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Monday, February 28, 2011

Gopher Therapy Dog to More than Just Humans: The Story of Barney

As I said before I am going to from time to time share stories of how Gopher has been a therapy animal to more than just humans. No case is this more true than in the story of Barney.

Barney came into our home just two weeks after our previous foster had gone to his forever home. (The foster was Ramsey and you can read his story in a previous entry.) He had been in boarding for some time as he was a ‘more difficult’ foster. He had been labeled as having some dog to dog aggression. From a personal viewpoint I despise the use of the word aggressive in most incidences as the term brings to mind a Cujo-esque personality with bared teeth, growling, biting, barking and the general appearance of a dog that would rather eat you or another dog instead of looking at them. I prefer to state that these are cases of dog to dog reactivity. Barney was dog reactive, meaning he would get excited and scared when interacting with a new/unfamiliar dog. He is still working on this issue in his adoptive home, and will always be something that will need to be worked on with gradual improvement over time. We have the utmost confidence in his adoptive mother that he will always be handled appropriately and continue to build on the improvement he had in our home.

The first two weeks we had Barney were difficult. He came out of boarding anxious, scared and trembling. His initial interactions with Gopher were fine and not something we couldn’t handle so we brought him home. We could not isolate Barney in a crate or another room to decompress as is sometimes is needed for these dogs to survive as either measure would make him more anxious and nervous. So we had to closely monitor him when we were home and his behavior toward Gopher. When we were away the two dogs were separated to different halves of the house as we could not trust Barney alone with Gopher.

In addition to Barney’s issues, Gopher had some problems during this time. He had grown quite attached to our previous foster Ramsey and had been depressed ever since. If you are one to believe that dogs do not suffer depression please refer me to another term that would describe a dog that was medically healthy, but was disinterested in play, even with a tennis ball, laid in one spot on the floor without acknowledging his humans for days on end. Then we brought in Barney who could be reactive to our home with our still very young dog, and when he attempted to play with him was rejected due to Barney’s reactivity. This made Gopher reluctant to be around him and slow to trust dogs a part of his character he has maintained when interacting with any new dog.

Although the first two weeks were difficult, with not once, but two times escalating to dog fights that had to be broken up, we stayed strong although we were more than a little worried about Gopher. He showed us again what a wonderful dog he is by his own personality and once again this was not something we could train him to do. Gopher learned once Barney had started to calm down that he was not as scary or ferocious as he sounded. We noted this as well that often Barney would go into a situation wanting to play, but then would send the wrong or mixed signals. Gopher picked up on this and would then approach Barney on his belly; he would flip a toy or a coveted tennis ball in his direction. At first Barney would growl, he would be hesitant, yet his tail would wag the entire time.

Gopher continued this and Barney and he began to play regularly, this took several months, but allowed us to continue to have many breakthroughs with him. Including this one that is posted on youtube.


In that video Barney is shown playing with another dog, Tobi, that he only met an hour or two before, Gopher shows up a couple of times as well. This level of play had taken Gopher and Barney over a month to achieve, Barney’s ability to do this with Tobi after only an hour or so was entirely due to the diligence, patience of Gopher. He taught Barney how to play, led by example and taught Barney that not all dogs are scary. What would have taken a human handler a year or more to achieve Gopher had done in a matter of months once again showing us his innate need to perform therapy work.

Barney ended up being in our home for nine months and was adopted by a loving and wonderful woman who will be the strong and caring handler/ mom that Barney needs. Before leaving our home Barney was allowed to be on free roam with Gopher and eventually a new foster brother Squirrel when we were not home. Squirrel (Gophers forever little brother) continued to help Barney taking lessons from his big brother, someday he will be a therapy dog as well. Barney’s progress, change in attitude, improved demeanor and all aspects of behavior modification are to be credited to Gopher, Barney’s unlicensed therapist.

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