Sunday, March 18, 2012

The dog has a busier social calendar than I do


Alright everybody, says the Therapy Dog Handler while pointing at me, everything she just told you, I'm gonna tell you the exact opposite.

Yeah, she's talking about me, but no malice is intended. Indeed this gentle lady speaks the truth. I had just finished talking to a group of young people about assistance dogs and their incredible feats of derring-do.  This was way back when the mighty Micron was a young CCI pup in training and we still had fantasies of him graduating the program. And to be rather honest, until this particular day I had not given a Therapy Dog program much thought.

Micron started working on his relaxation techniques at an early age.
He's now reached proficiency.
So the contrary comment grabbed my attention. Opposite, she says?  Ok, I'm listening.

Now, our young audience had observed as Micron did a fine job of demonstrating the focus an assistance dog must have. How the dog must be dialed into their handler and follow all directions as asked. Distractions are tuned out, whether other dogs, people or even a morsel of food on the ground. The dog and handler share a bubble, so to speak.  Everything outside is just a buzzing noise.

Yeah alright, I'm exaggerating here. This is Micron, y'all.  Focus is not a word found in his canine dictionary. Especially as a young yeller feller, he had the attention span of a goldfish - about three seconds. But he did try really hard, bless his heart.

Focus, however, is the point we made to our attentive audience. The essence of a successful Assistance Dog team, I say. 

And here is exactly where things are different for a Therapy Dog.  It was an awakening to see the handler remove the leash from Leela, a tail waggin' black Labrador, to allow her to walk freely among the kids.  Leela calmly greeted each kid, sometimes spending more time with one than another. I learn that she is reading the kids, checking their moods and their responses to her attention. Over the next few minutes, Leela makes her choice from our audience of fifteen and settles down to lie at the feet of a boy. He slips from his chair to the floor to hug her. And there they remain there for the rest of the presentation. The boy smoothly petting the dog's back with her head resting on his lap. Why this particular boy and what was churning through his young noggin? Only he and Leela know for sure.

So here we have two types of working dogs doing God's work in very different ways. They have their own unique -and essential- gifts to offer in our world of human beans. 

Because these are dogs interacting in our world of people, there are indeed a few similarities. More than pets, any working dog is held to a higher standard. I'm not talking just about the wow factor of things. But instead the foundation that we start from. These pups must be tipping the scale on their obedience skills. And be way up there on that very basic qualification of any well-behaved, trustworthy dog.

Socialization.

A well socialized dog is a dog confident in a stressful situation. To be able to carry on in a environment where things just ain't right in a dog's eyes is not a natural state of mind of many of our canine friends.  Early socialization, while keeping an eye out for those puppy fear periods, is the making of a good companion you can enjoy in the public arena of life.

As a kid, our dogs were working canines of yet another ilk. Farm dogs who each had a purpose as protectors of the realm with such tasks as keeping the chicken coop weasel free. But outside dogs, the lot of them. So when all grown up with a house of my own, I manage to convince the Husband that marital bliss can only be fully achieved with a pet dog. Just like having kids, the first one is the practice one where you make all your mistakes. We didn't socialize Jack the Wonder Dog and spent the next thirteen years suffering the consequences. Not fear behavior from this lovable mutt, mind you. We're talking complete abandonment of self control. Picture a cub scout tanked on Mountain Dew and Reese Cups. And running around a campfire with a stick on fire. It was like that. All the time. We loved the fella and his heart of gold, but darn it, could not take him anywhere without abject embarrassment.

And again, like having more kids, you start paying attention to the things that do matter (like good manners) and less about the stuff that doesn't (just blowing the dirt off the pacifier instead of boiling the thing).  With our next dogs, we got them all out and about early in puppyhood. Obedience classes, visiting friend's houses, vacations in the RV, and meeting other friendly dogs. So by the time we got our first CCI pup and put the training cape on her, we were off and ready. Let's do this thing, we said.

Our second CCI pup was, by gosh and golly, well socialized. Micron does remind us at times of Jack the Wonder Dog, both with handsome golden looks and silly antics. The comparison stops short about right there, though.  From the tender age of eight weeks, Micron was systematically introduced to the new and different. At two years old, we find ourselves hard pressed to find something that would cause Micron to do a spit-take. No longer permitted to wear a CCI training cape, our public visits happen less these days. But Micron is still welcome at the assisted living facility to visit a family member. So much so, we find ourselves in a sticky situation if we darken their doorway without his fuzzy company.  And where's Mike?, they all ask accusingly, is he sick or something?  Like he better be, because there's no other acceptable excuse to not bring his smiling face and wagging tail into their world.

A doggie social event.
Ruh roh, looks like a terrier crashed this Yellow Dog party.

Sure, I still make mistakes with our dogs, even the CCI pups in training. I'm merely a human bean, after all. We people seems to run more on emotions more than instinct, don't we?. But the one thing I'll never screw up on again with a dog is early socialization.  We learned a hard lesson with Jack the Wonder Dog. Who, just by the way, would answer to the name of Awwshitjack with a smiling face and wagging tail.

Sometimes new and different is well,
more different than others.
Oh, and for those paying close attention to my wisdom about having more than one kid, you are certainly aware that I'm speaking hypothetically.  My only son endured his childhood as my practice kid. Sorry about your lot in life, Kiddo, but take comfort in the knowledge that you are indeed my Favorite. Some of us have to fiercely compete for that honor with our siblings. Not that we still do, of course.

Uh huh. Yeah, right.




2 comments:

  1. I adore your dog because he's very cute and he's like a normal person who can think and feel. You better bring him to the Perth dog training to further teach him some tricks.

    ReplyDelete
  2. He must be a very popular dog! I admire you for your patience and your love to your pet. Treat him to the dog grooming in Long Island at least once a week so that he'll be pampered.

    ReplyDelete

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