Despite turning in far too late, when I first rolled over and opened my eyes this morning, it was 4:03am. With an hour until my alarm was set to go off, I closed my eyes and counted my breaths, focusing on each inhale and exhale, and drifted off to sleep again. When I next awoke, I peeked at the glaring red lights above my head and sighed: 4:09am.
I was having a difficult time sleeping because I knew I had a busy, exciting and somewhat frightening day ahead. Having prepared for this day for weeks, I was as ready as I was going to be and hoped Hailey was, too. At 6:11, dog and her belongings loaded into my vehicle, we headed off to the buildings where we would spend most of the day and arrived before anyone else. Hailey was not totally unfamiliar with the club, but I walked her around and onto the empty stage. I had taken her to the buildings previously and let her explore, get used to the sounds and sights, and played with her to encourage a positive association with the place.
Hailey was set up in a crate in the non-seminar building while I worked at the book table with some wonderful ladies from Barnes & Noble, amazed at how much we were able to sell. It was there that I first met Dr. McConnell, and we spoke about her books and about Hailey. I liked her right from the start.
The first part of the seminar was on reactivity. The subject matter was nothing utterly groundbreaking but was presented in a great and interesting way with nice videos and of course, live dogs! A border collie was the first demo dog and I was nearly done watching her when I was retrieved and told that “your dog is loose.” She had broken out of her crate, and proved her intelligence by doing it again half an hour later, with me in the room! After the second time, Tena and Miranda kept her entertained while I worked at selling books (thank you, guys!! <3) Tena even got Hailey to start tugging, something that she hasn’t done at home, and when the seminar started back up, we worked on loose leash walking, sits and downs, attention, and played with her toys until it was our turn.
My nerves were crazy but Dr. McConnell is reassuring, warm and sweet- no wonder she gets along so well with dogs! Hailey warmed up to her and explored the stage a bit before a dog that would serve as Hailey’s reactivity stimulus was brought into the building. Hailey did great and I was happy to be simply a leash holder until Patricia McConnell handed me her clicker and told ME to work my dog, on stage, in front of a crowd nearly 150 strong (with the majority being dog trainers), standing next to the author of “The Other End of the Leash.” Really, I cannot convey what was going through my head because it was a non-verbal equivalent of “OMGOMG.OH.EM.GEEE.” When I voiced my distress (did words come out? I felt more like a squeaking mouse) she asked the audience to help by saying “click” when I should click. Let me just say this. I am no stranger to a clicker and have gotten very good and confident with it in the past couple years. I love using a clicker with fosters and helping them learn how to think for themselves. But holding that clicker in my hand, I felt like a total klutz. I missed a lot of click opportunities (although I was spot on with more than a few, thankyouverymuch) and it is NOT a good feeling to have dozens of dog trainers telling you “CLICK! CLICK!” all at once. More than once, I wasn’t ready because I was fiddling with treats with both hands. Poor Hailey.
Except… maybe NOT “poor Hailey.” She NEVER REACTED. Using the clicker- something that Hailey had never experienced more than two weeks ago, mind you- she was able to get within about 25 feet, maybe less, of the stimulus dog and was offering a head turn after just moments each time she looked at the dog. Sometimes, her attention was on my face and on me so much that it was hard to get her to look at the other dog. Her demonstration ended very quickly compared to the other dogs simply because she had done such a good job and we needed to end the session while we were ahead.
Tena and Miranda pinch-hit for me once again in holding Hailey, and hubby Ross came to pick her up so she wouldn’t have to spend her day in lockdown in a crate, miserable. The rest of the seminar was great. There was another demo dog, lots of great information on dog play, with a lot of videos and a lot of opportunity to compare my own observations of dogs with Patricia McConnell herself as she talked about what we saw. I spoke with her one-on-one during a break as she signed my book, and she gave me some advice for Hailey and gushed over how well she did. She was so proud and so heartened by the progress Hailey made in such a short time frame. More than a dozen people, many total strangers, came up to me to give encouragement and praise for my job on stage and say that Hailey was wonderful. It was an incredible experience.
After the seminar, I was part of a small group, eight total including Trisha, that went to dinner at a local restaurant. Dinner was an amazing informal gathering where we talked about, yes, dogs, and Patricia asked some questions about Hailey before telling me she was “the star of the show,” or some similar sentiment. She reiterated that Hailey will make amazing progress, that she is very intelligent and a really great dog (we knew that!), and that “she really lucked out to end up with you. She is so lucky, right guys??” to which the entire table agreed. Sitting there, I blushed and brushed it off, but here in private as I write this, I am overwhelmed with tears of pride, humility, and awe. To be made to feel so worthwhile, to be encouraged by someone I respect greatly (someone that nearly has her own shelf on my bookshelf) is a feeling I will never forget.