Everyone from work went up to Calgary this weekend for a seminar by Suzanne Clothier. Suzanne is an observational genius but even better than that, she is always considering what to do with her observations to improve a dog's situation.
Suzanne is constantly asking the dogs "How is this for you?" She is always looking at things from the dog's point of view. Do they want to be there? Do they want to be doing that? Are they comfortable? Are they happy? Are they scared? And most importantly when she notices a dog is uncomfortable or afraid - she DOES something about it.
Some things, like going to the vet, are necessary evils. I'm not sure how you would ever break through all the negative experiences of a vet to truly make it an enjoyable experience. But so many other things are optional so if your pet doesn't like it, you either need to take steps to convince them that it isn't that bad, or JUST DON'T DO IT.
I think I'm fairly skilled at observation. The daycare has taught me much more than the average dog owner will ever know, and I have just spent the last 2 years watching Coulee obsessively for the slightest signs of discomfort. (I have to say taking pictures can really help you start to see things. Looking at her in pictures after a walk and noticing the strain on her face (when I had been looking for a limp while on the walk) helped me realize that long before a limp or hitch arrived, there were signs of discomfort that I could watch for.) That being said, it is what you DO with those observations that matter.
I am constantly concerned about giving Coulee the life she wants vs. the life that she can realistically handle and I'm always watching for the line and doing my best to not cross it. I am constantly on the alert when Lacey is out in public to make sure that she isn't too scared, or too worried or too uncomfortable and I do my best to shield her from situations that frighten her.
But yesterday, I had a lightbulb moment.
It had snowed again and it was the heavy wet snow that forms instant snowballs in Coulee's feet so I hauled out the boots. Coulee shied away as she always does and then within seconds willingly submitted to me putting them on her as she knows we aren't going to go until she is wearing her boots. I don't force her, I just stand there holding them until she comes back to me so I can put them on. The situation reminded me of a demo dog we saw on the weekend.
At the seminar there had been a dog that was afraid of his backpack. All someone had to do was pick it up and he would shy away. The signs were obvious and I remember wondering if the dog would ever LOVE his backpack (I doubted it). As I watched the dog, I wondered if I would be able to determine the difference between disliking the backpack and being afraid of the backpack when all the dog was doing was shying away from it (which is what I would expect would happen if they disliked it too). Suzanne clarified things by saying that if the dog is willing to do something for food (or a reward), they may dislike it, but probably aren't afraid of it.
With Coulee and her boots, I know that they aren't her favourite items, but she definitely isn't afraid of them. Once they are on, she acts like they aren't even there and they would never keep her from eating or running or drinking, etc.
Lacey on the other hand, is a different story.
I remember finding this video wildly hilarious. I knew she wasn't happy in them but I remember telling myself that she would forget about them once she was out on a walk. I thought that the walk would be the reward. That clearly wasn't the case. And it wasn't the case later on in the season either when we went through the same thing again. And it obviously wasn't just her mood that day as when we removed them, she became a completely different dog and was her happy, go-lucky self again.
My feelings of guilt aren't from putting boots on Lacey and assuming that she'll just deal with it. My guilt is from the fact that she is clearly miserable yet I didn't take any steps to help her get over her fear. It is obvious from the video that she wasn't willing to wear them - even for food. Barely any amount of coaxing would get her to move. I knew the sky wasn't falling, that the world wasn't coming to an end, that the boots wouldn't hurt her, etc. but she clearly thought otherwise. Even while getting the ultimate reward (a walk) she still wasn't able to forget them.
And the worst part is that I did nothing to help her. I know people won't hurt her, yet I would never in a million years let a stranger that she doesn't know come up and pet her because I know she wouldn't be comfortable with that. So why in the world did I treat the boots differently? I have no idea.
If you've made it this far, some of you (or maybe most of you) are probably thinking that I'm totally over-reacting. I'm not going to beat myself up about it - what is done is done and she recovered very quickly (i.e. as soon as the boots are removed, she is happy again) but I am going to change the way I look at things. One of the things Suzanne would often say is - Consider it was a person or child in this situation. How would you think about it then?
If I take that scenario and apply it to myself, but instead of boots, we put spiders on my feet, I can get an idea of how Lacey felt. The sky wouldn't be falling, the world wouldn't be coming to an end, the spiders wouldn't hurt me, but OMG I would be freaking out. My fear would be completely irrational but it doesn't make the fear any less real.
So here's to not only seeing what my dogs are telling me, but listening to them as well! Thanks Suzanne for all that you do. I am sure that you are improving dogs' lives everywhere you go. I know you just improved the lives of mine!