Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Troublesome 1%

Here she is, doing obedience work at the park, whence we went this morning. You see how relaxed My Bad Dog appears. This is how she is 99% of the time.

In this photo, My Bad Dog is wearing a simple leather collar, not a training (pinch, prong, mean metal chain collar, collar that is the only thing standing between My Bad Dog and the cold-blooded murder of a mail carrier), it being a day of rest for mail carrier. The collar was a mistake on my part.

At this point in the outing, my mistake had not yet been revealed to me. I had resolved to renew some practices that I had let slide over time, practices that Cesar Millan and many other dog trainers prescribe in order to ensure that one's dog doesn't perceive and attempt to fill a vacancy in the role of pack leader: requiring Sophie to sit quietly while I open the door, directing her to follow me out the door, and again requiring her to sit quietly while I closed and locked the door.

Whether one agrees with this philosophy in dog training or not, my experience is that it works: My Bad Dog was in a properly calm state of mind, which state of mind was demonstrated by her walking sedately by my side the mile and a half or so to the park. We intermittently stopped for obedience work, and she was agreeable all the while. Once at the park, we alternated free time with basic commands (sit, down, stay, heel). She performed admirably.

On the way home, however, as we waited at an intersection for the light, a man in a small blue pick-up truck happened to glance at us, which glance Sophie took amiss. She lost no time in letting him know that NO ONE IS ALLOWED TO LOOK AT US, EVER, NEVER, NOT EVER with a response so disproportionate to his offense that he stared (in disbelief?) as he drove away.

Although I had her under control (by which I mean she wasn't lunging and she stopped barking fairly soon), I did regret the choice of the minimally restrictive collar. A minute hence, I regretted it even more.

We'd crossed one street and were waiting to cross the other when a teen-ager of the male variety approached from the right. What was it about him? I saw him and I knew My Bad Dog was going to object to his presence in her world. Damn ubiquity of hoodies, for one thing, and the teen-ager's sullenly slouchy posture for another. Regardless, as little as My Bad Dog approved of the boy's appearance,the young man has a right to roam the sidewalks unmolested. God bless him, and I hope his sleep isn't interrupted by nightmares about My Bad Dog.

After much barking and lunging and gnashing of teeth, she snapped at me for restraining her. Without the training collar, all I could do was maintain tension on the leash so she couldn't twist backward and try to slip out of the collar. The snap didn't hurt me at all, for which I give thanks to folds of heavy cotton fleece, but the incident strengthened the resolution I'd formed last night to begin working with a trainer again.

My bedtime reading was pages and pages about chows and chow mixes and what a trainer called their unstable and faulty temperaments. I read enough to know exactly what this (rather cranky but seemingly quite knowledgeable) trainer would tell me if I described My Bad Dog to him: her behavior is caused primarily by faulty temperament, a genetic weakness typical of chow mixes, and is exacerbated by my failure to have solidly established myself as the pack leader. (I prefer "pack leader" to "alpha" because there seem to be some disagreeably egotistic chest-thumping attitudes about the latter. I don't care about being Queen of the World or Mistress of My Universe, but I do need to make sure that the children and dog for whom I'm responsible feel comfortable and safe knowing there's a calm grown-up in charge.)

Anyway, hence the obedience work, the insistence on good walking manners, and a plan to call the trainer tomorrow.

I would say that My Bad Dog has been quite an education, only not much of it seems to have done me much good yet, except that along with a disheartening awareness of my own limitations, I have a dog that brilliantly and happily performs a routine of basic obedience commands.

What I have learned more than anything is the truth of the proverb not to judge another until you've walked a mile in his shoes, which proves what Keats said: "Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced -- even a proverb is not a proverb till your life has illustrated it."

Not that I would ever wish a dog like My Bad Dog on anyone. As much as I dearly love her, she is a burden.

No comments:

Post a Comment