Story: Braving the weather–or at least the umbrella

When Lilah first came to live with us as a puppy, she was a little timid. Then she became skittish. Then nervous. Then terrified. A hyper-aware Border Collie mix, Lilah lived in a world where there were so many new Things and strange Sounds that she was never really sure what was safe and what was not.

In previous posts, I’ve written about Lilah becoming brave, and learning to trust herself and her surroundings. With the help of an incredible trainer–Anne Macaulay of On Good Behavior who suggested agility training among other things–and lots of practice and love, today Lilah is a sweet, friendly, well-adjusted dog who is quite comfortable and centered. Most folks who meet her today are surprised to hear about her struggles and her fears.

But every once in a while, a new object comes into her environment that pushes her boundaries, and she’s a little wary. When this happens, we return to the game we learned back when she was just a little pup–a game we call Touch it With Your Nose. That’s when Lilah is rewarded for touching the Scary Thing. She knows the game well, and knows that every time–every time–the thing we’re asking her to touch is safe. So even while she approaches the object with a little trepidation, wagging her tail tentatively, she does it willingly.

And each time, after she’s touched the new something, you can see the pride in her eyes. She’ll stand a little taller, wag a little swifter, and smile a lot broader.

Which brings me to this weekend, when the weather gurus were predicting rain with a chance of showers in between periods of downpours. At least they were not talking about snow.

It was time to bring out the awesome umbrella (from San Francisco Umbrella Company) I won during a BlogPaws Twitter chat. (Thank you BlogPaws and Pet360!) I can’t remember the last time I won anything, and I’ve been looking forward to using it. And our wet (but not freezing!) weather was a perfect opportunity.

Lilah is a bit suspicious of umbrellas, and since I figured I’d be using one all weekend when I took the dogs outside, it might be a good idea to get some nose touching in before the torrents poured.

It wasn’t raining when I first brought the umbrella outside. Lilah watched me carry it–from a safe distance.

Lilah  the Border Collie mix, is a little nervous.

Lilah is a little nervous.

Jasper came over to inspect the umbrella. He’s always interested in the Touch it With Your Nose game since the task is very easy. For Lilah, seeing her brother touch something is usually a first step in increasing her comfort level.

Jasper the dog touches the umbrella

Touched it! Now where are the treats?

Once she saw that Jasper was getting treats, and the umbrella wasn’t doing anything unpredictable, Lilah came over and touched it herself.

Lilah touches the closed umbrella.

I can do it too!

But a closed umbrella is different from an open one. Once you open an umbrella–even a little–all bets are off. It whispers and moves. It reacts to the wind or a slight touch. This requires more nose touching.

Lilah took on the challenge.

Lilah touches the umbrella before it's opened.

She’s a little nervous, but Lilah touches the umbrella.

Next step: open it. The whoosh of an umbrella opening is a little startling–and all the dogs looked up to see what was going on. I put it down on the ground.

Jasper came over to inspect first.

Jasper looks at the open umbrella

Looks good. I touched it. Can I have another treat?

Then Tucker came by, who up until this moment wasn’t interested in the game because there were too many Sniffs he had to attend to first.

Tucker checks out the umbrella.

It’s an umbrella. So what?

Tucker actually likes umbrellas because he hates the rain. He’s learned that if he stands close to me, he won’t get as wet. He hates getting wet.

Tucker inspects the umbrella handle.

If I only had thumbs, I could hold this thing.

After observing both her brothers inspect the open umbrella, and with Jasper and Tucker by her side, Lilah cautiously reached out and touched the open umbrella.

Lilah touches the umbrella.

I’ll just reach out and touch it a little.

Then she did it again. And again. Lots of treats and praise were involved every step of the way. Her comfort level increased dramatically–enough that I asked all three pups to pose next to it.

Three dogs pose by umbrella

Notice Lilah is just a little bit behind the other two. She’s comfortable with the umbrella, but doesn’t necessarily like it.

After I gave them the Release command and they knew they were no longer in Sit /Stay, Jasper touched the umbrella on his own, hoping for more treats. Emboldened by her brother, and without being asked, Lilah did the same.

Of course they got lots of praise–and treats.

Jasper and Lilah touch the umbrella while Tucker is distracted by something else.

Notice Lilah’s body posture. Less tentative, tail high. You can see the confidence building.

Never one to be left out when food is involved, Tucker touched the umbrella again as well.

Tucker touches the umbrella tip.

Tucker can’t quite understand what all the fuss is about, but he’ll touch it too.

By now everyone was comfortable, so I thought I’d try to get Jasper to do a play bow next to the umbrella. The command I use for that trick is “Curtsy.” When I first started teaching it, I used the word “Bow,” but it sounded too much like “Down,” so I changed it.

Jasper tries to demonstrate play bow.

Jasper is focused on the anticipated treat. Unfortunately, my camera wasn’t focused.

It began to rain, so I picked up the umbrella. I thought the view was pretty neat, surrounded by a ring of happy doggies.

A view of Jasper from under the umbrella

It’s starting to rain, Mom. Maybe we should go inside.

As the rain came down harder, we decided it was time to head inside. I put the umbrella in a corner as the pups came in, and then I put away their leashes and the treat bag.

When I turned around, I saw Lilah touching the umbrella by herself.

Lilah touches the closed umbrella after we're inside the house.

I got you cornered, umbrella.

Then she turned to look up at me, pride shining in her eyes. My sweet, brave Lilah.

Proud and happy Lilah has conquered the umbrella.

A sweet and touching moment.

Lilah’s is tale of bravery. Facing demons. Finding  inner strength. My dogs (and cats) teach me something nearly every day.

I so love these guys.

What lessons have you learned from your pets? What moments moved you?

This post is part of the Monday Mischief blog hop. Take a moment and check out some of the stories in the blogs below.



27 Comments on "Story: Braving the weather–or at least the umbrella"

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  1. That’s a great way to get them used to something new. And what a cute umbrella.

  2. Jen K says:

    Great introduction – I remember specifically that an umbrella was part of the Canine Good Neighbour test, so this is definitely a useful exercise for dog owners!
    Also, I love your umbrella! The dog pattern is adorable!
    Lessons I learn from my dogs? Be happy with your circumstances comes to mind (e.g., it’s still snowing – awesome! According to them, anyway).

    • Thanks! All the dogs were pretty cool about it by the end.

      I agree that dogs are great at being happy with their circumstances. They live in the moment, and are happy as long as their people are around.

  3. Laika says:

    What a sweet “story”. Love the pictures and … the umbrella LOL.

  4. Rama's Mama says:

    What a lovely post! I used to teach obedience class and we used these techniques in class, too. So nice that your girl got over her skittish period. It’s nice when they blossom and become confident in themselves!

    We are a new follower from the Monday Pet Blogger Hop! Nice to meet you! I look forward to reading more about your beautiful pack!

  5. What a brave girl! You are a wonderful pet parent and a great example for people with skittish dogs! Congratulations!

  6. Bongo says:

    I wish my person would get out an umbrella. I’d touch it for treats any day.

  7. Bethany says:

    Jasper in a play bow next to the play bow umbrella is PRICELESS! Good work with fear conquering. We are using targeting with Leo right now to get him used to his new flight harness. Targeting is wonderful!

  8. Sandy says:

    That was a great story and lesson told through pictures – I especially loved the picture of all three together and of Lilah at the end. That just warmed my heart.

  9. Sue says:

    Terrific training tip and the photos are wonderful. I follow the same protocol with Jeffie who’s a Golden Retriever / Border Collie mix. Rudy and Rosie are pretty fearless.

    • Thanks! Border Collies like Lilah and Jeffie, are often so hyper aware, and it’s important to understand and to work with them. If you follow the link in the story, you’ll see more about Lilah’s journey toward becoming brave.

  10. Pamela says:

    When we took Honey to puppy class, an umbrella was one of the items we worked with. And yep, she found it scary at first.

    I love your explanation of the touch it game. I see the same expression of pride and joy from Honey when we play it.

  11. Well done Lilah you brave doggie! It’s cool that you have your doggie team too who help you gain confidence! You’re pawsome! 🙂

    I feel the same way about new food, if I’ve not had it before I’m very suspicious! 🙂

    I hope you’re having a fun day,

    Your pal Snoopy 🙂

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