It’s been almost nine months since we brought Gwen into our household. Our early estimates of her age turned out to be higher than reality. We had initially been told that she was 12-16 months old when in fact she was less than a year. It may not seem like a big difference, but it explained some of her puppy-like behavior.
In July we sought out a trainer to work with Gwen and ourselves. Stella eventually settled upon Stephanie Bennett at Peace Love Dogs, a new facility that was in process of opening in the Spring Branch area of West Houston. Stephanie came to the house for an initial session, then had two further two-hour sessions working with us and Gwen.
In the month or more that it took to find and coordinate the training we had actually worked through many of the issues that we had with Gwen. As she was maturing she was better able to focus and stay on task.
When we went through the formal training we found, much as we expected, that Gwen’s a smart and able little Labrador. Her only issue is that she’s young and full of energy. Stephanie had her handling all the basic obedience work in just one session.
The second session was still just Gwen, Stephanie and I. Gwen was taking on more evolved commands and staying with the basics in the face of potential distractions. I was impressed with Stephanie as a trainer. I thought by the end of the third session she’s have Gwen filling out a 1040 simplified form for sure.
The third session was a little different as Stella and Shadow came along as well. Shadow was not about to be left out, but as he’s eight years old and went through similar training when he was just a puppy. The two of them handled Stephanie’s every command as if choreographed.
So much of the teaching was merely giving us the understanding that would bring about the desired behavior in Gwen. It wasn’t teaching her. It was teaching us. It was giving us specific common modes of communication and managing expectations.
All of this brings me to mind of a series of podcasts that I found in the archives of Ideas over at CBC Radio. The series is called Dogs Themselves and in three parts. The series highlights how our understanding of dog psychology has evolved a great deal in the very recent past. It’s a fascinating listen.
Not long ago we, with typical human arrogance, made many silly assumptions about the mental capabilities of our canine compatriots. Perhaps this stems from the old adage that familiarity breeds contempt? It certainly seems like we’ve long underestimated dogs abilities to understand us or the rest of the world.
We’ve dealt with several trainers over the years. Somewhere along the line someone remarked that dogs can be equated to children around six years old. I no longer believe this to be true. Perhaps I’ve met some especially slow six-year-olds, or some especially smart dogs, but I think that generalization fails to give dogs their due.
In the podcasts one of the guests point out that dogs have a very well developed sense of fair play. This is no simple concept to grasp, certainly beyond many children.
My family has kept dogs through most of my life. We continue to do so now. Their presence enriches us in ways that are difficult to describe. In fact, if someone has to describe it to you there’s a good chance you’ll fail to appreciate what they’re saying. So deep and personal are the emotional connections involved.
There is one thing about keeping dogs that has always served me well. Each day I strive to be the person that my dogs think I am. It’s a lofty goal, but it has never been the wrong way to go.