I love to watch dogs in motion, dogs interacting, dogs with their people. For me it’s like a dance. Sometimes beautifully choreographed, and sometimes like Dante’s Inferno. Nonetheless, a dance.
I think the first part of the dance that is important is the use of space. Dogs have an amazing sense of space, when to give it and when to take it. Some are subtle, these are the real masters, and these are the dogs I really like to watch. There is always something to learn with these guys. Others are overt, explosive, and dynamic with space. These are the dogs that almost always tend to overwhelm everyone and everything in their environment. Fun to watch, but not a lot to learn. Well, I kind of take that back. When you see one of the overt space users, you learn that you can predict, with a fair amount of accuracy, who they are going to piss off first, and then second, and then third, before the owner gets involved. When I see these types of dogs coming I almost always find myself cringe just a bit, and maybe look sideways out of one eye. I just know what is going to happen in the not to distant future.
The second part of the dance is timing. And that’s what dogs have in spades. It’s impressive beyond our comprehension.
I am someone who is super sensitive to space and timing. Perhaps that is why dogs and I get each other. Dogs don’t misinterpret my actions, and I don’t misinterpret theirs. If they are clear that they don’t want me in their space, cool, I don’t go any further forward, and visa versa. I guess space and timing are, in a way, equal to respect. Whether I have honed these skills through working with dogs (maybe some), or from playing sports most of my life (probably a bit), or working in the restaurant industry through most of my youth (for sure), I can read a situation and react accordingly. One of the constant themes in e-mails that I receive from my YouTube channel is ‘… and your timing is kick ass!’.
By the way, because I am sensitive to space and timing, Costco on a Saturday afternoon is my living nightmare.
Which brings me to today! I was a few cars back waiting at a stop light off of Main street. On the corner was a man with a cattle dog. He was chatting away on his phone when I noticed his dog lay down, face away from the man, head lowered, body still, and eye stalk something. The man did not take notice.
Oh, this is fodder for my training soul! Just saying.
So I looked down the sidewalk a ways and here comes a young kid with ear buds in and looking deep in thought, and a jacked up young bully mix of some sort, that was straining on the leash, and staring at the cattle dog it was walking towards. Because this kid was walking in the direction of the corner, the young dog was being asked, unknowingly, to walk into the cattle dogs space, even with the cattle dog setting up on him, and giving him the “STOP DO NOT PASS GO!, STAY OUT OF MY SPACE” body language. Neither of the men were aware of what was about to happen, neither had looked in the direction of their dog that I could tell. I knew exactly what was going to happen. In. Two. More. Steps. This dance was about to hit the fan! The cattle dog got up and lunged, and at the same time the young dog lunged forward and was straining up on his back two legs. This all happened in about 5-7 seconds. Then the men started to pop and jerk and yank their dogs all around, apparently surprised in some way. Honestly, these might be the Costco shoppers that fry my nerves, I should have taken better notice of what they actually looked like! Cell phone guy never stopped talking, and literally dragged his cattle dog around the corner on its side. As the young kid crossed the street, and I was waiting to turn, I heard him say to someone in passing, “I can’t trust my damn dog” Oh. My. God.
As I drove off, I couldn’t help but think how beautiful that dance could have been with experienced handlers. Handlers that understand how to look at their environment and choose wisely. How to keep flow and motion, while also having an understanding of space and timing. How to work as a team with their dog, not set their dog up for failure. Dancing can be enlightening on so many levels.
It is moments like this that make me wonder why dogs even like us as a species.
May we all learn to dance, for our dogs sake! ~ Nancy