October 15, 2019

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

-Leo Buscaglia


I never wanted a dog who obsequiously obeyed my every command. Good thing, because I ended up with Waldo. When I am with someone I really like, a spouse, a best friend, or even a new acquaintance, and they ask me to do something, my natural inclination is to do it without thought or reservation. I don’t respond this way out of a sense of wanting to please, subservience or even duty. I do it out of an urge to cooperate. That is the kind of relationship I want to nurture in Waldo.

I spend a lot of time working on “commands” with Waldo.   At first, it’s a matter of communication. Before anything else can be achieved, he has to understand what I am directing him to do. Waldo is smart and this happens rather quickly. The next thing is to convince him that he should do what I want. This is where it gets a bit sticky. I don’t want him to act out of fear of the consequences if he doesn’t. I don’t want him to respond because I am alpha to him. I want him to do what I ask of him simply because I asked it.

But Waldo is not a suck-up. He is, by his very nature, by his personality, self-determining, and I don’t want to change that. The thing is, there are times when his self-determination can put him in very dangerous circumstances.   The last thing I want is for him to get hurt. There are times when I need him to obey me despite what his personal inclinations are telling him to do. There are times when his obedience is absolutely required. So, we train and I don’t let him not obey, I don’t let him think that disobedience is an option. But I don’t do this by punishing him when he doesn’t obey. I just get him to go over and over what I ask until he does it.

Ideally, Waldo’s training can be something of a game for him. I can make it a game by offering him treats in order to perform tasks. This works, up to a point, for a limited amount of time. Eventually he gets bored, or full of treats, and we stop for a while. The point here is to convince him that whatever I ask of him is something that I strongly want, more strongly than whatever it is that he wants. So, training amounts mostly to communicating what I want and then reinforcing his understanding the strength of my desire.

There are also times when I force Waldo to comply with what I want. When we are walking and we come to a street, I force him to wait until I tell him it’s okay to step into the street. If he breaks early, I pull him back away from the street. If necessary, I hold a tight leash on him until it is safe for him to go. I don’t punish him if he doesn’t comply, I force him to comply.

But this all is not the most important part of his training. What really counts is the emotional relationship that I form with Waldo. I do my best to play with him, to give him some joy. I take him places, like a dog park, where he can run free. I make sure that I frequently give him affection, pets, pats and rubs, especially when I am forcing him to be obedient. I work very hard at interacting with him in a loving, playful way. Work isn’t the right word here because it’s a pleasure, not an act of labor. What really counts, I believe, is kindness and affection.

The magical thing is that Waldo does the same for me. He tries to play with me and provide me with fun activities. He cuddles with me and shows me that he appreciates the affection that I give him. There are things that he absolutely needs from me – like going outside to do his business, feeding him and even getting affection from me. He doesn’t physically force me to do these things, but he certainly makes it uncomfortable for me if I don’t (usually in the form of providing me with a mess I have to clean up) and he gives me positive reinforcement when I do (in the form of affection). He is kind and happy, playful and affectionate.

I must be doing something right.

Smokin’ a stick.

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