Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The art of listening

Allie's not big into leisurely jaunts. All too often, when I take her for a walk, she gets a funny (evil?) glint in her eye and proceeds to grab her leash with her mouth. Occasionally, she simply holds it as we walk along together. More often, though, she pulls in the direction opposite the way we're traveling in an effort to start a game of sidewalk tug-of-war.

Because I consider a tranquil walk with one's dog to be one of life's greatest joys, Allie's efforts to pump up the volume during our walks used to really bug me. I'd get impatient, I'd get angry, I'd try to get her to let go of the leash by giving her the "drop it" cue (which she would ignore) -- all of which seemed to spur her into holding onto the leash, shaking it and otherwise working harder to get me to play with her.

The funny thing is, for the longest time I didn't realize her desire to play was what was prompting her leash-grabbing. She wasn't trying to be obnoxious. She wasn't trying to be difficult. She simply wanted me to play her favorite game with her, and was suggesting that we do so in the only way she knew how. Unfortunately, I was too busy being annoyed with her to listen, much less respond appropriately.

How often do our dogs try to tell us something, only to find that we don't understand what they're trying to communicate--or worse, that we don't even try to understand? How often, conversely, do we shove own agendas down their throats without even realizing that we're doing so? How often do we miss opportunities to really connect with our dogs because we're too busy doing something else? How often do we really pay attention? How often are our relationships with our dogs more like one-way streets in which we set the agenda? How often do we give them a chance to do so?

These days, when Allie plays the leash-grabbing game, I respond very differently from the way I used to. If I'm not in the mood to play, I just keep the leash slack, and refrain from looking at her. When I do that, she understands pretty quickly that tug is not going to happen right now, drops the leash, and we continue on our way. Other times, though, I'll use my special Allie voice (sort of like baby-talk, but not really) and ask her, "Allie, are you feeling evil? Are you The Evil One?" and let her pull the leash a little bit. Sometimes we both stand still while she tugs; other times we continue walking while we play.

In any case, there's no more negativity or impatience from me when Allie asks to play sidewalk tug. That said, I'm glad we've got a durable leather leash.


Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart said...

Love this post. I have to be careful about such requests turning into non-stop attention seeking behaviors, but I do try to say "Yes" to many of Lilly's requests because she so often says "Yes" to mine.


Remember clueless man who tried to train his dogs at my dogs' expense? Saw him again today. Managed to get the dogs inside w/o too much fuss, but then I watched him White Knuckle it, one dog in each hand, on their walk. And, I thought ... that doesn't look like fun for either of them.

Susan said...

Yuck. Poop puppies!

Jan said...

It must be frustrating for dogs to try to communicate with humans and have their messages ignored.

I resolve to do better.

Susan said...

Me, too, Jan. I sometimes think that if our dogs could speak English, they'd give us quite a lecture about our lack of communications skills.
And Roxanne, I meant to say "poor" puppies, not "poop" puppies :)

KathyF said...

Bailey used to grab the leash also. I wonder if it's a Golden thing?

I don't think she was trying to initiate play, though. My daughter pointed out once she always did it halfway during our circular walk. She did this when we lived in Albuquerque, and then repeated it here. I assumed it was her way of saying, "I know the way from here, let me show you."

Sometimes I'd just let go and lay the leash on her back, and off she'd prance. It gave passersby a laugh.

Susan said...

Maybe it is a Golden thing, Kathy. I'm glad you could let Bailey run on ahead; in our NoVA suburban neighborhood, I wouldn't dare. When we go to a nearby park, though, I let her run ahead on the path -- and we practice our recalls :)

Linda Rehkopf said...

My Labs also do this, usually towards the end of our walks. The oldest will take hold of the leash of the next oldest, and so on. Now that we're down to two dogs, there's not a train of Labs heading to the door.
Gracie also grabs her leash when we go to the vet, as if to say, "Yes, I know the way in, and I know the way out."

Susan said...

Well, maybe it's just a very short train of Labs, Linda ;-)