Chances are, if you love dogs, or surfing, or both, you’ve probably heard of Ricochet. The 7-year-old Golden Retriever is not quite the Kim Kardashian of the canine world, but she has gotten amazing media attention in her short life.Her showreel includes a segment on a National Geographic documentary, a book, music videos, billboards, calendars, and countless appearances in newspapers, magazines, TV, and all over the web. In 2010, the AKC honored her with its prestigious Award for Canine Excellence, Exemplary Companion Dog.
This is all fine with her human companion, Judy Fridono, of San Diego, except for one thing. Fridono believes that too much is made of Ricochet’s award-winning aquatic skills, which started with her balancing on a boogie board in a kiddie pool at the age of 8 weeks. She’s surfed in competitions, and with pros, movie stars, even with goats.
As proud as Fridono is of the on-board accomplishments, she also believes all the surfing buzz takes the focus too far from her dog’s life mission.
“There’s so much written about the surfing. But lots of dogs surf,” Fridono tells AKC.org. What makes Ricochet special is her innate powers of empathy and healing. “There’s this whole other side that’s more important than surfing.”
Ricochet’s other job is therapy dog, working primarily with autistic children and soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She performs her miracles in the ocean, while surfing, as well as on land.
It’s here, Fridono says, that Ricochet is at her most extraordinary. “She reaches people in ways that we can’t.”
In a NatGeo Wild documentary on canine geniuses, Dr. Brian Hare, called RIcochet “a superstar,” placing her among the top five service dogs he’s seen. Hare, associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University, is the creator of Dognition, a series of games to help people “find the genius” in their own dogs.
Ricochet scored extremely high marks in games measuring canine-to-human bonding and communication. She was off the charts on the test of how long a dog will gaze at a human face, what Hare calls “hugging you with their eyes.” He says this gaze sparks the release of Oxytocin, known as the “cuddle hormone.”
Fridono calls it “heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul connection.”
Still, there are times when Ricochet does things that seem to defy scientific explanation. Once, Fridono and Ricochet were working with a military service member in a parking lot, part of a Paws'itive Teams program to help active duty service members with PTSD re-integrate back into the community.
They were just walking along when Ricochet gave her unique signal that there was trouble ahead. She stopped cold and planted herself, standing rigid. The humans later realized that she somehow sensed they were coming upon a black car, which was one of the triggers for this soldier’s panic attacks. The strange thing, though, was that Ricochet alerted before anyone could have seen the car. It was a few rows away in the parking lot.
After a few other incidents like this, Fridono tried to figure out what her dog is sensing. Ricochet must be psychic, she says, possessing powers that mere humans cannot understand. She has stopped trying to make sense of it. The best she can do is to pay attention to what the dog is telling her.
She learned this the hard way when she tried to prepare her dark-golden ball of fluff for a job that was not right. Ricochet was originally part of Fridono’s non-profit Puppy Prodigies program, which prepares youngsters to for service work. But she flunked out, partly because she couldn’t control her impulse to chase birds.
“I kept trying to make her a service dog,” Fridono says. Eventually, the puppy shut down. It was if Ricochet knew that she came into the world for a specific reason, and service dog wasn’t it. When that became clear, the puppy blossomed.
Fridono believes that all dogs possess some of Ricochet’s talents, in varying degrees. Unfortunately, owners often overlook these special powers.
“We can get upset with our dogs and say they are just being stubborn,” Fridono says. “But no, they are trying to tell us something. We humans have to evolve and get better at listening to our dogs.”
To discover if your dog has secret healing powers like Ricochet’s, check out our free AKC e-book, Does Your Dog Have What it Takes to be a Therapy Dog? http://pages.akc.org/Therapy-Dog-E-Book.html
There are many videos of Ricochet out there, but this one is a crowd favorite with more than 4 million views on YouTube. Warning: Have Kleenex handy.