Establishing Good Habits (Written 7/24/20)
You never know what will happen on a walk.
In some ways, walking the dogs is my least favorite part of each day. It shouldn't be. It should be fun and enjoyable and refreshing. And it really would be, except for all the things that can, and often do, go wrong. The dogs and I are most vulnerable out on the open road, with no sighted person to trouble shoot for us and no hard and fast rules. There are cars and careless drivers and loose dogs and running deer. There are occasional horses and four-wheelers, and abrupt changes in the weather.
There are a hundred and one things that can ruin our day.
I say there are no hard and fast rules, but of course, I'm referring to the outside world and its circumstances, not to my own traveling pack.
My number one rule with them is that we all have to be good neighbors.
Never mind that the houses we pass and the people we meet and the dogs we encounter may not be. We still have to be.
And so, I try excessively hard to make sure we are all (and yes, I'm including myself in that grouping) on our very best behavior.
My two puppies make this an undertaking. They're young, they're chock-a-block full of beans, and thanks to coronavirus, they have not gotten the socialization that all of my other dogs have experienced at their age. Usually I count on our daily walk as the outlet for much of their exuberance, but every once in a while, a situation comes up that requires them to act like they've had some training.
Today we had one of those situations.
We were chugging up a hill, headed home with about three-quarters of a mile to go. It was one of the places where I feel fairly comfortable letting Banner off the leash for a chance to run. With him being a whippet, a breed which is notorious for chasing anything that moves quickly and not always returning when called, I'm careful about where he gets this freedom. But also because he's a whippet, he needs to run at a full-out gallop every day. And this stretch of road gives him the opportunity.
So we were trotting along, everything right with the world, when out of the complete blue yonder, this kid on a bicycle comes popping over the hill and sailing past us. Just flaring up in front of us and flashing by and gone. Fortunately, he came from in front of us. If he had come up from behind, streaked past and then moved farther on ahead, my own kids might have been more tempted than they were to chase. But it all happened so fast that none of us quite knew what was going on until it was over. And by then, I had yanked out a handful of sausage, made sure that Banner and Scotch were both with me, told them what good dogs they were, and we were moving on.
And then the runner appeared. Apparently, this was the bike rider's mom. I guess they have a good thing going -- he rides and she runs and they get their exercise together.
OMG, and I thought we had really dodged a bullet. I clapped my hands and called and encouraged. And my dogs came right along with me. Nobody startled, barked, or growled. And nobody chased. It was a proud mama moment.
It was when we had fled back to the refuge of our own house that I discovered the next training test. Mocha, the patient and wily miniature donkey, had slipped the chain off her gate and was ranging free in the front yard. She had been snug in her corral when we left, so evidently the jail break had been staged while I was away. Not only was Mocha's corral gate open, but so was the gate opening from the front yard to the driveway. Total freedom lay beyond.
My first order of business was to fix that problem. As swiftly but calmly as possible, I flitted past Mocha - who was happily cropping grass - reached the yard gate, and slammed it shut. Then I turned back to the miscreant.
I had dog cookies in my pocket, but nothing for a donkey, and I really didn't want to take the time to skip down to the barn and grab some.
So I bluffed her.
"Mocha," I called sweetly. "Come here, honeybee. Wanna treat?"
I kiss-kissed and clucked to her, and tucked my hand in to my pocket. Then I sauntered through the gate of her corral and called again.
And the cute little stinker came right to me. I scampered back to the gate, shut it tight, got her a flake of hay, and then found some treats.
The definition of the term "training" is "establishing good habits."
Simple but profound. Establishing good habits. It's a commitment. It takes time. But keep teaching and tweaking, rewarding and reviewing, and sooner or later it will pay off. It certainly did today. From the dogs to the donkey, everyone acted like they'd been trained.