14 June 2008

Practicing Public Access at a Pet Convention

Today our vet's office was doing a huge event in cooperation with another local vet. The program included a broad range of horse and dog events and booths. The public was invited to come for free and bring pets on leashes. So of course we thought this was a great day to get Molly out for some practice in her new vest.

It was a lot for her to handle and we were prepared for it to be hard--she has never been in so much of a crowd before, especially not one including so many dogs. But it is a good place to start because she's allowed to be a dog and wouldn't be getting into trouble or attracting negative attention if she barked or whined or growled a little.

The weather was not ideal for such an event--it started raining (finally--we need it desperately so can't complain) and some of the time was pouring hard. The ground was hard and uneven with rough stubble from recently cut hay that is brown and stiff from the dry weather. Between the ground and the rain, we decided the wheelchair had to stay in the car. So I was managing on crutches and had no where to sit. My pain level was pretty bad and I couldn't very easily bend down to pet or praise Molly.

DH really wanted to see the horsemanship demonstration (I did too, but having Molly cope well was a higher priority for me), so we found a good spot for watching that. It just happened to be near one of the exhibitors, who had an X-pen with a litter of pugs or mops or something. A whole bunch of them if not a litter. Now Molly did very well just settling down and being with us. But those little beasts started growling and barking at her from their pen. The exhibitor didn't seem to mind her dogs acting up, but it bothered Molly. I moved her around a little and gave her a few commands and she quickly settled down and ignored them even though they hassled her most of the time we were there. That really made me proud.

A lot of dogs went past us and mostly she just acted like she wanted to say hi, something I discouraged. The only time she did more was when an old male black lab stared at her for a while and she suddenly barked at him. She definitely didn't feel safe with that dog and again the owner didn't care, so I took her for a little walk away from the crowd so she could get some space and air and settle down. Fortunately for me, it didn't take her long to regain her equilibrium. When we got back to DH, the dog she didn't like was gone.

She's still too eager to talk to people, so I really have to work on that more. Mostly I just kept her close and put her into downs or sits and it went fine. What really worked was when she noticed the horses in the arena. Then she went into a down and watched them. It wasn't as focused as it often is at home, but it kept her from wanting to do a ton of other things and she really behaved well. She also showed no signs of wanting to herd the horses.

Molly also attracted attention both for being an unusual sight in a border collie--most Danes aren't used to the short hair version. But if you're a BC person reading this, you're probably nodding your head in agreement if you live anywhere in the world and own ANYTHING other than a black and white long haired BC--but also for her vest. People were very interested in what it meant and in what she can do. Except for once right before we left, Molly demonstrated by picking up my hat and giving it for me. She ended up being an ambassador for service dogs and really impressing people.

One person that talked to us was a little girl who was disappointed we weren't doing a demonstration. She'd seen service dogs on TV and hoped that might be what the vest meant. I think she really felt special when I gave Molly permission to talk to her and Molly picked up my hat to demonstrate. That was really cool. It was also neat hearing people leaving us and telling other people how impressive Molly was with what she can do.

Another person that came up and talked to us did so because she recently adopted a dog that looks like ours (sounds more like a rescue). She's supposed to be a couple year old BC, GSD (german shephard), and somethign else mix. So she was asking some questions and we had a great talk. I recommended she look into clicker training and get her kids involved (she had a couple little girls). She was asking if it was normal for the dog to be such a magnet, so I explained about BCs and their bond to humans.

A final fun point for me was checking out a "border collie" that was going to be taking part in a Danish Kennel Club exhibition. I went seeking the person and dog out in the tent. Looked like a pudgy thing, to be honest. I asked her if it could herd. No, it didn't like sheep. I asked her about it's breeding. She bragged about it's obedience background--it's mother apparently was a world champion in obedience. I told her it wasn't a border collie and started to walk away. She got mad and asked me what I meant.

So I explained that BCs are working dogs. So a BC is only a BC if it is bred in a working tradition. The dog she was so proud of wasn't really a BC. I walked away. It would have been a waste of time for me to talk to that person. Also meant no point hanging around for the "herding breed" part of the club exhibition. IT DIDN'T LIKE SHEEP! I don't care what you use the dog for, but a dog that far removed from the behavior that defines a border collie just can't be a border collie. What really makes it bad is using a dog like that to demonstrate the breed to people who aren't familiar with it. It's just WRONG.

Really it's a sad thing--that the DKK is as bad at the AKC in ruining the breed. But it made me feel good that I'd been teaching people about real BCs, their intelligence and need for a job and how and why they bond with their people like they do, when she had nothing but a barbie collie and was supposed to be the important person. Molly may not be top working bred, but she has herding potential and she definitely knows that sheep are for working. Even without papers, she's more border collie than that DKK registered blob of fur could ever be.

I am totally beat from too much time on my feet, so I'm going to crash in bed for a while. Molly isn't tired at all. She wants to play and train. I'm sure she'd be happy to do the day all over again if we gave her half a chance.

As for the weather, we've gotten a decent bit of rain but nowhere near enough. We're hoping more will come because there are thunderstorms in the air. I can hear it rolling. She doesn't mind thunder, thankfully.

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