Monday, February 21, 2011

Balance = Wellness

Stop chewing, eating everything in sight
Stop barking at everything
To not run away
Stop jumping
Stop rough playing with small dogs
No biting
Have manners
No mouthing
Learn how to greet

Can you guess what these were?

In every class that people sign up for at Doglando, they answer one question “What are your training goals?” Recently since our classes have begun, I have taken the time to look at the answers to this question more closely, and the above are the most common responses. When I went through all of them, a light bulb came on and off…I knew obedience wasn’t a cure all to those problems but what the heck was obedience really for?

Obedience, contrary to popular hope, does not necessarily fix the chewing, barking, biting, rough play, lack of manners dis-“obedience” in dogs. Rather, obedience helps owners open the communication lines with their dogs, enabling a healthy way to ask questions and get responses, it helps to start a real relationship.

So, if obedience doesn’t necessarily cure these bad behaviors, how come most of them stop or decrease while taking obedience classes? Because obedience is a part of ENRICHMENT. And what is ENRICHMENT? To make fuller, more meaningful, or more rewarding.

My father always told me, “An idle mind is a devils workshop,” apparently the schemer in me was very obvious to him, and this I believe, goes for dogs as well. For example, when I was younger, but old enough to be left alone at home with my brother and sister, my mom would go to Sam’s Club. Sam’s was probably a good 30-40 minute drive from our home in Hollywood and so the grocery shopping could easily last a few hours every week. We couldn’t go swimming, ride our little ATCs, ride our regular bikes, roller blade or anything fun so after a little bit, we (I say we, but really it was me) would go into the kitchen and grab every SINGLE spice out of the cabinet, while still trying to remember where they went on the rotating rack, and take them outside. Now, just some back ground information about being outside. ..My dad was in love, and still very much is, with yard chores. So all three of us around the ages of 5-7, would go outside and start cutting down tree limbs, but ones we hoped Dad wouldn’t notice. We ESPECIALLY LOVED these certain palms my dad had growing with big broad leaves. We would gather coconuts, umbrella tree berries, hibiscus, rose petals, dirt, limes, lemons, avocado (yes, we had a jungle for a yard) and make the most god awful concoctions anyone has ever smelled in the entire world. And we (mostly, I) thought it was the coolest thing ever, that it was some magic Harry Potter type stuff (before HP was even out!). Then all of a sudden all three of us would FREAK OUT. We would hide the “evidence” by throwing it in the compost we had for the garden, rush and put all the spices back and wait, so very guiltily for my mom to get home.

Now imagine that instead of my mom leaving me with my brother and sister for three hours, she left me for ten to twelve. And that instead of leaving me with my younger sister and brother, that I was left alone, can you imagine the damage I could have done? Now why is it so super surprising that after a 10 hour work day, our dogs have chewed up the floor molding, the couch, the rug, and the cabinets? That they bark at everything on walks, and pull harder than Iditarod sled dogs? It’s not so surprising when put in this context right?

A dogs life in the city is not typically that enriching, between leash laws, and long work hours, they act more as couch ornaments, than beings in and of themselves. Our lifestyle as urban young professionals, has taken a dogs natural life of wandering, scavenging, hunting, and learning away from them. They are now idle minds, with a propensity for destruction because of boredom.

They key to eliminating these behaviors is in enrichment, not obedience, it’s about allowing our dogs to be dogs, and establishing that open communication and trust that Molly isn’t going to take off or start a fight at any given second. It’s about letting go of control, and just being, you and your dog, together as one.


Lynn said...

When Suka gets bored, she walks out of the room, picks up something she's not supposed to have and then comes back and drops it pointedly in front of us. Then she lies down and starts mouthing it, threatening to really chew. That dog has learned to communicate! Rather than blackmail, I consider it a clever request for a walk and out we go. For now, since it doesn't happen a lot.

Lynn said...

When Suka is bored, she leaves the room and picks up something she's not supposed to have then comes back and pointedly drops it in front of us. She then lies down and mouths it, threatening to chew. That dog has learned to communicate. I've chosen to accept this as a doggie-mode request rather than blackmail, and we go for a walk and some play. For now, since she doesn't do it a lot.

Lynn said...

When Suka is bored, she leaves the room, picks up something she is not supposed to have then returns and pointedly drops it in front of us. Then she lies down and starts mouthing it, threatening to chew. I consider this a polite doggie request rather than blackmail, and we go for a walk and some play. Dogs do let us know what they think. Provided we pay attention.