She is still reactive, and probably always will be. Some situations are more challenging than others. We are still figuring out what works. I am still reading books, blogs and Facebook forums, still practicing the Relaxation Protocol and still actively working on improving her encounters with the outside world. What has changed is my attitude, and my focus. I have moved through the initial shock of the seemingly drastic change in her behavior (what I now believe to be a combination of age, breed, circumstance), the paralyzing panic of dealing with another reactive dog, the desperate need to take action, hire a trainer, read all the things, the inevitable frustration when plans go awry, the commiserating comfort of finding others experiencing similar struggles and finally, the liberating realization that Ruby is who Ruby is, and I love her for it.
I am finding that I am starting to shy away from the reactive label - yes, she is that, but she is so many other things. She is astute, she is affectionate, she is enthusiastic, she is endearingly optimistic (the cat is going to play with her one day!). She is playful, she is determined, she is generous (even though I don't want to share her bully stick, thank you very much). I have stopped obsessing over what I have to fix, and started appreciating what I have to foster and encourage.
These days I worry less about what our next walk is going to be like, and look more forward to where we'll go. Perhaps to the nearby playground with the daredevil-high watchtower and catwalk that look like something left over from eastern Europe and the rendition of Cinderella's pumpkin carriage that lends a piece of fairy tale to the blocky suburban architecture. Perhaps across the vacant lot where a rogue stand of pampas grass has taken root like an urban savanna, and where we can climb a hill and watch the traffic flicker and flow on the freeway.
When we get home we'll work on a new trick, play a game of "catch the kibble,"several rounds of tug with the current blue-and-green rope toy, both of us smiling and growling as we dance around the living room. I'll share my dinner with her - yes, I'm that kind of dog owner - laughing as she holds her mouth open for a spaghetti noodle like a baby bird. We'll watch TV, an episode of Nature where a pair of courting birds might capture Ruby's attention with their alien cries. Ruby will lay on the back of the sofa, peeking out the window now and then, or curl next to me with something satisfying to chew on, a moose antler or her "cheese stick" (Himalayan chew). Around ten o'clock her eyelids will start to get heavy and she'll rest her head on my leg and her splotchy lower lip will stick out in the way that makes my heart melt. Soon we'll climb the stairs to bed and she will stretch out beside me until I turn the light out, at which point she will burrow under the covers and becomes the most darling snuggler a person could ever wish for.
This is life with Ruby, red and white ambassador of the here and now. This is life with my dog.