I returned to the shelter the following week to walk dogs again. After my unfortunate mistakes on my first shift, I was armed and ready with knowledge and confidence.
Today wasn’t as snowy as the day last week, but it was still cold…the kind of cold in which your nostrils freeze closed a little with every inhalation, then thaw as you exhale (that’s not just me, is it?!). I decided to zip my gloves into my jacket pockets while leashing dogs so this pair would survive another week.
I was happy (and sad) to see Renalda. She was a red circle dog, meaning that she was house trained and should be one of the first to go out in the mornings. She had not yet been walked, and she had been such a pleasure to walk the previous week, so I signed her out. I had noted, along with several other volunteers, her injured paw, and the shelter vets had fitted her with a boot to protect the paw on her walks. While I was happy that she was being treated and on the mend, I was nervous about my own ability to put on the boot. I was remembering jumpy Ranger (who had been adopted in the past week!!) as I entered Renalda’s kennel with her harness and boot. I needn’t have worried, however, as that sweet girl wagged calmly and patiently while I put on her implements.
Renalda picked up her booted foot awkwardly as we strolled. We walked around both trails and she peed and pooped, but she didn’t seem particularly pleased to be out and about. After our 15 minute walk, I could tell she wanted to go back in, so we headed back to the kennels. Renalda and I enjoyed some snuggle time and pets before I slipped out.
Next, I decided to take Nabisco for a walk. The small pitty had been an easy walk for me the week before and I get attached to animals quickly (as I imagine most of my readers do!), so I wanted to take him out again. I slipped into his kennel, applied his harness, and out we went.
As we walked along the back trail, Nabisco had a different energy to him. He kept grabbing the leash in his mouth, closer and closer to my hand! I employed the soft toy in my apron pocket to distract him. The soft toy would work momentarily, but then Nabisco would drop it and grab the leash again. I picked up the toy and then he lunged for it and I tossed it out in front of him to keep him moving in the right direction.
Nabisco got interested in sniffing, so I pocketed the toy and we exited the gate that leads to the front trail. Out on the front trail, Nabisco resumed his antics. He gripped the leash with his teeth and pulled so hard that I worried he would rip it out of my hands. The soft toy distraction worked only for moments at a time and Nabisco’s enthusiasm for it as I picked it up worried me. He went from a soft growl during the leash tug of war to leaping at the toy as I picked it up. I kept my calm façade, but I began looking around for another volunteer to alert in case I needed help.
Ultimately, Nabisco and I slowly made our way back to the kennels. I was confused about his seemingly abrupt change in behavior. I had not read about Nabisco in the information book prior to this walk. I had walked him the week before; I thought I knew what there was to know about him.
This assumption was (now so obviously) wrong. So much can change for a dog who is in a shelter setting within a week. Dogs are usually stressed by the constant commotion (dogs barking, the flux of visitors and different volunteers) in the shelter. They have been removed from whatever their normal is and placed in a new, and often scary, situation.
In the week between our walks, Nabisco had felt those stressors and had been designated a blue dot dog. A blue dot designation is for dogs who exhibit behaviors that the behavior staff believe require a walker with extra training. These dogs may be a little more fearful, dog aggressive, strong, jumpy or mouthy. They may have behaviors unique to them. Regardless, these dogs need an experienced walker with the skills to adjust to their behavior set, skills that I did not yet have!
I was embarrassed that after my negligence to check the information book before walking Tracker, I had once again failed to enter a kennel informed and prepared. Nabisco’s blue dot was right there on his kennel! The notes in the book would have alerted me to the change as well. This time, the dog and I were safe. But I did feel frazzled and committed myself to improving.
I proceeded to walk several other dogs that day. I followed all the steps and took no shortcuts. I walked into kennels armed with all the information available about the dogs I was walking, and enjoyed those walks and play times immensely.
Gone were the frazzled nerves, replaced by the warm feelings of having helped an animal. Before leaving, I passed by Nabisco’s kennel and gave him treats and some scratches, which he accepted gratefully. I thanked him for the lesson (and for keeping the secret!).
I knew then that I would steadily work through the 40 hours of dog walking required to take the blue dot walker training. Hopefully, Nabisco would no longer be at the shelter by the time I could walk blue dot designated pups, but I was committed to furthering my experience and education so I could return a part of the joy that animals bring to my life.
Read more about my dog walker training and other unfortunate mishaps at welcomepaws.org!
Learn more about volunteering at HSHV!
Research your local animal shelter and get involved!