Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Zen and the Art of Puppy Training

Harry, Sit

A couple of weeks before Harry arrived, a friend said to me, "Do you know what you are getting into?" — meaning, of course, did I realize how much work it would be to have a puppy again?

Well, yes, I suppose I did have a sense of how much work it was going to be.  And, yes, I was quite nervous about bringing a puppy home because of our experience, four years ago, with a certain dog named Alice (a subject about which I've written a whole essay and therefore won't go into any further detail).  When another friend saw Harry for the first time last week, she said, "I thought you were over dogs."  Well, no.  No, I'm definitely not.  But maybe I did know, this time around, that getting a puppy with young children would be a whole lot of work simply because we wouldn't just have to train the puppy; we'd have to "train" the children too.

So I've been thinking about this training business.  I know that a dog reads my energy and mirrors it back (not unlike a child, in fact).  This is the most basic tenant in establishing a good relationship with a canine: calm, confident energy.  But although I've had years to practice embodying a calm energy that sets a dog at ease, teaching a child to move and speak in this manner is a tricky thing.  Learning to interact this way with dogs—or with people, for that matter—is a bit of an art form.  People may scoff at the seriousness of dog training, but when well done, it is really a beautiful and important thing.  I am of the mind that learning to train a dog with confidence and grace translates into confidence and grace on a much deeper level as well.  

But to return to my first friend's question: did I know what I was getting into?  No, to tell you the truth, I had no idea what I was getting into before we got this puppy, because I had no idea how naturally Amabel would begin to practice this art.  As it turns out, Amabel is our little zen puppy master.

Good Boy


I turn around and there she is, teaching Harry to come, to sit, to shake.  He starts getting rowdy inside and she calmly finds him a toy.  We go outside and there she is, taking him for a romp, talking to him, giving him treats, picking flowers and berries for him, earning his trust and respect. 


How does she do this so effortlessly?  I watch her and I watch him.  And I do not know exactly how to describe her technique.  I'm sure she has been watching me (she always is), but she has her own way with him. 

Leading the Way

To add to my joy as I watch this friendship between girl and dog, there is Ellen—sort of on the sidelines right now but watching Amabel's every move.  I can direct Ellen and encourage her to respond to Harry in certain ways, but when she sees Amabel training Harry, it just makes sense.  Amabel is a little person.  Ellen is a little person.  If Amabel can do it, Ellen can too.  And I'm sure she will, even if it takes our baby zen master just a tiny bit longer to learn the art.

Harry likes flowers too

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