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Tuesday, May 18, 2010


During my childhood I yearned for a dog.  The first puppy I finally owned (as a self-supporting adult) was a black lab/maybe-Irish-Setter mix.  Aero was seven weeks old, or so my co-worker said when he dropped her off at my house on his way to work; I think she was younger.  His female dog had unplanned puppies (a good example of why it is important to spay and neuter our pets), and his wife demanded that he "get those puppies out of the house!"

Although I had no experience raising a puppy, I knew enough to take Aero to Dr. Hamilton (our local vet) for a puppy-checkup right away.  Dr. Hamilton examined Aero, administered her first puppy shots, and gave me some essential advice:  "Be firm, fair, and consistent with your discipline."

The "firm" part of discipline I recognized.  Eight years in a Catholic grade school gave me more than enough exposure to strictness--my mother often told me I should have been a Drill Sergeant!  Fairness was another matter.  Was it "fair" when, in 1963, Father Hutting reneged in letting me become an alter-boy even after I cut off my braids as he suggested?  Were the nuns "fair" when our entire class got punished for the misbehavior of one or two kids?  I wasn't sure how well I would accomplish "fair."  And then consistency...doesn't that just mean doing the same thing the same way all the time?

In spite of not fully understanding the practical application of Dr. Hamilton's advice, I somehow muddled successfully through puppy-hood with Aero.  I think it was simply luck, although I did spend a lot of time with her.  Seven years later, Aero did a great job training my second puppy for me.  Stoker, a yellow lab/beagle mix, came from another unplanned litter (from a different co-worker)!  After Areo and Stoker were gone, I rescued my third puppy, Gypsy (who is some kind of lab/whippet/terrier mix) at the "Meet Your Best Friend at the Zoo" adoption event.

Gypsy's intelligence and propensity to challenge me might have caused me to "over do" the firmness part.  I'm sure that much of her resultant nervousness stems from my early lack of "fairness," a direct result of misreading and misunderstanding her behavior.  Because of her intelligence, she needed something "to do" to occupy her mind; when she was bored she got into trouble stealing things; when she wouldn't stop stealing, it wasn't so much in defiance as much as frustration.  She wasn't getting enough exercise, and she definitely wasn't getting enough mental stimulation.  And whose responsibility was that?

I made the common mistake of so many other dog-owners--I reacted to my young dog as if she were a rebellious teenager and not the canine that she was.  First I neglected to meet her needs; then I misunderstood her behavior.  Worse yet, I failed to consider that my actions (or lack of actions) were sure to be misinterpreted by the dog!

Subsequently, I have gained deeper insight into canine behavior and not merely as a consequence of my personal experience.  I read about dog behavior extensively (look for a suggested book list in the near future), and was exposed to thousands of dogs on the job with Invisible Fence.  I was formally taught Obedience Training through the same job, and worked with clients one-on-one with their dogs in their homes.  Eventually I assisted in the development and presentation of the company's "train-the-trainer" obedience course.  Part of the reason I became a puppy raiser for the Leader Dogs for the Blind was to put into practice much of what I had learned.  Now, I'm still learning...from Leader Dogs!

This dog-knowledge has not only enabled me to help Gypsy gain confidence, I have gained confidence in my dog-handling skills as well.  I'm finally getting a better grip on just what Dr. Hamilton meant when he advised me of his criteria for discipline:  FIRMNESS, FAIRNESS, and CONSISTENCY.

Check back next week for more on FIRM, FAIR, and CONSISTENT DISCIPLINE.

That's me, wishing for a puppy (again) on my birthday.
Notice I still have my braids.

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