The Plight of Riley
Riley has given us many stories through the years but those are all tales for another time. The story of how he came to be with is the one I will tell today and in many ways dealing with Riley's issues in his early time with us has helped me become what I am as a pet sitter and dog walker.
Riley didn't start off as my dog, and much like Carly before him came to me via my sister. Riley started out as my niece's dog but she was married to a not very good person at the time and Riley was not a dog he could handle. My sister added Riley to her menagerie and things were good for him. He had fellow hound dogs to run around with and a backyard to run around in. Riley enjoyed being a dog with the other dogs but Riley has never understood that not all dogs want to play and not all dogs want a 55 lbs hound dog chasing and bounding after them or understand that Riley is a pushover and can easily be put in his place with a snarl or a growl. Our 9 lbs Chihuahua, Sandy, is the queen of the roost and bosses Riley around.
What ended up happening at my sister's house is Riley went chasing and bounding after the neighbor's dog and when the neighbor went to pick up her dog she got bit. First thing to understand here is getting between two dogs, one that is scared and one that is an overexcited two year old with no social skills, is not smart. It is debatable if Riley bit the neighbor or if it was her own dog. From my understanding the pictures she used as proof showed smaller bight marks inconsistent with the bite that would have been delivered from a 55 lbs hound dog but that didn't matter because she blamed Riley and sought to have Riley put down. Seeking to have a dog eliminated for being a dog is a common problem among humans and there are far too many dogs in shelters because they just wanted to be dogs but this isn't a post about the miscommunication between humans and dogs. This is about Riley, all his issues, and how he taught us to be better pet sitters and dog walkers.
Because of this Riley found himself banned from Stafford County and if he couldn't be adopted out to a person in another county he would be put down. At this time Lara was still working in the cake shop and pet sitting and dog walking on the side while I was working at Fuller and d'Albert, the family photo supply store. My father told me of the plight of Riley while we were on our way to a baseball game and at this point Riley had five days to live. I didn't know how Ollie would get along with another dog and so I agreed to help spread the word and see if we could find a new home for Riley. My father has told me many times since then that he'd already made up his mind and if I hadn't ended up with Riley he would have.
My niece, Mary Sue, happened to work with us in the family business and after posting Riley online she believed she had a new home lined up and brought Riley to the office. Then that person didn't show up. Riley couldn't go back to Stafford County. If he was caught out of the shelter in that county he would be put down immediately and I was not about to allow that to happen so I said Riley could stay with us. Understand that at this time Lara, Ollie, Chili, and I were living in a 500 sq ft condo in the Fair Oaks area of Fairfax County. I did not believe we had the space for a 55 lbs hound dog who loved running around in his backyard with his pack of friends. In our condo Riley would have to be walked on a leash and confined to our closet sized home. Knowing Riley now all these things are funny. He now much prefers to walk on a leash than go in the backyard and has maybe two or three spots in the house where he will lay. Riley now mostly just likes to lay on the couch in the downstairs living room when we aren't home and then next to us when we are. Riley takes up however much space his body is but I didn't know this back then and felt I'd be doing a disservice to Riley by taking him in.
One night with Riley was enough. He gave me the look in the picture to the right while laying on my chest and I knew that I couldn't let Riley go with anyone else. Riley may have had no social manners to speak of but he understood love and had more love to give than he knew what to do with. Riley stole my heart that one night at my house so when the woman that was supposed to pick up Riley the previous day called to come get him we told her not to bother because Riley was mine. Riley was not free of issues however. Being dragged away from his family and locked in a cell was very traumatic for him. He had developed separation anxiety and very quickly decided that I was his person. This first manifested itself when I forgot something in the car and handed his leash to Lara to take him up to the condo. He absolutely freaked out, barked and bayed and howled, even though I was never more than 10 feet away or out of sight at all. It goes without saying that in those early days of Riley's time with us he wouldn't let Lara handle him. He had decided he was my dog and I was his person. This was both a benefit and a determent.
The first night Riley was officially our dog Lara was out of town and I had a concert to go to. I decided to lock Riley in the bedroom figuring he could do the least amount of damage in there. I cam home to pee, poop, and vomit on the floor and the blinds having been destroyed. Even after we got Riley over the worst of the separation anxiety we had to keep all blinds at 3/4 height as he had to have a way to look outside or he'd make a way. I quickly started researching separation anxiety and what to do about it. What I discovered was I had a long and trying path ahead of me but Riley had to be broken of this behavior. If left alone he could hurt himself or destroy all our stuff and we couldn't have that.
Training any behavior in a dog is a step by step process. Looking back I made one critical mistake that could have cut Riley's training time in half but I didn't know just how food motivated he was at that time. Lucky for us we had gotten Riley in the winter and my process for getting ready to leave was the longest it would be all year. I started first by standing up. I did this until Riley stopped reacting to my standing up. At this point if I were smart I would have tossed him a treat for the non-reaction but I wasn't smart so I moved on to the next step of standing up and going to the closet for my jacket. Then once there was no reaction I put on my jacket and then went to the bedroom to get my keys and then put on my shoes and then went to the door and then opened the door and then finally after about a month or two I was able to step through the door. By the end of that week I could make it to the bottom of the stairs without hearing his mournful howls.
At this point it was time for a trial run out to the grocery store for thirty minutes and when I came home to nothing out of place we started leaving Riley longer and longer to eventually he could stay home for 8 to 10 hours by himself and the only reason we needed to return was it was time for him to eat or go out. If you're wondering what Riley did during the day for the months it took us to get him over his separation anxiety he came to work with me where he had lots of adventures tipping over trash cans, stealing co-worker's lunches, and peeing at the top of the steps for his urine to run in a cascading waterfall down the steps.
Riley's time as an office dog was fun adventure but we're out of time for today and the first lesson Riley taught us was that dogs don't generalize. When teaching them a new behavior or getting rid of an undesirable behavior it is important to break it down to every step. Riley is a wonderful, loving hound dog that has taught us much about dogs and helped us to be the best pet sitters and dog walkers we can. He still wants to be as close to us as possible and loves laying on our laps or on top of us while we sleep and some part of him has to touch Lara or I while we are in bed. I am sure Riley has many more lessons to teach us but those are all still waiting to be learned and I can't do that while trying to think of the perfect phrase to wrap up this blog post.