Dog’s Eye View: Wait for the answer
I had an interesting and enlightening experience this past weekend. I was sitting at a table outside a coffee shop drinking a latte and reading the newspaper with my bull terrier, Stuart, on leash, lying next to me on his mat. This scenario is one of my great delights and a time together with him that I cherish.
Stuart is a real people magnet, and many people stopped by to ask about him. They also were very polite in asking if he could be petted. I still use this moment to educate people (so they can see what’s possible with their own dog) about how to “say hi” to him and tell them why I continue to practice and reinforce his greeting manners with praise and treats, even though he’s now 10 years old.
The greeting sequence looks like this: With a friendly person facing us from a distance of about three feet, I will send Stuart to them with the cue, “Go say hi.” I will have coached the person to put his or her hand out, palm facing Stuart, at about his nose level. Stuart will go right over and touch his nose pad to their palm.
Now, here’s the key. Stuart will immediately turn away from the person and get a yummy treat from me. Teaching him such a specific and highly reinforced skill serves as an alternative, incompatible behavior to jumping up. When he’s done this once or twice, he stands quietly to be petted. He knows what to do.
Returning to the coffee shop scenario, I watched a family come out of the shop with two young children. One, a little girl about 3 or 4 years old, saw a couple sitting at a table with a large Labrador mix on-leash next to them. The child broke free from her mother’s hand and squealed, “Can I pet your dog?”
By the time she finished the request, she was on top of the dog petting him and hugging him around the neck. The owner of the dog laughed and said it’s a good thing the dog has such a good temperament.
The family then turned and headed my way. Once the child saw Stuart, she did the same thing. She wrestled her hand from her mother’s and ran toward us saying, “Can I pet your dog?”
Since I had watched what happened the first time, I was ready. I put my hand up like the “Supremes” singing group and said “Stop, wait. Let me show you how to greet him.”
The mother grabbed the child’s arm and stared at me. I smiled and offered to have the child come over but the family dragged her away. The little girl was having a tantrum, screaming and crying, “I want to pet the dog.” All the while, Stuart never got up or left his mat.
This was not the first time I’d seen children do this. Parents and teachers have done a wonderful job teaching children to ask permission to pet a strange dog, but I think that, with many children, the request has been confused with having been given permission to proceed.
I think we’re all so happy to see children asking permission, we’ve forgotten to instill the “stand quietly and wait for the answer” part of the exercise. It is the most important part.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork raining, LLC, with more than 30 years of experience.
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