There is nothing in this world that gives me more peace and inherent joy than a few free hours; wandering through a park with a warm breeze kissing my cheeks, and a floppy-eared dog looking up at me. Finn gave me this glorious gift; an appreciation for the sweet, twittering conversations of birds fluttering from limb to limb. I glance down to see Lil’ Big Head’s glistening amber-hazelnut eyes before his nose tugs him to investigate the myriad of smells left behind from squirrels, school children and other dogs on one blade of grass, over there. Gavin must get to that particular stalk. And, my attention is drawn to the understated beauty of nature waking up from winter; stark, ashen tree limbs punctuated by cashmere puffs lazily rolling across the crystal blue sky.
As a trainer, I am passionate about helping people who love their dogs understand and change behavior that causes stress, frustration; and sometimes, danger, in more serious cases. Together, we tackle tangible tasks that improve the quality of life for everyone involved. And, I always treasure the moment when it clicks for the human end of the leash; and the prideful beam across their face when he or she is able to get their dog to listen in a situation that they had previously felt lost, helpless, and out of control.
But, for today; let us watch, listen and observe our dogs, without the need to change anything. If we are open, there might be a very valuable lesson that our dogs can teach us when we stop putting pressure on our pups to be better, better, better.
Slow down. An all too familiar scene in my house is Gavin stretched out on the tawny daybed mattress in my sun room; occasionally drifting out of sleep to watch me stumble off my yoga mat from a feeble attempt at a headstand or to pause and not race to slay the heinous dragon, the vacuum cleaner. The latter, a job Gavin took very seriously when he first came home. Sometimes, Lil’ Big Head just looks at me with his eternal-puppy-face and copper-bedroom-eyes. I am sucker, I can not resist Gavin’s pouty mouth. And, I stop what I am doing to lay down; for just a minute, to snuggle with him.
Then, an hour later, my left arm is heavy and asleep because Gavin’s block head has been resting on my bicep, as a I stroked his soft, tuxedo belly and indulged in a good book. I always resume my day with a clearer head, restored attitude and deeper compassion when I just stop and hang out with my dog; rather than racing around to complete chores that will inevitably need to be repeated tomorrow.
Let them be. When we focus on training our dogs; especially in distracting environments, we are constantly doing, talking and flailing about. Our dogs are already on sensory overload with the sights, smells and sounds that we are constantly competing with as we utter over and over, “leave it, leave it, leave it”. So, adding to the noise can be particularly overwhelming to our pups. And, exhausting for us.
In a safe space, and never, ever off-leash, unless your pup has a perfect recall or you are in a fenced-in area; watch your dog. Does sniffing every blade of grass on the parkway make his or her tail wag with such enthusiasm that their butt joins in the wiggle party? Does a quick glance, even a few feet away, of person walking past make him or her smile so bright that you are reminded those big, bright white teeth could bite and hurt you, but they do not. And, you are grateful. Does walking faster, a little bit ahead of you; but, safely and not on a tight leash, make your pup prance so gleefully that you feel a giant smile growing across your face? Breaks are good; and incredibly valuable for training, and to your relationship.
One of Gavin’s greatest joys is to sit on my lap at the park with both of his Chuck-It balls in his mouth and just watch the world go by us. While I have learned to appreciate the walk, walk, walk; those moments in the park where I am doing absolutely nothing rejuvenate me. And, when I need to help Lil’ Big Head through a moment of worry, my patience is right there, on the surface, because I have stopped for bit to rest.
We all want our dogs to be well-behaved. And, working to teach them what to do is extremely important for their safety and to ensure we all enjoy an amazing quality of life together. But, sometimes, if we listen to them, we might find a new greatest joy in life. One that can only be learned from a cuddly, lazy dog; in my case.