35 mph gusts on a cold, rainy day the last weekend the sailing center was open. Going from bobbing and baking all season long to conditions that lead experienced sailors to reduce their sail area (which we were unable to do being unfamiliar with this particular technique on this particular boat) was quite a leap.

I try to remember that day when I’m thinking about exposing Honey to new scary things.

I would have been much happier if I could have progressed through light wind with sun to heavier winds with sun to heavier winds with clouds to scary *ss gusts with clouds, rain, and cold. And I have to be patient enough to realize that Honey will be happiest progressing from seeing the wobble board to walking by the wobble board to stepping on the wobble board when it doesn’t wobble to stepping on the wobble board as it moves.

Back to the Mall

One of the best things about the Shops at Ithaca Mall Pet Expo was that it gave us a chance to build Honey’s confidence in a new setting. Sure, we can work in our house and yard all we want. But we’re never going to expect Honey to ride in the bicycle cart in our living room. And stepping on a ramp in our foyer is not going to help her walk a boat ramp if she’s never seen one outside the house.

Dogs Welcome Sign

Honey's not allowed on the pedestrian mall downtown, on the bus, or at the lakefront park. But on Pet Expo Day she's welcome in the kitchen supply store.

Going to the mall to try new things teaches Honey that she can succeed in facing scary objects in different settings. And I think the smells and sights of other dogs in the area made her more relaxed. Anytime her nose kicks in, Honey feels more comfortable.

I’m thankful that the Shops at Ithaca Mall have decided to organize this fun event for the community. And I look forward to going back on October 20 to see how much progress we’ve made. Even if Victoria’s Secret doesn’t want Honey in their underwear.

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  1. I think that’s a really interesting take on facing your fears, and one I need to consider myself. My dogs seem to have loads of confidence, but I’m the one who’s lacking in that department. I see some things I need to take to heart! :)

  2. This is so great, congratulations! The tunnel is scary to many dogs, especially ones that are fearful of new things. Honey’s bravery here is a huge step! I don’t know if I would be so courageous faced with a human equivalent.

    It’s fascinating to me that being around other dogs helps relax Honey. I wonder if there is a way you could bring the bicycle cart to the dog park or perhaps bring other dogs to your yard while working with her and the cart. It’s probably not very practical, especially without a vehicle, but I wonder if it would make a difference for her.

  3. How way cool is that! What a great idea that you could go in most shops as a participant in the Pet Expo! Teri said she is a little ‘overcommitted’ at the moment but would love to join in something like that with us kitties!

  4. I love the way you are approaching this Pamela, you are introducing and letting Honey get accustomed in her own way. I really believe this is the best way to do this. Expose her and let her see it’s not all that scary.

    I wish all people approached life with dogs the way you do. Do you think Honey knows how lucky she is?

  5. I’m so claustrophobic that I’m sure I would project my neurotic fears on my dogs at just the thought of the tunnel. What a great experience for both of you. You are both so lucky to have each other.

  6. Yay Honey!! Sounds like a really fun event :) It would be very nice if we could slowly approach our fears – you are doing a great job building Honey’s confidence!

  7. I didn’t realize just how timid Honey is. Every time you bring it up I keep thinking of what a sharp contrast that is to Agatha and Christie. I’m really impressed she stuck her head in the tunnel without any qualms. That is AWESOME!! Just the fact that she was so relaxed with all those strange objects laying around is great. I’m always so amazed at just the tiniest steps become great big leaps. While you may not have felt ready for the the cold wind and rain, there’s nothing like having to face your fears head on when there’s no choice involved. And it only makes you stronger for it. So will you be taking on more sailing adventures this summer? It will be interesting to see how much you have grown since your last time out. :) Looking forward to hearing about it.

  8. I like the idea of slow exposure too. It’s like desensitising isn’t it? We practise that on Georgia for a number of things including fireworks and cats. It sounds like Honey is getting just that bit better with That Cart. Yahoo!

    I know your caption says that Honey isn’t usually allowed into the pedestrian mall but it still makes me jealous that there’s a day in which you can take her into (most) shops. What a great idea. Does it ever cause any mayhem?