Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Power of Observation

The past few days, I've learned and relearned some things about Belle. On Saturday, I went to Obedience Training with Cody. To demonstrate the difference that voice tone can make in the dog's enthusiasm and willingness to participate, the instructor used the cue "really, reliable recall". Every dog in the room had to be restrained by their owners from going to him. Hmm, I thought; I should try this with Belle.

Lesson I: Home I go, and after greeting Belle, I decided to put the lesson in to play. Immediately I remembered why I don't use much voice modulation with her. She went wild - running after me, jumping up on me, and pretty much treating me the same way she treats Cody - with rampant enthusiasm. That wasn't quite the really reliable recall I was looking for. But there's the catch-22; rampant enthusiasm with really, reliable recall is critical but not at the expense of the dog being out of control. My solution when she was a pup was to change my behavior, i.e. calm voice tones. Now I'm wondering if I took the easy way at the time at the expense of the greater lesson - teaching Belle how to control her response. I would love to hear any ideas or thoughts about this question.

Lesson II: Molly had some friends over last night for a backyard bonfire. True to her nature, Belle was the perfect host. She used her insatiable need for love and attention and went from one girl to the next, tail wagging, body gently wriggling, head nudging their hands - but interestingly, not in an obnoxious way. The girls loved the attention from her. Cody followed her - very glad that each of the girls was happy to pet them both. Occasionally, the two would sit down and chew on one of the sticks that had not yet been put into the fire. Companionably, they gnawed together until they sensed the girls needed another round of canine affection. Then they were off to gladly perform their host responsibilities - in perfect canine style.

Lesson III: I gain the greatest insights in to what makes Belle tick through observation. Watching her response in varied situations. As discouraged as I was on Tuesday night watching Belle behave so badly with me, then turn around and do such great work with Chad tells me I'm not being creative enough for her. I'm not providing enough new challenges - even with old cues - than I could. I once compared her to the bratty braniac of my grade school. I wasn't far off - she needs just as many new challenges to keep her stimulated and on track. When the challenges aren't there for her, she's just as happy to create them. I don't always like what she comes up with, and that means I'll have to step up my part in this dance to give her what she needs to become a great service dog.

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