Walk With Me—October 2021 by Priscilla Wieck
I had planned to resume this column in September but somehow September slipped away. I am writing this at the end of that month and you will be reading it in October so maybe editor Gary will not give me detention for starting later than the promised time. That’s the way life goes sometimes.
I will first answer an often asked question: Yes, daughter Connie is still here in Marshall. China’s doors remain closed to returning teachers due to Covid-19. Her apartment, her students, her colleagues and friends all await her return. She is, meanwhile, working stateside, mostly by Zoom and occasionally making in-person presentations.
Now that the weather has cooled a bit, dog Bridget and I are walking a bit later in the morning. Last year, when it appeared that Connie would be here for an extended time, she and I decided it was time to try to correct a couple of Bridget’s bad habits so as to make her a more agreeable walking partner for me. As sometimes happens, our efforts backfired and ended up sorely hampering my morning walks instead of enhancing them.
You know how it is. We’ve all been there. We get a great idea. We think it will absolutely solve the problem we have but it doesn’t work out the way we envisioned.
And that’s what happened with Bridget.
Bridget arrived at my home in 2019 as a rescue dog brought from China by Connie. She loved people and wanted lots of attention. When we met people on our walks, she had the habit of jumping at them to get that attention and often appeared to them to be attacking. When a bicycle or baby carriage neared us as we walked, she would lunge at it. Any dog we encountered, in the yard or on leash, was met by her fierce barks and more lunges. We thought she would eventually adapt to a more civilized way of being in our world but it didn’t happen. So we set out to make her over into a better behaved pet.
A suggestion Connie found in “how to get your dog to behave as you want it to” manual was to distract the dog with a treat every time it started to exhibit undesirable actions. After it eventually learned to modify its behavior, it would receive a treat.
We followed the manual’s advice.
Bridget, being a savvy dog, soon took to the treat-training big time, and that is where we are today. However, Bridget has outsmarted us. We have created a treat monster.
This is a brief synopsis of my morning walks.
I pick up Bridget’s water bottle, tuck the treat bag (minute pieces of dog biscuits) into one pocket, the empty poop bag into another, pick up Bridget and exit the house. Bridget, being an extremely laid back animal, stands in front of the house motionless, yawning and looking completely uninterested in starting our travels.
A neighbor walks by.
Bridget perks up but does not lunge so a treat is given. Lesson learned.
We cross the street and begin our walk.
A dog barks from afar and Bridget balks until another treat is given.
We pass a barker inside a fence. Another balk, another treat.
Half a block later we meet a jogger. The same pattern occurs: A balk and then a treat.
It appears our dog training has replaced lunging and barking with balking and treating.
City workers –a treat; A mom and dad with a baby carriage — a treat; a guy with a big black dog — a treat.
And so it goes.
Dogs seen or even heard from inside a house are deserving in Bridget’s eyes and ears. Sometimes it takes half an hour and much patience on my part for us to reach the post office, only four city blocks away. Bridget has even decided that trucks and cars are deserving of goodies. People are in them, aren’t they? A stroll down Archer Avenue is greeted with great enthusiasm: More people, more balks, more treats.
Here’s the kicker: On our return journey, our otherwise laid back, lazy pet hustles as fast as her small legs can carry her. She knows she is headed for home for a pleasant snooze in the sun on a nice soft blanket.
So here’s the question: Who has had the behavior modified? The dog or the owner? You decide about that one!
“If you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and giving the dog only two.” –anonymous