Moving to a new home in a new town last month and effectively unraveling many of our daily routines and rituals has taken a bit of a toll on our four-dog family. Peaches, in particular.
A lot of her longtime fear-based behaviors (barking like Charles Manson just arrived when we walk in the door, and not wanting to go in her crate) have bubbled back up, leaving her stressed and anxious in certain contexts at home. And now I find myself obsessively reading fearful dog blog posts in between bouts of guilt over not doing more for her and moments when I’m ready to auction her off on her Facebook page to the highest bidder.
Luckily I always have one tool in the behavior box that I can reach for when the Peach is in need of some therapy: People. Get her around people.
I’m a person who likes to recharge and refocus by myself, not around others. But my dog is the opposite. Peaches needs lots of fun, positive interaction with people in order to get her groove back. Most stressed, anxious and fearful dogs I know need a break from people–at least from strangers–in order to reenter their comfort zone. But pretty much since the day I brought her home, Peaches has needed people in order to find that comfort–all people, lots of people, new people . . . not just her people.
Coincidentally one of my good friends and a long-time teaching colleague invited us back to visit with this year’s summer school students in the Mitchell-Scarlett Teaching & Learning Collaborative this week. Two years ago, we spent a couple of days visiting with students in this program and it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had with Peaches.
The program and our visits there aren’t about dogs or animals or “pit bulls” or therapy dog work. They’re about literacy and learning. And sometimes what you need in a learning environment is an opportunity to engage with your subject matter in a novel context with new “collaborators.”
Most of these students are non-native speakers of English and get the opportunity to spend time outside with a friendly, nonjudgemental dog who thinks they hung the moon while they practice reading their presentations in English. And in turn, Peaches and I get the opportunity to regroup as a team outside of our home, away from other indoor environments that she might find stressful, while enjoying the company of some incredible young people eager to interact with her. Win win.
The first year we participated in this program, we listened to presentations on rescued birds of prey that the students had learned about at the Leslie Science and Nature Center here in Ann Arbor. And this year we learned about local fair trade businesses and some of the products that the students researched. Which was great for Peaches, because she always thought “fair trade” was about her begrudgingly giving me a sit or a down in exchange for some cheese.