Life with Beverly has been so calm, so orderly, so free of bad behavior that it has left me with little to report on for this blog. Last night, however, Beverly made a breakthrough that was exciting.
In general, she has learned all her commands with little fuss, but over the past few months she developed one terrible phobia. Faced with having to go up a set of stairs with open treads, like this one, she becomes frozen with terror. Most Friday evenings, we join a group of friends for a potluck and movie-watching in the Hillcrest condo of our friend Alberto. He lives on the third floor, connected to the ground by an elevator and a set of stairs — with open treads. Beverly is not the first puppy to be afraid of them. I’ve reported on our troubles with various of her predecessors. But Beverly has been the most afraid. Week after week Steve has patiently worked with her, trying to lure her upward with increasingly irresistible treats. She descends with no problem, but she has mulishly resisted climbing.
So at puppy class last night, when our instructor, Shaina, asked if anyone was dealing with any problems, Steve lamented about what a challenge it has been to try and overcome Beverly’s open-tread terror.
“Let’s all go work on it together,” Shaina suggested. “Right now.” First she directed us all to pass our dogs to the puppy-raisers on our left (so every dog was being handled by someone more or less new to him or her). Beverly went to Mark, whom we know fairly well. (With his wife, Karla, Mark is raising an easy-going pure-bred male lab named Keegan.)
Outside, most of the dogs ascended the stairs without incident.
Mark approached with Beverly, and for a minute I thought perhaps she would be swept up in the momentum of the group ascent.
But then she seemed to realize what she was about to do. She froze, then turned away, cringing.
Oddly, a moment later, Keegan had trouble with the climb — despite the fact that he has gone up and down even scarier stairs many times. Happily, he was being handled by Dan Flynn, who along with his wife, Janice, is one of the most experienced puppy-raisers in the United States. (They’re raised more than 20 CCI pups — most of whom have graduated to lives of service.) Dan helped us in the past when one of our charges was terrified of open-tread stairs, so I wasn’t surprised to see him calmly coax Keegan upward.
Mark waited, then walked over again with Beverly. She put her front paws on the lowest step…
but then she seemed to think better of what she was doing, and shied away. Mark led her back, and she got up two steps.
She looked panicky and backed off again, but Mark led her back, and in a daze, I watched her timidly scurry all the way up to the landing, where her buddy Keegan was waiting. All of us assembled puppy-raisers cheered, and Mark gave Beverly many pats and a food treat.
He led her down the stairs and approached the stairs again. This time she hustled up the Treads of Terror with notably less hesitation.
I’m not sure if she’ll bound up the ones at Alberto’s this Friday night. But if she balks, I now feel confident we’ll be able to get her over it. It was another lesson in how life is easier when one is raising one’s puppy within a supportive village.