Many years ago, Risa and I trained with a group of freestylers on Friday nights. It was an informal gathering where we we able to work on our routines and get feedback from fellow canine dancers. We all took turns and it was also a great time for me to work with Risa on her dog reactivity.
After several weeks with the same people and dogs, a newcomer joined us. None of us thought much about how a new dog and handler team might upset the status quo of our sessions. When the new pair got ready to strut their stuff, the leash was unclipped and they got down to business. Unfortunately, the dog came right for Risa (in a friendly manner; not that his motives mattered for Risa). I had her off-leash as well so neither dog was under control. It was noisy but no contact was made. Both of us were able to get our dogs back.
The owner of the facility heard the noise and came into the training area to make sure everything was okay. I had put Risa’s leash back on and walked her over to the corner where there was a leash clip on the wall. I hooked Risa to it and walked away from her. I was overcome with emotion. Frustration, anger, panic, sadness, embarrassment. I was upset over what I had allowed to happen. What Risa had done. My pride had been shaken. I was glad nothing bad had happened but I felt like I just needed to walk away from Risa and collect myself before I got angry with her. When I had done so, the lady who owned the place told me “You need to go to her. She needs you.” I didn’t want to go to my dog. I was upset with her! Even though it was my fault. Even though I knew that she was dog reactive. Even though I knew she was fearful. Even though I knew I had no reason to be angry with her.
I did go back to her even though my emotions were still high. It wasn’t until much, much later I realized the wisdom of this woman’s words. Risa needed me to be there for her after that charged moment. She needed to know I still had her back. That I loved her. That, despite the craziness of the event, I still had her back. That I would always have her back.
Though many years have passed, I still remember those words. I understand their importance. And I do my best to heed them. Because Risa does need me. And I will always be there for her. No matter what.