Thursday, July 23, 2015

Can You Train My Dogs To Do That?

I had to laugh when I read the post "How to Piss Off a Golden Retriever Owner" by Pamela over at Something Wagging This Way Comes where she points out how frustrating it is to have years of training overlooked with the phrase "Aren't goldens great?" The night before Pamela posted this, we had had the complete opposite experience and I'd spent the car ride home from the lake brainstorming our post on the subject.

With Barley, we never have anyone make breed assumptions about her because nobody has any idea what my dog is. The shelter had two different descriptions listed on her paperwork. On her kennel, the description was border collie-blue tick coonhound mix. On the papers they sent me home with, they said border collie-shepherd mix.

Everyone we meet has some opinion on what's in there. A few weeks ago, we were walking behind a grandmother and her two granddaughters who were running ahead of her; the little girls turned around, saw us and squealed, "Look behind you! A Saint Bernard!" Monday night, we were walking and an older couple was sitting along the lake eating dinner and the man said, "I just have to ask. Is that a mix?" We talked for a few minutes about some of the guesses; he asked if she was smart when I mentioned border collie and seemed appeased when I said, "Very," but he was caught up on her tail (which was in it's curliest position) and added Spitz and Akita to the mix.

Yes, Sir. This tail does have a mind of its own.
I'm pretty certain Barley does have border collie in her because she does have the weird shoulder blades that allow her to crouch (and kind of give me the heebie jeebies to watch when we're walking)--whatever she is, she's a herding dog (just ask her poor kitty brother, who plays the role of livestock in Barley's life). Beyond that, it's a mystery.

I might look like a different kind of dog from every angle, but I know I'm cute.

Because she's such a mystery, nobody ever assumes that Barley is a good dog because of her breed. Comments about her behavior are always made in regards to training. I've had people roll down the window of their car to ask things like "Are you a dog trainer or just someone out walking her dog?" When we pull off the trail to let other dogs pass, other dog owners will make comments like "You leave that dog alone, she's doing so well with her training." Sometimes it's in the form of "Do you do agility? She's so focused on you!" or "How long did it take to teach her to do that?"

Shortly after our conversation with the older couple on Monday night, we ran into a mother-daughter duo walking down the sidewalk. Barley had waited patiently for a family of Canada Geese to make their way across the trail and into the marina. Then she stuck with me while we passed the two women without batting an eye at them. One of the women said, "Can you teach my dog to do that?" while the other said, "I don't know what it's like to have a dog that ignores other people. My dog is so embarrassing." 

In Barley's mind, she could never embarrass me. I'll let her keep thinking that.

We stopped and chatted for a few minutes about training and how I understood their embarrassment well because Barley struggled with other dogs in public as well as how all three of us had gotten our dogs from shelters. They seemed relieved to learn that Barley had her issues even if they weren't on display at that moment. Barley sat--and I sent her lots of "please don't embarrass me by sticking your nose in their crotches" vibes--and let them pet her while they gushed over how nice it was to be able to pet someone else's dog without having their dogs panic, another scenario I could relate to well, especially since I rarely get to give our agility classmates a pat and they're all such lovely dogs.

As we parted ways, they were talking about the challenges the daughter's dog was going to face when she had her baby since her dog struggles with children. It was clear that the daughter loved her dog and was concerned about how her dog's world would change when the baby arrived. As the distance between us increased, I could hear them brainstorming ways they could begin to introduce the dog to the baby even before the baby was born. Barley continued to trot along beside me and I couldn't help but smile knowing that Barley'd helped these women start thinking about how to help their dogs with their struggles. 

I know Barley's not perfect (for example, moments before she'd been very torn between sampling a half-eaten rabbit carcass we came across choosing to listen when I squealed, gagged, and tried to spout out "Leave it"), but it's always nice when her good behavior leads to conversations about training with people because those are a lot easier for me to carry on than conversations that start with "What is that dog?"


10 comments:

  1. People just usually assume that Mr. N is super smart (and sometimes that their dogs are just really dumb). I hardly ever get training questions from random strangers. I mean he is smart but there was SOME training involved in there.
    I debate not telling people his breed mix because people often tell me that they want a dog just like him. He's like a stuffed animal come to life who can do tricks! If we get to talking longer, I'll mention that he can hike for five hours and still not be tired.

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    1. I'm sure people would get far more than they'd bargained for if they brought Mr. N home! I personally think he sounds perfect, but I am drawn to dogs with crazy energy and a natural talent for modeling ;)

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  2. My experience is more like Mr N's. People just tend to assume Donna is naturally super sweet and obedient, so I hardly ever get training questions either.

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    1. I'd be inclined to assume that about Donna, too, after seeing all of those adorable instagram photos of hers! She does seem like the perfect sweet girl :)

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  3. Everyone automatically thinks I'm a poodle, and when my family says I'm a Havachon, they always say "What's that??" Well, that is ME! ;)

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    1. And you are absolutely adorable!

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  4. That's great that you and Barley are setting such a good example and making other people consider training options as well. Whenever someone compliments me on one of my dog's behaviors I'm always sure to let them know that is hundreds, if not thousands of hours of training.

    Thank you for joining the blog hop and for being such a great ambassador for positive training.

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    1. I think I sometimes make it sound easier than it is because I'm a super nerd and love going to dog class--or any class really (I'd never have actually left college if I had unlimited funds to spend on classes) and I'm lucky to have a smart, eager to please dog, so training is almost always fun for us. It's hard for me to be realistic about the actual work that goes into training when it doesn't really feel like work to me most of the time. I might need to borrow your talking points for future conversations!

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  5. You and Barley sound like great dog ambassadors. I wish every conversation about dogs led to someone else thinking of all the great things they could do with training help.

    If only we had more examples on television of positive dog training to inspire people.

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    1. Sweet Honey just must make it look so effortless to be good! Sometimes I think people can tell that there's a whole lot of naughtiness bubbling just beneath the surface with Barley, so they feel obligated to comment on how good she's being :)

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