Honey Visits the
Sniffing Shopping Mall
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.
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.
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.
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.