My Guardian Angel

This is our quiet time of year, a time for writing and projects and tax returns. I take the dogs for “family walks” in a fenced area around the training building, usually every day. I’ve discovered that they behave better, relax more, and get along better if they have more exercise and time to run, sniff, hunt, chase each other.

Yesterday I went about my day without checking the calendar. I worked a little e-mail, had several phone conversations with my mother and sister (who was unexpectedly home because of snow – she’s a 5th grade teacher), did a couple loads of laundry, and did some writing. Mid afternoon we put together plans to drive into town for dog food and some groceries, met Mom and Janice for dinner at a great little Mexican restaurant (“Las Trancas,” Bud refers to their menu as “Ohio Mexican”), and then headed home.

When we arrived home I put some clothes in the dryer and took all 9 dogs for a family walk in our 2-acre fenced exercise and outdoor agility fields. The dogs were having a blast chasing each other, sticking their noses into mounds of dried weeds, and marking as many trees as possible. About 15 minutes into the walk a car pulled into the driveway. “Did Bud or I have a private lesson?” I asked myself. “YIKES! – Yes, I’ve got a lady coming for basic obedience!”

So here I am in the agility field with 9 loose dogs, only one leash, and a guest with a dog in a car in the parking lot. A vision of our guest being mobbed by our dogs flashed through my head. A co-worker of hers had recommended me for basic obedience training and I wondered just how much disobedient damage my dogs could do to her or her car before I wrangled them into the yard.

Events such as this are actually nice little tests, IF things go well:  1) Does the trainer actually practice what she preaches or will she require force to manage her own dogs while being a proponent of no-force training to others?  2) Will the trainer’s dogs pay attention to her without treats, clicker, food bowls?  3) Is it possible to get a reflexive response to cues in the midst of a distracting stampede of dogs across the parking lot?

The event demonstrated to me that I could actually remain positive with all my dogs even when feeling a bit panicked because of the unexpected guest. That I got all nine dogs across the parking lot (in 2 bunches), mostly off-lead, without treats. And that, for the most part, the dogs stuck with me and ran from the agility area to the dog yard.

Do I just have really good dogs? Anyone who has ever come here for classes or camps knows the answer to that question is a definite NO. I think the reason this situation turned out positively is because I maintained an upbeat tone with the dogs, I moved decisively from one yard to the other, and because I visualized all the dogs coming with me as I walked.

A little visualization and positive action goes a long way to convince my dogs that they should stick with me.

I had a nice lesson with my student and her 8-month-old Golden, Lucy. We worked through 2-minute exercises for “attention to name and recall,” “greeting a friendly stranger,” and “walking on a loose leash.”  Lucy did so well she should be my poster dog.

I truly believe in this style of training and relationship-building. And I thank my guardian angel (my mother’s mother, Belva Woodburn) who was watching out for me yesterday afternoon. She made sure I was home when my student arrived and kept me calm during the stampede.

Belva Woodburn, by the way, was a woman who ended up alone with two small daughters when her husband deserted them for a young girl who had worked for them in their country store. This country store was in the front room of their home, they had a gasoline pump in the front yard, and the whole operation occupied about 200 square feet.

The first time I met my maternal grandfather was when I attended his funeral. He left his family in the 1930’s, divorcing my grandmother and refusing to pay alimony or child support. Scoundrels exist in everyone’s pedigree, I suppose. This situation may have led my mother, who had no good father-figure in her life, to marry my father (another no-good father figure, I’m afraid).

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