Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Watching vs Whispering

I met a cute little bean of a dog today. She ran right up to my car to greet me. A 15 month old 22 pound mix of a thing, with the most appealing face. I was actually there to teach her tricks. Not exactly my specialty but I was game. It turned out though that she was too nervous for most tricks.
While she didn't hesitate to run up to me and at one point even jumped into my car, she did hesitate when I touched her and she flinched at any sudden movements whether they were directed at her or not.
She has only lived with her owner for 3 months and the previous year of her life is anyone's guess but my guess would be that it was not too pleasant.
I did my usual out of the box training. Taught her to sit, down, stay and come in just a short bit of time. She learned everything very fast. I would break it down into steps and when I would move to step #2, she would jump to #4.
I couldn't teach her any tricks that involved my putting my hands over her head (like rollover) - it made her too nervous. She was hyper vigilant, watching everything and everyone while listening to all indoor and outdoor noises.
How exhausting!
Mostly though I just watched. I'm not real big on whispering. For me listening is so much more important.
So I watched how she interacted with her owner and I watched her body language and his and tried to figure out what she was trying to communicate to him.
Most humans spend so much time and effort trying to communicate TO
their pets instead of WITH their pets.
When he asked her to sit she would take a step or two back and then sit. I'm willing to bet some bad things have happened to her while sitting close to people.
And don't get me wrong, this man loves this dog and she loves him, that's obvious, but they are only 3 months into a relationship and trust takes a while.
Sometimes when he would ask her to sit she would stand there and not move, just look at him. I could see very clearly where another trainer might label that as defiance and the ever dreaded "dominance" issue.
As I stood and just watched that for what seemed like the longest time, I noticed how soft the dogs eyes were and I felt the need to hold my heart and my eyes filled with tears.
What I saw was a dog who really, really wants to please "her man" but she was trying to figure out a way to stay safe at the same time.
I trust that she is smart enough and her owner is kind enough that she will soon figure out that she IS safe.


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