Saturday, February 9, 2008

Leader Of The Pack

Lu here, I've decided to wrest the keyboard from Belle's paws for today.

I recently returned from a trip to Miami courtesy of the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation. There were a lot of special moments in the brief four day trip, but one of the real highlights, for me at least, was it was a true vacation. I wasn't responsible for anything but getting myself to the designated spot at the appointed time. Alex from CCFA took care of our flight, our food, our hotel, and our transportation. The team nature of the trip took care of our cameraderie. Without any logistical worries to bog us down, it was easy to bond with each other.

Life is so much easier when someone else is in charge - and performs their role perfectly.

Now I'm home and I'm the one this team of mine looks to to be in charge. They want to believe that they will always have adequate food, a warm place to sleep, and yes, the joy of knowing that they are loved. They want the freedom that comes from knowing and trusting that someone else is in charge. In return, if I do my job right, they willingly do all that I ask. If I don't do it right, Belle at least, will take matters in to her own hands.

This morning's walk had me thinking about my leadership with Belle. I asked myself if I'm her "Alex". I had to honestly answer, no. I don't always give her the sense that I'm in control.

Belle has always had phenomenal skills. She is a quick learner and will work hard to figure out a new problem. Behavior is a different matter. Some days, she'll be calm and on task. At other times, she's willful, disobedient, and obnoxious. Yesterday, was one of the willful days.

We were playing the Alien game described below, but Belle simply refused to bring the ball back to me. In the past, this behavior has really frustrated me. Yesterday, I did something different. I went inside, got a high value treat and Belle's leash, and called her to me. She came because the lure of the peanut butter was too much for her to resist. She also brought Alien - bonus points for me.

After her gentle leader was in place, I returned to playing Alien with Cody. At first, I had her sit at heel next to me while Cody demonstrated to her how the game was played. After several Cody retrieves, I asked her to "Get" and "Bring" Alien to me after Cody had dropped it at my feet. Of course, the first couple of times I asked her to do this, she tried to ignore me. The leash made it possible for me to remind her I was in charge. We played this game for another half hour or so, and then in the house we went. I never let her off lead once she made it clear that she didn't want to play the game by my rules. Today, we'll repeat the game, but with one important change - she will start out on lead. I'll make it easy for her to know where and when she needs to be and do.

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