There's alchemy to raising a service puppy (or any puppy for that matter), and the elements are time, patience, and emotion. A kettle full of affection, anticipation, surprise. Bubbling beakers of laughter. A pinch of exasperation. And so much pride.
For me, that chemistry is what makes puppy raising so rewarding. I've realized that Ruby and I ask a lot of each other. We're nearly always together, training and on outings. I know when she's ready to learn and when's she's ready to play and I believe she can read the same signals in me. I give her plenty of opportunity to succeed at a task; sometimes she does and sometimes she doesn't. But we always have fun and always end our sessions on a positive note.
Because we spend so much time together, there is a different kind of connection than I would ever have with my pets. She'll only be mine for a year and a half, but Ruby gifts me with moments I will hold in my heart for a lifetime. Our outing to the museum was a like a glittering string of those moments.
During Denver Arts Week, the museums host free Saturday night programs and I chose the Colorado History Museum. I figured it would be a nice, quiet place to stroll while Ruby practiced patience. Also, I've never had her out on a busy street in the evening, so it was a good training opportunity all around. First, we practiced some loose leash walking. The fast cars and signal lights were all new to her in the dark and she was excited, so there was a lot of pulling. But I put her in a sit at a corner and she completely surprised me by calmly staying in place as an ambulance screamed by. It was really close and bright and loud, but I watched her watch it, and Ruby was unrattled.
We entered with a "wait" at the door, then through to the lobby. I had her practice sit/stay while I chatted with different people,
and put her in a down/stay as I read some signage.
She's been riding elevators since she was tiny, so she's used to that whole song and dance. Speaking of which...
when the doors opened to the lower level, a band was setting up. Not the quiet evening I expected, but an amazing stroke of luck! We haven't attended any concerts, so I was curious to see how she'd react to instruments and loud, live music. The percussionist was a fantastic musician and great guy -- he played a few minutes just for Ruby! I put her in a sit/stay and danced around next to her to add some more distraction to the scene.
She was cool with all of that, but when the bass player started to practice, she barked. I was surprised, since a) she rarely barks and b) she's a total blissed-out groupie down in our basement when Mr. Leash plays his electric guitar. I think it was the deep sound that set her off. Or maybe because he was doing that daddy thing but was Not Daddy. At any rate, I was momentarily mortified at the realization that my dog was barking in a museum. It was like when you drop a book really loudly in a library; for a split second you make that dread-filled sucking-in-your-breath gasping sound. So I gasped, then I had to laugh considering there was a LIVE BAND performing. I calmed her, put her in a down/stay, and took a seat myself to give her a chance to get accustomed to everything. In no time, she was fine. We both enjoyed our private concert!
Enough sensory stimulation? We were just getting started! Beyond the band, a bunch of kids were roping steer. I am totally not kidding. There were these little mini cow cutouts with kids flinging lassos every which way. I would have bet cold hard cash that if anything was going to make her bark, run, bolt, pounce, wreak havoc and get us thrown out, it would be this. Pardner, I'da lost that bet. The dog could not have cared less.
After this abundance of excitement, I gauged her tolerance level. She was still in great shape and I wanted to switch gears to see her reaction. We went back to the gallery for some quiet time.
By the way, the show was "Allen True's West." Allen True (1881 - 1955) has been described as the region's premier muralist and this show was part of a fascinating exhibition throughout Denver. I'll be making a return visit sans Ruby, so I can spend time studying it.
And then we called it a night. The only thing left was to take her outside to see if she would be anxious near the giant statue of a buffalo. She wasn't.
I'll remember this one for years to come.