Rio rests on the wood floor by the door with his head on Dr. K’s slipper. His eyes are partly closed and his breathing is even and slow. He finally ignores the muffled voices and sounds of maintenance being done in the adjacent townhome – for the time being the creaks the house makes don’t rouse him anymore. If anything is too fast or too loud he will go from peacefully sleeping dog to fully awake – up on his toes, hackles raised, barking like he can’t catch his breath – in seconds. It still gets me. Even after three years with this creature, my blood pressure goes up just hearing him bark like that. It doesn’t help; the more worked up I get, the more he feels his anxious barking is justified.
We regard each other peacefully for the moment. I have a pouch full of treats and any time I hear a noise rise slightly above the background I say “yes” and calmly reach over to deposit a treat between his paws. It takes me back to his puppy days. I was constantly rewarding him for just lying there peacefully. It helped. The world needs more rewards for peace.
Rio has always been a bit high-strung. I never wanted to admit it, but I’m exactly the same way. Newness and change are exciting but hard. I am an anxious hummingbird just trying to smooth my ruffled feathers daily, like human, like dog. We need each other. He is my mirror and I’m his source of everything. Sometimes I think I am the one who needs him more though. I’m pretty sure he could coerce just about anyone into taking care of him, such an innocent creature (and yet capable of such mischief as seen by us!).
The hardest parts of a move are over now. He survived everything he knows being packed into boxes.
He said goodbye to friends back in Austin.
He made it through the 1000+-mile trip in the backseat of a rental car (with me driving no less!) following the big yellow Penske truck. Dr. K drove the moving truck with the trailer towing our car “Houston” which we determined didn’t have another 1000 miles left in it, but we didn’t want to give up.
Rio slept peacefully in hotel rooms and was surprisingly good in the lobby and hallways, despite barking at some luggage at 6am. The bed is off-limits at home, but in the hotel room, Dr. K made an exception and invited him up to wrestle before we checked out.
Rio missed most of the fun of finding a new place to live and unpacking boxes. By the time we moved him from his safe cozy travel crate in the hotel room to his new home, all the hard work was over. Lucky dog.
Now all that’s left is the settling in – making this space and this city our own. There is a lot left to do – helping Rio settle in, finding meaningful work, making friends, waiting for Kavir to settle in to his new job, finding new places to explore, establishing new routines…
As I write Rio explodes at some new sound – up on his toes, feet curled and arched so his claws skid about on the floor with the force of his alarmed barking. I try to remain calm as I help him to his crate to settle down in a safe place. He immediately relaxes as I guide him inside and I praise him and give him some treats as he lies down. “Just relax,” I tell him, “Everything will be okay.” I know I have to show him this, to show him he is safe, he can trust me, and each new sound is not some threat to our very existence that he needs to guard us against. I need to show him that peace pays, that calmness is rewarded.
For now I have to pull out the management tools. What can I do to help him relax? Close the blinds, put on some music so he can’t hear all those scary sounds, reward him for looking at me when he hears something scary, let him chill in his crate when I can’t keep an eye on him. When all that fails and he bursts out before I can step in and help, then I interrupt his barking fits by guiding him to a place he feels safe or give him some easy cue to follow whichever seems to help calm him down. I remind myself that he is nervous and reacting to the stress chemicals washing over him. “It’s just a behavior,” I tell myself. I can just as easily reassure myself as him, “Just relax, Katie, everything will be okay.”