Sunday, July 31, 2011

So, what's really important?

When Elka and I are out about town, walking, we see (and hear) a lot of different dogs.

Some of the dogs are on leashes, and calm.  Some are off leashes, and calm.  Some are off leashes, and little monsters.  Some are on leashes and monsters.  Some are clearly alone in houses, some are in yards with people who yell at them for barking, and with people who don't.

Clearly, different people have a lot of different ideas about what they want out of their dog's behavior.

When we got Elka, I was excited to finally have a dog, thrilled with her sweet puppyness, and floored by the amount of attention and energy it took to keep her out of trouble.  I wanted her to be sweet, and healthy, and not chew everything up.  Going potty outside was a bonus goal.

In those first few months, I really only taught her a few tricks: sit, down, and stay (sort of. Stay is still "sort of", though getting better).  I used treats, I used praise, and if I asked for one of those things and she "didn't wanna", I helped her.  A hand on the collar and a hand on the butt, right above the tail, is enough to remind Elka what Sit means.  Even when she doesn't wanna.

As she's grown older, the in-house behaviors required of her have grown.  "Off" entered the vocabulary, meaning "get off the couch", "get off the bed", "get off of that person".  Elka can now sit and wait at a slight distance while one of us pays the pizza guy, without a hand on her collar.  Her leash walking, for me, is growing better, and she requires fewer reminders regarding where she should be when on the leash.
So, what then, do I think is important, when talking about dog behavior?  Attention is nice; if Elka is paying attention to me, she's less likely to be staring at a squirrel, or a baby, or a dog across the street.  Problem barking has never been a problem for us, for which I'm glad.  Elka will bark to alert us if somebody is outside, or if she thinks somebody is outside.  Sometimes she's a little, shall we say, overzealous, but it is typically one bark, either followed by another bark, or not.  And she's got a big bark.  I want Elka to walk nicely on the leash, so no pulling of the leash holder, but also no lunging at innocent passers-by.  She does it, but only occasionally, because she likes people and is interested, but a lunging behavior like that might be mistaken for aggression, which I do not want.

Also, clearly, tricks are important to me.  I get a lot of amusement out of teaching Elka tricks, and it gives her behaviors to offer if she really really wants a chicken nugget or something.  I see at least one, hopefully two, Trick Dog titles in her near future.  Though not technically "trick" based, a successfully completed Canine Good Citizen test would also be pretty cool.  You don't need to have a "show dog" to have a dog with titles, you see.

So, when we're out walking, and we encounter all of those barking dogs, with owners who may or may not correct them, I wonder about the owner's end of things.  Is it a person who lives alone, who likes the dog to warn away intruders?  Is it somebody who thinks it's funny that their plucky little dog "picks fights" with big dogs?  Or is it somebody who got a dog, or was given a dog, and was unprepared with the commitment that such an undertaking requires?  I may get frustrated with what I see in other dogs' behaviors and what I don't allow Elka to do, but it perhaps help to think of what the situation between the dog and the owner might be, even if the answer I come up with is entirely fictional.

No comments:

Post a Comment