Friday, March 12, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Bears oh My!!

It wasn't a lion or tiger or a bear. This 'monster' didn't live in a forest.

A few weeks ago while my car was being serviced I took Melissa for a walk in an area we had never visited. Past a few stores, then down a quiet road into the old part of town. Big trees, old bumpy sidewalks, it was quiet...almost too quiet. An occasional car, a newspaper at the end of a driveway, trash cans waiting for pickup. Melissa has become accustomed to seeing just about everything on our walks.....or so I thought.

We continued our walk around the neighborhood and there it was. Not a lion or tiger or was a snowman, oh my! Melissa hesitated, she backed off a bit. I waited. She moved in for a sniff....then circled around to approach from the side. I waited and let her investigate at her own pace. I wanted her to touch the snowman, but wanted her to work at her comfort level. She then got stuck, she was not closing that distance of those last 8 inches. She looked up into the face of Mr.Snowman, he had walnuts for eyes, a carrot for a nose and dried pasta for his mouth. She wagged her tail a tiny bit. But she was still stuck, why was this 'person' not responding to her?

I looked over my shoulders...both directions. Good, no one was on the road to watch me. I took a step closer to Mr. Snowman and began talking to him. I touched him on the shoulder and said a few sentences. Melissa instantly relaxed and moved close to check his arms which were made of sticks. She moved behind him, around him, and let out a big sigh. She was ready to move on.

Judy of Pittsfield, Massachusetts wrote to tell me about her experience with her young puppy Borzoi. 6 years ago, when Billy was about 4 months of age he froze at the sight of a fire hydrant. She didn't make him go past it. She let him go at his own pace. Day 1: He crept up slowly sniffed it a bit, then backed off and continue on his walk with Judy...but he kept looking over his shoulder as if it was going to chase him. Day 2: He moved slowly to the hydrant, took a sniff and moved away. He stopped, went back for another sniff...a longer sniff this time. He then continued on his walk. Day 3: He walked past the hydrant never even taking a second look at it. In Judy's words 'the monster had been slain'.

As humans we understand what these objects are. But to a puppy this world can be a scary place. Billy had been exposed to lots of different sights and sounds in the first 12 weeks he was at his breeders, but somewhere along the way he had never met a fire hydrant. Melissa had never met a snowman. These objects looked different then anything these puppies had ever seen. Both puppies were able to cope with the uncertainly because they had had a lot of exposure to different sights and sounds the first few months of their lives. They could overcome their uncertainty because of the early exposure that had developed their confidence. They had never been forced to 'face their fears' (such an old fashioned term in this day and age of dog training). Instead, they were ready to investigate something new, with a little help, in Melissa's case, of me talking and touching the snowman. These puppies trusted their owners to keep them safe, a trust that builds confidence.

Has your puppy met any 'monsters'?

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