Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hops in the Right Direction: The Driving Force

My parents have a miniature schnauzer, and Linka is scary-smart.  My folks' biggest challenge with her is how to keep her occupied and challenged so she doesn't turn that brilliant mind to getting into really creative trouble.  She's really got a work ethic, too--I have rarely seen a dog so eager for work.

Talking with my dad last night, and the things they work on in their dog class (like how to sit-stay on a moving skateboard) struck me as being motivated entirely differently than the things we work on in my dog class (like how to down-stay even when I leave her sight momentarily).  And those class motivations are why they suit our respective dogs so well--Linka and Prada are motivated differently themselves.

Linka is a thinker.  If she sees something new, her first instinct is to go check it out.  She wants to learn everything there is to know about everything.  She has a cheerful disregard for her own safety, sometimes.

Prada, on the other hand, is a feeler.  I am not saying by any means that she is not a smart girl or a quick learner, but if she has to choose between checking out something new and interesting and feeling safe, she'll choose security every time.  This means introducing her to new situations slowly, or in a way that sets her up to succeed.

I've mentioned before that slippery floors are a no-go for her.  So, when we go someplace new, I toss her rug in the car, so she'll have a safe, familiar place to sit no matter what flooring situation we encounter.  Or, if a couple of kids want to pet her while we're on a walk, I'll pick her up into her "safe position" (basically tucked under my arm like a football--she'll tolerate pretty much anything as long as she's in that position).  This way, she feels confident that this new and probably overwhelming situation is going to be okay.  (Plus, I can steer little hands away from Prada's chest, which she doesn't like strangers to touch.) 

And when new environmental elements come up, I take advantage of them.  On a walk a few nights ago, we passed a yard that had an in-ground sprinkler system.  It made a sort of hissing sound that Prada shied away from, so I sat on the sidewalk near one of the sprinklers and fed Prada treats and just let her explore as far as she was comfortable.  On the few occasions that she's stepped on a manhole cover, I've praised her effusively and had a little treat party.  (Yes, passers-by do think I'm crazy.  Whatever.)

All this so she feels safe.  Because, of course, no one can feel confident in themselves until they feel safe in their environment.

Adopted dogs come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common:  they've had an uncertain past.  It's up to us as their guardians to give them certainty in their surroundings and encourage certainty in themselves, whether that's through cerebral challenges like the rally obedience my parents do with Linka or through the positive associations (treats) linked with brave actions (staying while I walk out of sight).  Tailoring our methods by knowing what drives our dogs helps us set them up for success--the long-term-happy kind.


  1. What a great post, thanks! Peaches (our Beagle) is like Linka while our Lab-mix Roscoe is more like Prada. They BOTH follow Hubs everywhere in the house but Peaches is more likely to go off on her own if she spots or smells something fascinating!

    1. Thanks, Bubbe! Anytime Prada encounters something really fascinating, she does this little dance towards and away from it--which is a big improvement from when I got her last spring and she was glued to me!

      You take all these baby steps forward, steps so small you don't even really realize it's happening, and then suddenly it hits you how far you've come together. It's really pretty wonderful.

  2. You are awesome. Seriously.

    1. Aww, thanks, Jo! You're timing is fantastic; I was just feeling a little sorry for myself--thanks for the pick-me-up! :D