I had been told by my grandparents that their dogs had always chosen them. I was finally able to experience that feeling myself. The other interns and I were brought into the play yard to meet a number of potential fosters. As the dogs’ names and stories were being told to us, one of the dogs started to quietly hang around beside me. The Canine Care Operations Manager told us that his name was Amos and he came from a fairly bad hoarding case. My focus had turned to Amos. He was just a sad old man beside me. When I stopped petting him, he moved closer and rested his head against my hands. At that moment, I knew he had chosen me.
Amos needed to undergo significant positive reinforcement behavior modification training. Truth be told I was quite nervous since I had never lived with or cared for a dog. I didn’t know how to dog, but, neither did Amos. We got to learn about being a dog together.
The biggest hurdle came from his nervousness around seemingly fun things for dogs, especially walks. I was so used to my grandparents’ dogs getting extremely excited whenever someone reached for their leash and harness. Amos dreaded every moment that I reached for his leash and harness. I knew I had to change what I was doing in order to make walking a fun experience for him. One of our vet techs suggested target training; first with my hand and then slowly with the leash.
Luckily for me, Amos LOVED food. Treats were an excellent source of positive reinforcement for him.
I used a closed fist for Amos to target because he was nervous when I tried to use an open hand. Within 10 minutes, this 10-year-old dog picked up his first new trick. I continued to increase the distance between my hand and his nose. Soon Amos would walk across an entire room to give me a fist bump. I began to hold onto his leash while I asked him for a fist bump. He hesitated at first but in a short amount of time the presence of the leash was no longer scary.
He picked up on his second trick in under 5 minutes. I wanted a sit, but when he gave me a bow, I just couldn’t resist.
From that point on, his personality bloomed. His tricks gave him the confidence boost he needed to finally become a dog. All of us interns had a good laugh the first time he, very awkwardly, tried to cuddle with us.
Although bittersweet, I experienced one of my happiest moments ever the day Amos was adopted. It was a great reminder to me that not all shadows are bad. Amos is a shadow of my past just as much as I am a part of his past. However, the joy of learning to be a dog together will connect us forever.