Looking back over the past year
Happy new year!
My apologies for not posting in December. I took some time to switch blogging platforms with the intent of creating a more seamless experience for you, my welcome readers.
January 2020 began with a burst of training activity, filling nine classes throughout the week, beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. To this itinerary has been added a new therapy dog curriculum coming in March; strange as that sounds to a former marketing consultant, wandering far from the glassed-in spaces of corporate cubicles and casual Fridays. It’s ironic, I spent years creating new ways to talk to clients. Now it’s all about teaching clients how to build a language, not based on speech as we know it but based on communication as dogs know it.
Dogs, in fact, take most of their understanding about the world, from just watching us and how we are reacting to our environment. Think of yourself growing up in a different place where you don’t understand the language and can only glean an understanding of what’s happening from the actions of others around you, in essence, how they’re reacting to their surroundings. Clear, consistent body language and hand signals, are the basis of our language bridge...its scaffolding is what I teach to dog owners in my role as a trainer, with the hope that they will continue to work on this bridge, with their dogs.
Sometimes, in those rare moments of clarity, I think we come close to sensing who is actually at home behind those bright eyes. I’m sure the more receptive dog parents sense it too. For me, this happens with those calm, settled dogs, open to interaction, with no overt excitement. It’s the oddest feeling like passing a sleeve over a dusty window and catching a glimpse of the sentience and intelligence just on the other side. These are the dogs owned by people whom I suspect already have an innate understanding of how to build the bridge. These are usually the dogs that go everywhere with their people, work, vacations, shopping, etc., and have the benefit of ongoing, teachable moments throughout their lives.
Before I close I would like to leave you with some of the special moments I shared with the 300 plus, irrepressible, smart, funny, frustrating, surprising, mystifying, heart-stoppingly lovable and eager dogs whom I’ve had the privilege to get to know and coach in 2019. That must include their people, of course, the indispensable bridge builders who also surprise and inspire me with their willingness to trust and embrace what they learn in my classroom. Names have been changed to respect student privacy but I suspect the pups won't really mind.
Special moments from 2019...
• when Britt, a shy Australian shepherd puppy, who normally does not like to be touched, crossed the floor on graduation night, to offer me her belly, then leaned against me, with her head resting on my arm.
• when Della, an odd little miniature schnauzer (known for her backward propulsion as much as forward), finally left the classroom and the security of her carpet square, venturing beyond the slippery expanse of tile, to reach her peers as they practiced "sit and stay" cues with their owners, in the aisles.
• when Buttons, an irrepressible Havanese, and one of the smartest dogs I’ve encountered in the past year, held her "place" at the back of the store, on cue, watching her pet parents move so far away (a third of the length of a football field), that her canine eyes could barely see them anymore—and remained in "place" until they returned to release her.
• when Cricket, a tall sinewy retired racing greyhound, loped into my classroom, enlightening me on a few of the challenges, post-track life brings for his breed. While Cricket certainly knew how to heel, stay, wait and run, what he didn't know or could not do, was to sit. It’s not something greyhounds are built for. The tightening of muscle and tendon from racing means many months of practicing a kind of folding process with them, to stretch flesh so the dogs regain the mechanics of the move. His six weeks with me yielded good results but his owner still had many months ahead of her with the cue and folding routine.
• when Tally, a Chihuahua, joined my puppy class, she might have weighed all of two pounds. She’s a quiet, curious puppy though a little hesitant to move out into the greater expanses of the outer store. She sits proudly on the floor in front of her owner, bravely accepting the calamitous greetings of her classmates with cautious enthusiasm and a beckoning tail. Having micro dogs in class can be a difficult business. They have special needs when it comes to training and not all owners will go the extra mile. Tally’s owner is one of those rare people who refuse to be defeated by size or circumstance. Now at seven months, Tally’s completing her intermediate level and her owner will be taking her all the way to advanced, possibly into therapy training, where I think Tally would do well.
Check for new posts on THE DOG BLOG to get tips on training and canine well being. Got questions or a topic in mind? Let me know via the comments box. I would love to hear from you.