Part 5 of 5
Let us pause for a moment. I imagine some of you, probably all the dog people and probably all the parents too, have a handle on the shape of this thing already. If you have not formed a picture in your mind of those brief moments yet, I invite you to do so now. Sure, I have not described the area, the lady, the dogs, the car, or me – but you have enough detail for this purpose:
One man, with two dogs, obviously in the middle of training them (whether or not this guy is a “dog trainer” or just a guy training dogs, there can be no question about the activity), in fact, actively engaged in an exercise at that moment and one that involves taking the dogs off leash in a parking lot and getting them into the car. Picture the moment. I hear her voice one beat after I get the boys off leash and at the moment I am turning to Mickey to invite him into the car. This is the moment she chooses to yell across the parking lot at a stranger.
If you just can’t relate to dogs, let me give you an analogy. Imagine you are teaching your child how to ride a bike the first time after taking off the training wheels. There you are in the driveway or the street in front of your house, your kid is on the bike, you have your hand on the seat to steady everything, the kid starts to peddle as you jog behind, hand on seat. The instant you let go, your arm still outstretched, your hand ready to react and provide support if needed. The minute your child is free and riding on their own – someone calls to you, “Excuse me, are you a biking instructor?” This is not a moment in time where you want to be distracted. And, you would not want to hire someone to teach kids about bike riding who would be so easily distracted at such an important moment in time.
Suffice it to say that without hearing anything else at all I can guarantee you at least three things: She has a dog. She believes there is a problem with her dog’s behavior. She is the real problem.
I admit to you. I was not in the best of spirits. I am covered I sweat. It has been a frustrating afternoon: 20 minutes of driving and looking for a place to go, facing the challenges of this new and less than ideal environment way ahead of my training schedule (this is really an advanced scenario that I would not have attempted “on purpose” for at least a month if not more), my failure to purchase a new straight 8’ or 12’ leash for Mickey. I have managed (with difficulty) to keep the frustration internal and not feed that to the dogs and we did have some very nice times. Their performance at the end of the walk with the sitting absolutely still while this woman accosted us really was raising my mood. That was just fantastic work on their part. They were watching me and smiling.
But I did not want to talk to this rude woman. One or two very minuscule amounts of courtesy or situational awareness would have changed this whole encounter for me, but if she possessed any of those traits, the conversation would probably have been unnecessary.
If this is how you behave towards a stranger from whom you are seeking (free) advice, I can only imagine what you are inadvertently teaching your dog(s). I cannot imagine what a “walk” or other exercise time might be like with you as the pack master. And while I am thinking these thoughts and feeling this frustration mixed with pride and admiration for the boys, there is also a layer of sadness.
I love dogs. I love talking about dogs. Without dogs, I would not only be naturally more lonely on the day to day, I would have very little motivation to ever meet a total stranger and become fantastic life long friends (and one day live together in their house). I love training dogs and talking about training dogs. I am not sayin’ I was in any kind of zone to sit down and chat for an hour, but with just a little care taken, I would have been super pleased to meet and talk with this lady, and to help her.
She started speaking rapidly but in a broken fashion something about ‘how do you control your dogs’ without really managing to provide any useful details.
Me: You know in most cases, whatever else is going on, getting enough exercise will fix it.
Lady: Really? Exercise? Well mine gets plenty of that, it is the barking. She barks at everything constantly.
Me: See the thing about the exercise is th-
Lady: (interrupting) The wind, things outside, noises inside, the phone, the radio, the tv, the dishwasher …
(and on and on – the only new info in this string of words – we could have guessed – it is a small dog. One of those really tiny ones. Not freak show tiny. Just one of those little puff ball kinds that I always want to punt!)
Me: (I don’t remember now exactly. I had been getting ready and moving towards the driver’s door preparing to flee.) Ya you are right, those guys do bark a lot, almost all of them. Sorry I can’t help with that. Have a good day.
Even in my state of mind in the moment, I was still willing to stay for a few minutes, probably no more than 5 and hopefully much less, but I was willing. I was going to explain to her about regular exercise and the way you can use a walk to teach a dog things and they start to like it and then it is easier to teach them how to do things at home because now they care about you in a different way and you have become the pack master and they are willing to and excited to engage with you.
But most folks with tiny dogs never do anything like this and that is why their animals are little tyrannical terrors in their homes. Noisy, all over everything, and usually impossible to talk to. Owners think – “you know, I want a dog but I want something cute and tiny so it can’t pull me down and I don’t even have to walk it. It can get all its exercise at home! Guess what? That has consequences.
I would not have put it quite like that in talking with this woman, but I am fairly certain that her description of a day-in-the-life of her dog would be some recognizable form of the scenario I described above. It is sad. I generally do not like and actively avoid small dogs, but it is really not their fault. There are several exceptions – little dogs I know that have good people who interact with them and teach them stuff. All dogs are similar and want similar stuff. The only badly behaved dogs I have ever met (regardless of size) did not have good pack masters.
As I drive away, there are many thoughts flying through my mind quickly. Why even bother chasing me down across a parking lot to ask me about dog training if you are completely uninterested in letting me say any words? That one recurs. But more than anything else, what impulse was it that made her take an action? What motivated her?
Did she just want to complain to someone who has dogs that hers are a bit out of control? Did she just want to talk? Did she think I may have some secret knowledge? Did she really want to know, but has one of those kinds of brains where she may not even realize that I was trying to help her until next week, or never?
Now sure, there are many things I could have done differently and done much better, done with more compassion and empathy. I can see that. I could see it then too. I could have done more listening. I could have opened it up more sympathetic shrink/bartender style with a “why don’t you just start at the beginning and tell me all about it?” But recall, she was on my nerves a bit and my suspicion was that the scenario was going to play out in this pattern no matter what. I was not trying to lay the foundations of a lasting true friendship here. I wanted to get back home to Lucas who was all alone for over an hour now (something he is not generally asked to endure). I wanted to get away from the crazy lady who was running me down in the parking lot.
So that is my story. You have glanced through a window and seen some of my dog training methods and philosophy. You learn a little bit about two of my newest packmates. And you got to meet the crazy lady. A few final thoughts next time.