Magic turned four years of age on February 8th. There is a level of maturity, confidence and situational-awareness comfort that has really blossomed in him over the last eight months. We took the Therapy Dogs International (TDI) test in May of 2017 and he was “dinged” on the portion, BEING GREETED BY A FRIENDLY STRANGER. Since the dog requires 100% to pass the test, MAGIC failed. However, looking back on that part of the TDI Test, last May, I came to the realization that in MAGIC’s brain, the approach of the so-called friendly stranger probably didn’t look too friendly. Bent-over from the waist, arms bent at the elbow, a slooowww approach…sort of like this, at least in MAGIC’s mind:
A frequent activity for MAGIC and me is taking my sister, Mary, to O’Hare International Airport (ORD) for business flying and picking her up at ORD upon her return. For the pick-up portion, I will arrive 60 to 90 minutes early, park in the short-term garage, and bring MAGIC into the United Airlines Baggage Claim area. We have never been challenged. The Chicago Police will stop by for a friendly chat. And we just sit and wait and watch. The goal with the airport visit is exposure to people, people approaching, being approached by friendly strangers, different smells, different noises, activities that MAGIC does not normally have in our homogenized suburban complex. MAGIC is wonderful with whispered verbal commands and subtle hand signals. He settles IMMEDIATELY and at ORD loves to just…watch. Watch without reacting or responding. Just watch. I find it very interesting how a very black dog laying quietly on a white terrazzo floor is simply not noticed by the large majority of people. But, MAGIC is watching, observing, assessing, smelling, taking it all in – and being a VERY good boy about it. Dogs walking by, usually very small dogs, do take notice MAGIC, and they keep a very close eye on him. Still, not even a twitch from MAGIC. During one of these baggage-claim visits, two women on their way to Europe had a several hour lay-over and chose UAL baggage-claim to relax and check their phones. Without a word or a look, they sat next to me and MAGIC. MAGIC noticed them, was aware of them, looked at them, but did not move – at least for the next several minutes. But after a few minutes, he stood up and approached the two women who were obviously comfortable around a well-behaved dog. His approach was respectful, inquisitive, but his approach also had an element of friendliness, “Hey, my name is MAGIC, I’m a cool dude, you can pet me, I won’t hurt you…”
“May we pet him? What is his name? He’s so calm…”
So it went with the visits to ORD baggage-claim. Calm, cool, collected. Friendly strangers, smiling and eager to say HI to a dog, as if MAGIC was the last dog on earth. MAGIC’s comfort level and confidence rising with each approach. And I realized that MAGIC was coming into his own with greeting people, and being greeted by people.
Mr. Smooth Operator watching EVERYTHING at ORD.
A dog at the airport suggests at least two reasons why the dog is present:
The dog’s presence is in an official capacity. Think law enforcement, drug interdiction, explosives sniffing. MAGIC’s prick ears, coloring, and, let’s call it, “attention to detail,” certainly give him the look of Mr. Official Capacity. Or, the dog is a Service Animal, accompanied by it’s handler. MAGIC is NOT a Service Animal.
MAGIC and I tested again with TDI on a Sunday afternoon at the end of January. By this time, MAGIC had transformed himself into Mr. SMOOTH Operator. Very laid-back, comfortable with himself and his border-collie-ness, no need to mix it up, or even show awareness with the nine other dogs being tested, very content with watching the “testing circus,” so to speak. I expected to see well-behaved dogs and calm, under-control handlers. I was very surprised to see and hear skittish dogs, loud commands, taut leashes, repetitive commands, stressed dogs. In the back of the testing facility, there were three men and two women, all five wearing official-looking black sweatshirts.
Magic’s test was easy. Whispered voice commands, subtle hand commands, a sense of aloofness with the other dogs being tested. The Tester commented twice, “You see how this handler is barely whispering to his dog? There is no need to shout at your dog…”
At the conclusion of the test, MAGIC and I were immediately approached by the “black sweatshirt” crew. “We want your dog in our group, that is an awesome dog.” So, the following Thursday, MAGIC and I spent four and a half hours at the VA Hospital in North Chicago. Long-term care, regular patients, PTSD, mental health, Vietnam vets. Whether he was greeting or being greeted, MAGIC was outstanding. Moved well in hallways, stairwells, with the group, kept the pace, never faltered, really an outstanding effort on his part. However, disturbing behavior with one dog and it’s handler will prevent MAGIC and me from staying with this group. One of this group’s dogs, a slender black mixed breed female did NOT want to be there. Her story: She was being “transitioned” from a Service Dog, whose situation did not work out for her and the previous owner, to a Therapy Dog. Tail tucked in between the rear legs, ears back, a serious reluctance to engage with patients, this group’s clients, if you will. The handler was DRAGGING the seated dog on a taut leash up to the patients’ faces. And some of you may be thinking, “What does a dog do when it is stressed?” I brought this behavior to the group leader’s attention. Astonishingly, his reply was, “The dog is going to have to fight through this…”
Wow. I have decided to return to Rainbow Animal Assisted Therapy (RAAT) where my prior Border collie, CODY, was a valued canine team member for Reading To Dogs and Children with a Profound Fear of Dogs. Our six hours of additional training with RAAT begins next Thursday.
MAGIC has a new canine friend – a female, go figure! Her name is TAVA, which is Russian for COMRADE!