We were able to get a “failed” Guide Dog for our blind son through Southeastern Guide Dogs a few weeks ago. He didn’t make it through the program because he didn’t like to ride in cars. I haven’t had a dog since I became an adult (many years ago) and my husband said we’d never get one. But alas, we became desperate enough with Charlie’s anxiety to believe that perhaps a dog could help; especially a well-trained one.
First let me say, Boone is a great dog. He’s a Goldador (Golden Retriever/Labrador breed) and he’s very sweet and smart. But he is large and incredibly strong and there were a few things we had to learn about each other.
Our first challenge was getting him into the car. When we started our journey back from Florida after getting him, every stop we made it took 20+ minutes to get him back in the car. We didn’t want to force him or pick him up, because we weren’t really sure the reason behind his fear and we didn’t want to make anything worse.
Then when we got back to Georgia, we decided that taking him with us to church (and keeping him outside) might help with Charlie’s disdain for Sunday mornings. He did well and loved all of the attention he got, but when it was time to get back in the car, he refused. We tried for 30 minutes in 90 degree heat and finally my husband just agreed to walk him home.
I watched multiple YouTube videos about how to get a dog in a car and all of them said something different. So I emailed Southeastern Guide Dogs and here is what they said: “You do not let up on him. You do not walk him around, you do not give up and walk him home. You stand there with your feet firmly planted and lean the leash towards the car. When he moves toward it the pressure will let up, when he moves away it will get tight. You do not treat him until he is in the car.”
WHAT?! This is literally the opposite of EVERYTHING we had been doing! WHOOPS!
So Charlie and I went down to the garage with Boone and opened the van door with the garage door closed and using those strategies he was in the car within five minutes. Then we did it again. And again. And again. Since that day he has gone on a car ride with me every single day and is absolutely loving it now— no coaxing needed, he just hops right in. So even though he was scared, for reasons unknown, we showed him that he did not have a choice and that we were in charge. Letting him stall or delay or refuse wasn’t helping anyone but him. But not giving up until he was in, and not rewarding him until the task was complete, (though it felt tough and unnatural) was clearly the way to go.
We have had situations like this with parenting. There have been many times when we felt like letting the kid not go somewhere they didn’t want to go with the family was not worth the fight or the tantrum or whatever. But unless it is truly not good for them, if it is good for the family, it is worth putting our foot down and going through the fight or the tantrum because family time is on the other side, and usually it is worth it. And some “treat” will probably be involved. The more often this happens, the more likely the child will trust that it IS worth it, even if it feels so hard that they cannot even use their own two legs to get themself in the car.
And now, we can remind them of how hard it felt for Boone, but how happy he is to go anywhere now.
Another unexpected lesson was how patient we would have to be waiting on this dog to poop! This is getting better now that he’s found his favorite spots in the yard, but no one ever told me it could take 15-20 minutes to find the most perfect spot ever to drop a load. As if my children hadn’t taught me enough patience, now with this dog I am bound for saintly-level patience for sure! God knew I needed some more, apparently…
Charlie has always loved dogs and they always seem to calm him. We had assumed that Boone would bring immediate comfort and connection with Charlie, but that didn’t really happen. At first, Charlie was jealous, saying that we all loved Boone more than him. Then he had the sensory issues of getting used to a large dog in the house. Boone LOVES to sit in the most inconvenient spots in the middle of the floor, especially inconvenient when you can’t see! He also sleeps in Charlie’s room and causes occasional noise, and wakes him up with kisses in the morning. This has become something that Charlie enjoys now, but it took a minute. Also, Boone is learning to sit on the rugs now so he doesn’t get stepped on as often. Smart boy.
Now that he and Charlie are getting on better, he has become more obedient to him and they have a little training session every day after school. Charlie is great at these and he loves the feeling he gets when Boone obeys him! It is a great and rewarding way for him to spend his time. It is building his confidence and perhaps teaching him a little discipline himself!
He also plays with him, but we can’t let him run free yet, so most of the play has to happen indoors, which is a little difficult when the dog is 60+ pounds.
We have two cats who are not big fans of our newest family member, but they are lightening up a bit. If he’d quit trying to play with them, they wouldn’t feel so threatened, lol! He tries to roll the ball to them and engage them in play and they are having none of it! I have told several people that I find both the cats’ boldness and the dog’s laid back attitude inspiring. We can learn so much from both!
The cutest thing Boone does is his carry his stuffed animals around in his mouth. Every time it’s time to go outside, he’ll go to his basket and get a friend to take along for the journey. It is so funny.
The adjustment to a dog wasn’t as seamless and romantic as I had anticipated, but it is getting to be more fun. I am getting more exercise and fresh air taking him outside and he is bringing a lot of joy to the kids. Since he is still new to us and too strong for them to take him out alone (he’s gotten away from more than one kid on the leash) and they are not nearly patient enough to wait on his perfect placement at this point, it’s mostly he and I going out to bano. I think once he trusts us completely and the kids can prove they’re in charge, I’ll be happy to let them do more of it, but I don’t mind it much.
He is a blessing to us and we are so thankful for all that he is teaching us and all the ways he is helping us around here! My daughter Kate says that he is like Nana from Peter Pan, always checking in on everyone to make sure we’re alright. We will be, Boone.