Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A confession

(This post also appears on my blog, "The Positively Well-Behaved Dog." I've never before used identical posts for two blogs, but this one's very personal--and also reflects the spirit of the Never Shock a Puppy blog campaign I'm participating in.)

For this week’s post, and in the spirit of the Never Shock a Puppy blogging campaign, I’m going to make a confession. Specifically, if there was ever a day that I might have been tempted to use a choke collar, prong collar, e-collar or otherwise take aversive action with my Golden Retriever, Allie, that day was yesterday.

We were taking a long walk when my normally politely walking Golden girl got an attack of the zoomies. Such “attacks” generally result in her running crazily back and forth, picking up the biggest available stick, inadvertently whacking me on the backs of my legs with that stick and/or attempting to use the leash as a tug toy. I understand why she engages in such behavior: she’s working off excess energy (she hadn’t been for a run for a couple of days) and is also trying to get me to play with her. Most of the time, I can deal with such behavior with total equanimity. She’s seven years old, so I’ve had plenty of time to learn how.

Yesterday, however, was different. I’d had a crown put in at the dentist earlier that morning and by the time Allie and I set out on our walk, the anesthetic had warn off and my jaw was aching. The very thought of needing to deal with Allie’s acrobatics was, shall we say, unwelcome. And I’m only human: just as parents sometimes talk about giving their misbehaving kids a good swift kick (without ever seriously considering following through), at that moment, I was tempted to give Allie a good swift jerk of the leash. Fortunately, I knew I didn’t have to.

I knew that all I had to do was to just stand still—which is exactly what I did.

Just as experts suggest that a person stand still if a dog tries to pull ahead and make like a sled dog on a walk, so is the same non-move a good way to deal with a Golden Retriever’s zoomies. Sure enough, after a minute or two, Allie stopped acting like a crazy girl and settled down. At that point, I quietly asked her to “walk nice.” We then continued on our way, and after a few sedate paces, I gave her a treat. A few more equally sedate paces earned her another treat. We made it home without further incident, and she was dozing next to me under my desk as I typed this post.

I’m glad I didn’t have the equipment that would have allowed me to give in to those aversive impulses. I’m human enough to admit I might have gotten a moment’s satisfaction from ‘teaching her a lesson.’ But I’ve learned enough to realize that in such instances, the best—and certainly most humane—way to respond to a dog’s misbehavior is to not respond at all. Put another way, in order to have a positively well-behaved dog, one has to commit to being a positively well-behaved owner.

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