Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Click or Treats for Trainers, Please!

In getting ready for the big storm set to hit later today, I did some last minute shopping to return some items purchased several weeks ago from two different stores. I took Belle with me. Not only did we hit those two stores, but we went to a third as well. That's a first.

When my kids were young, two stores were about the max we could do in one trip before one or the other (or horrors - both) would melt down and all of us would need a time-out when we got home. Unlike my toddlers, Belle got better at each store we went to. At the last, she was positively perfect - which was a very good thing since it seemed almost every customer stopped to ask about Belle. What an incredible experience! She executed the best "across" and "stay" she's ever done. She stayed in place between the cart and me while I answered questions. She sat quietly and politely offered her paw to those who asked to pet her but were told she was working. Instead, I asked if they were willing to shake and every one was delighted to give her a chance to show her stuff. She heeled, backed, left it, sided, and loose leash walked as if she were a pro. Most of all, she stayed focused on me despite all the distractions and delays from those who wanted to know all about her.

Then we got home. And the toddler melt-down began.

She wanted to go out to play and undressed immediately on command. She offered her head so I could put her Invisible Fence collar on. But then, just as if she had hung up everything she knew about the right and wrong way to go outside when I hung up her pack, she proceeded to do it the wrong way three times. Of course, each time she goofed and bolted instead of waiting for me to tell her "release", I called her back - but had to wait for her to decide that she remembered what "come" meant. Twenty minutes later she finally got it right, and with each successive goof, came a little sooner when I recalled her - the last time darn close to "good" in terms of immediacy. Still, I felt like all the eyes of the world were watching this power struggle unfold and that I was falling far short of worthy in their opinion.

Why do I feel this way? The fact that she ultimately was able to correct her errors and do it right is almost as much of a success than behaving so well, so effortlessly at the store. Maybe bigger because she and I had to struggle to make it so. Neither of us quit trying until we got it right. That's really great - but why do I have trouble believing it. Or that each time these struggles occur, both Belle and I learn a great deal about each other and what we can do together. That just because I'm the "trainer" in this relationship I'm supposed to be fully trained myself. I'm not - I'm learning too. And just like I do with Belle when she finally comes when I call, I need to praise myself profusely for sticking with it when she struggles.

Unfortunately, chocolate was not one of the items I picked up at any of those three stores. I guess I'll just have to sedate myself with Sudoku.

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