We got home from Kitty's today with a thing of leftover steak. Dahlia is always excited about this and usually "sit pretty" turns into sit pretty and then "jump up and put my paws on their chest."
But then one time she sort of balanced for a moment on her hind legs with both front paws just dangling in the air and David gave her a treat while she was like that.
So I wondered...can I repeat it?
And I did...and this time she balanced for like 10 seconds, like REALLY balanced, sort of dancing around on her hind legs to keep the position. We did it like 4 or 5 more times. It was SO AWESOME. Seriously. I LOVE MY DOG!!!!
We bounded out of the apartment tonight. Me with happiness over going for a walk with my dog; Dahlia with a big grin at the sight and smell of more snow. We rushed down the steps as we often do. You see, walks are fun. Dahlia gets to race through the snow, stopping to sniff when she wants to and then rushing to catch up to me or racing ahead to find the next bit of interesting snow to stick her snout in.
And me? I get to laugh with pure joy at watching her. She makes me happy. Walks with her make me happy.
When we got down off the porch I saw my next door neighbor coming up the sidewalk with her German Shepherd, Krieger. "Stop," I said to Dahlia. She froze in place. Even her big doggy grin froze in place. I came up next to her and asked her to wait. We waited.
My next door neighbor has her dog on a choke chain or a prong collar. I can't recall which, but it ultimately doesn't matter. They serve the same purpose. Krieger stepped slightly away from her and toward us. She jerked him with the leash. Not instantly. But a few seconds after he moved.
She jerked him again and turned to walk in the opposite direction, again jerking him when he didn't follow her.
Dahlia and I stood frozen to the spot for a moment and watched them walk off. Each time he moved away from her, she jerked him with it. And he whined. We would hear his whine from several houses down.
Finally, when they were far enough away, I released Dahlia. She immediately headed in the direction Krieger had gone.
I didn't want to go in that direction. I called to her. "Dahlia, wrong way!"
She turned on a dime and rushed back to me and then past me, sticking her face into the snow as she went.
And then we started the race down the path. Dahlia pausing to sniff, me calling excitedly to her and watching her race with joy to me.
The grin had returned.
As had mine.
Walks are a joyous time for Dahlia and I. We race along snow covered sidewalks. We trudge through snow-choked fields 2 or more feet deep. I let her off leash in the park to play the "wait/come" game and to play fetch with a snow-covered tennis ball. We jump and play. We meet other dogs and she plays.
I walk along with a smile on my face that matches Dahlia's. Walks are her time, but they're also for me. It's my time to watch my dog be a dog, my time to watch her enjoy herself.
Krieger doesn't have that joy. He moves with much anxiety, his back legs bunched up awkwardly as he moves down the sidewalk. My neighbor once told me that she's working "very hard" on his training. She walks with a scowl on her face and is continually fighting her dog. It's a war of wills. She's been told she has to be alpha. She believes it. And so it's a constant fight between her and her dog. She MUST win, you see. Or else he will control all.
I believe Dahlia and I are companions, that I take care of her, that we are partners in our joyous walks together. Training is fun. It should be fun. When it becomes not fun it's over.
We returned to the apartment the same way we left it, with smiles on our faces. Dahlia raced up the porch and into the house. I followed slightly behind, shutting the doors and turning off the lights.
My neighbor is still out with her dog, still struggling with him somewhere on her walk. It's not his. Never his.
Dahlia and I are happy and content inside after our lovely, companionable walk.
I like it that way.
I'm reading Patricia McConnell's latest book, Tales of Two Species: Essays on Loving and Living with Dogs. It's a collection of the articles she wrote for The Bark magazine (she still works for them).
In a section discussing what dogs have lost and gained by being housebound and not let out to roam the neighborhood all day, she says "What we can do is be mindful of how often our dogs have the freedom of choice. How many walks has your dog taken in which he got to decide where to go? How often does your dog get to decide when to stop sniffing? Ever let your dog choose the direction to follow at the dog park? These are good questions to ask ourselves as we exercise our dog's minds and bodies at dog parks and agility trials."
David and I always try to give Dahlia a bit of freedom. Not only do we allow her off leash in safe places as often as possible (and I'm very thankful we have a nearby park where we can do this frequently), but we also allow her to choose her own direction to go in on leashed walks. I often stop at the sidewalk and ask her which way she wants to go. I let her choose until I feel her choice is going to take us too far from home and make the walk back tiring for us both. But ultimately she gets to shape our walks. Sometimes she takes us on familiar walks we've done many times. Other times she takes us to new places or on a different route through the neighborhood, doubling back and following unexpected paths. We let her stop and sniff and spend all the time she wants taking in the "pee-mail." I'm sure some would think it indulgent and still others would consider Dahlia the "alpha" in the relationship. I'm glad to see that Patricia McConnell agrees with our choice.
Dahlia is learning a new trick. I think. When we got home from session on Saturday I came bearing pieces of steak. I can never finish my open steak sandwich and so I always cut up the rest and bring it home to Dahlia (no she's not spoiled, not at all!). She can smell that stuff from a mile away and so combined with her excitement over our coming home, she is also excited over the smell of that wonderful, still warm steak. Well, I asked her for a "sit pretty" and she sat and then immediately came up on her hind legs to rest her front legs on my chest. It was adorable. I gave her a piece of steak, and patted my chest and up she went again. So I think I could train her to do this for some command. Maybe "give me a hug" or "up" or something.
But I don't know. Is this dangerous? She's not the type of dog to jump up on you and never does when we come home usually (instead she prances around, licking frantically, and curls herself into a C-shape while grinning). So I don't THINK this would result in her starting to jump on us when we come home, but is that possibility there? Something to think about.