TROLLING FOR (STRESSED) TRAVELERS -and- CUSTOMIZING PLAY FOR EACH DOG FRIEND

Christmas Eve and we’re looking for something to do – together.  Let’s go to the airport, hang out in UAL baggage claim and actively petition for human contact, see how may stressed travelers will notice our little sign, or even notice the presence of a dog!

“Let’s go work.”

MAGIC knows what that means.  Bye-bye in the car, putting on the vest, driving to the airport, riding the elevator, up the stairs, right into UAL baggage claim.  I sit down in one of the many chairs that line the baggage carousel areas and without a word or a look, MAGIC lays down and just pays attention, watches.  Everything, everybody, even the so-called comfort dogs (we saw five).  MAGIC know the dogs are walking by, he TOTALLY ignores them.  Several weeks ago, during a trip to pick-up @marnbear, a bomb-sniffing dog walked by and was quite upset at MAGIC’s presence.  MAGIC was like, “I see you, I mind my own business, I will not give you the pleasure of even putting my ears up.”

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MAGIC’s demeanor suggests that he is “invested with authority.”  Calm, watchful, unobtrusive, unassuming, so much so, that people are tentative in approaching him for “a scratch.”

Our two hours in baggage claim were very successful, very heart-warming. A lot of: Merry Christmas-Thank you-So nice of you to share your gorgeous dog-What a wonderful idea.  MAGIC has turned into a very proficient and seasoned practitioner of canine good will.  The moment he becomes aware of an interested party, he will stand up and walk right to them, usually pushing his head into their legs or waist area.  After the initial petting and rubbing, he lifts his head, exposes his speckled neck, and looks the person right in the eyes.

Earlier in the day, MAGIC had a visit from his best neighborhood play-fighting buddy, ASTRO, a one-year-old German Shepherd dog.  This will be ASTRO’s 3rd appearance on the blog.  In earlier stories, the topic has been MAGIC’s mentoring of ASTRO in the fine art of “don’t do that, you idiot!”  And, bless his heart, ASTRO not only has learned his lessons well, he and MAGIC have become daily play-fighters, usually for 45 minutes to an hour every day.  And not just play-fighting…chase-me, chase-you, bitey-face, surrender-kill-surrender which includes exposing the abdominal cavity and neck.  The surrender-kill-surrender moves are the true test of full trustworthiness, the stability of the canine relationship with each other.

 

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MAGIC controls ASTRO’s  annoying behavior with cheek-pulling corrections.  ASTRO get’s the message and life goes on…

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MAGIC and ASTRO have ID tags from  islandtopdesigns.com

 

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MAGIC’s level of control with ASTRO’s provoking approaches (grabbing the neck from the back, for one) is actually a bit harsh when compared to MAGIC’s interactions with other dogs.  For the most part, with female dogs, MAGIC will ALWAYS defer to them.  BRANDY likes to put MAGIC down, just because she can, and MAGIC just let’s it happen.  KAYA just gives MAGIC a “look” and MAGIC stops whatever he doing – immediately.  If dogs act wacky, as in uncontrollable, MAGIC will give them a low-growl warning, show some teeth, and then dis-engage.  With his good friend BEAR, the three-legged Shar-pei, BEAR can do just about anything, including neck grabs from behind, and MAGIC tolerates these approaches without any show of aggression.  With smaller dogs, MAGIC reads the situation as presented.  Aggressive displays from small dogs will ALWAYS result in a “walk-away,” sort of MAGIC’s way of saying, “you’re a nut case…you better work on that…”

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The “speckled-tummy squad,” PATRICK and very good friend, MAGIC.  From their first meeting, they have had a very strong, respectful friendship.  While they are almost 50-50 in the dominance-submissive category, PATRICK usually defers to MAGIC.

A DESTINY REALIZED and WHEN IS A THERAPY DOG, NOT A THERAPY DOG?

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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:

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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.

20171206_184524Mr. 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!

 

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MAGIC and his new girlfriend, TAVA, waiting for the soup wagon in Chelyabinsk.  Comrade!  (Photo courtesy of the People’s Canine Welfare League in Chelyabinsk)