Saturday, January 1, 2011

Bonding over bananas

My daughter Julie has been home for the past six weeks, and in that time has singlehandedly turned what had been Allie's mere love for bananas into a full-blown obsession. If Julie decides to sleep in, Allie sits in front of her bedroom door, paws at that door--and at times, even starts to whine. When Julie finally gets up, Allie pastes herself to her side. Then, as Julie slices up a banana to put in Allie's dish, Allie stares at Julie intently--and drools a rather sizable puddle onto the floor that Julie's occasionally had the misfortune to step in.

Until recently, Julie had been a little ambivalent as to what Allie's love for bananas meant with respect to her relationship with Julie. "I don't want Allie to love me just because I give her bananas," she'd say. "I want her to love me for me. I want to know she loves me."

I'm no ethologist, so anything I say about the nature of canine feeling is at least somewhat speculative. But it seems to me that it's a mistake for Julie to say that Allie loves her just because of the bananas. If one individual gives another individual -- regardless of species -- something that's desired by or pleases the recipient, the recipient is likely to regard the giver more favorably than before. And if what the giver bestows to the recipient is really important to the recipient, the recipient's regard for the giver will become even more favorable. So, just imagine how the recipient will regard the giver if that cherished item is given not once, not twice, but almost every day.

The fact that Allie loves those bananas, and that Julie gives them to her, is enough to grow the bond between them. To Allie, bananas clearly are a big deal -- so the person who gives them to her becomes a big deal, too.

In her book Bones Would Rain From the Sky, trainer Suzanne Clothier writes about a dog named Chance, whose relationship with his person, Wendy, was badly damaged as a result of misguided training. Clothier suggested that Wendy start rebuilding her relationship with Chance by tossing him a treat whenever he looked her way. Such a tactic sounds incredibly simple--even simplistic--but as Clothier tells the story, Chance decided on his own to work once more with Wendy after she tossed him several treats.

I love that story. I think of it whenever I see how Julie is building her relationship with Allie just by giving her some fruit in the morning. Because good relationships are more likely to form when we associate another individual with being a giver of good stuff. Those gifts can be time, an email, a smile, a kiss or so many, many other things.

Including bananas.

(Pictured above: Ginger the Golden Retriever, eating her favorite fruit. See the video here.)