This Christmas, my 7-year-old lab/Weim Lila was first introduced to the puzzling human behavior called "cross-country skiing" by my brother, who she adores.
Lila finds it prudent to be extra-aware when encountering the stiffness, the unpredictable nature of inanimate objects. Natural, organic objects move, they telegraph their intentions, and any threats. Inanimate objects can suddenly come at you from any direction, sometimes at high speed. Being careful has a great record at keeping Lila out of fights with inanimate objects-- 100% of the times she has done it, she has not had a fight with an inanimate object.
It was fascinating to watch her follow him, in the snow. While he moved forward, he & the collection of objects attached to him exhibited a predictable pattern, and she stayed quite close. When he stopped to chat with me, however, a few ducks and a greater comfort distance was necessary, as the poles moved in a completely new pattern.
I wondered how much she was learning. I acted -- as I mostly do with Lila -- played it cool, like nothing was wrong. I gave a few words of encouragement. I was proud and impressed, but had no goal in mind. If she hated cross country skiers, if she ran from all of them, for the rest of her life, I can deal with that. I won't stop her. Run as far as you need to make yourself comfortable, Lila. I'll be there for you.
Today, we encountered her second lifetime exposure. Fortunately, she was on the retractable leash. Her ears perked up as she spotted the couple. (Lila mostly ignores people. Smelling wildlife is much more interesting.) She stood still and watched them. Even though they were approaching her directly, she simply watched with interest.
I walked to the end of the leash and stopped briefly, waiting for her to lose interest. Freezing and tired after our walk, I headed for the car. The skiers were headed for their car! Right by ours! She wagged on over to check them out. I actually called her back to me, laughing and chastising her nosy-ness, because I didn't want her to get so brave she scared herself. Sniffing cross country skiers? She's out of control.
Teaching your dog effectively is about understanding your dog. Understanding is the product of listening, observing, paying attention, with suspended judgment. Trust your dog to show you what kind of support she needs. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that your dog needs you to show the same kind of social support from you in every circumstance. And never, ever underestimate what your dog is capable of learning!
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- ▼ February 2010 (9)