Darwin waiting for more fetch

This is Darwin. He is our “special needs” dog. He is usually a good dog at home, but he has issues with other dogs (other than the poodles and Cricket) and with people he doesn’t know very well. In these situations, he gets very barky and anxious. Since he is a medium sized black dog, he can often look a little threatening when he does this.

We’ve done a lot of work with him on this — including working with a professional dog trainer — but most of the training is really more about how to manage him rather than necessarily curing his issues. He has shown some improvement and has been a little easier to manage, but he still has his issues.

Today, he had a few experiences that were very new to him…and he actually did quite well.

So, this morning was hectic and chaotic. Renee had an early appointment and had to rush out the door. I went into my home office and started work, completely forgetting that today was an Alpine Canine day. They come and pick up the dogs in a cute little bus and take them on a three-hour hike. This has been especially great since my foot surgery since that has made it much harder for us to hike the dogs ourselves.

Alpine Canine Bus

The orange Alpine Canine bus

Normally on Alpine Canine days I put Darwin in his kennel ahead of time so that he is out of the way when they pick up the other dogs. I also lately have been working in the living room for an hour or so in the morning, so I see the bus pull up.

But in the chaos of this morning, I completely forgot all of this. Until about 9:15 or so when all the dogs started barking wildly. I “ran” to the living room (more like a fast hobble) and was surprised to see the Alpine Canine bus parked in the driveway. The hiker picking them up, Jeremy, was already at the door.

The first thing that came to my mind was not the fact that Darwin was running around free, but rather getting collars on the poodles. I grabbed the collars and opened the door so that I could start sending out the dogs as I put on their collars.

Then Darwin started barking, alarmed to see a stranger standing at the door.

The next thing I knew, he dashed out the door and started running towards the bus. I’m not sure if it was because he wanted to go hiking too, or he heard the other dogs on the bus barking, or maybe he just wanted to know why there was a strange vehicle in the driveway.

Jeremy, the Alpine Canine hiker, rushed right after Darwin and somehow — I’m still not sure how — got him to stop running around the yard. Then he scooped up the dog and carried him back to the house. I wish I had a camera in that moment for the look on Darwin’s face as he realized that a complete stranger had not only touched him, but picked him up and carried him.

Once Darwin was safely back in the house, we finished getting collars on the poodles and they went off on their hike. Darwin seemed a little bummed to see the bus driving away. I still couldn’t believe that Jeremy had been able to wrangle him and carry him so quickly.

Later in the day, while the poodles were still on their hike, we took Darwin and Cricket on a short walk to a nearby school so that he could play fetch and get a little exercise. I still can’t go on long walks all the way to the river, but this at least gives him time to run around a bit. And he loves fetch.

Darwin and Renee in the park

Darwin and Renee in the park

When we finished with the fetch, we let him carry his tennis ball as we walked home. It sometimes seems to help; it is sort of a “binky.” Plus if he does decide to bark, at least it will be a little muffled.

We passed an elderly woman who noticed him carrying his tennis ball. She stopped and approached us to comment on this and say hello to Darwin. And for the second time in the day, he surprised me. He didn’t get upset and start barking when she walked up to us. He actually stood there wagging his tail and looking friendly.

He only got a little concerned when she held out her hand. He backed up and barked (muffled by the tennis ball), but he settled back down as soon as she backed off. We chatted for a few more minutes and then continued on our walk home.

He’s still a special needs dog, but it was encouraging to see him do well with a few new experiences.