I am, and always have been, acutely aware of my environment. Not in a neurotic sense, but in a spacial and context sense. Once again, I give a great deal of credit to my dog Franny who taught me even more about the importance of taking inventory of my environment, and even maybe, just a bit beyond.
Look before you jump in, but really look, observe first, and be good at observing. Sense the context of what is going on. Listen all around you. Smell. And really take note of what your senses are telling you. Never ever blow off a feeling that you are having, ever. When you hone this skill, it only takes seconds or minutes to inventory your environment, taking stock of what is really happening.
Dogs that live their lives ‘outside of neutral’ depend on their handlers to make good choices for them. These handlers should be working on this skill, this handler skill, first and foremost.
If you’ve ever been an efficient and ‘good at your job’ restaurant server, you know exactly what I am talking about. Just sayin’.
When I travel for work in Montana, specifically towards the eastern part of the state, there really isn’t a whole lot besides sage brush and cattle. There is a small town, a couple of hours from home that I like to stop at. It seems the heart of the town is a large baseball complex, several fields, good fencing, lush grass, spacious parking area. I like to stretch my legs, and if I have my dogs with me, to run them a bit and take a break from the car. A great and quiet place to stop.
One morning, on my way to teach in Red Lodge, I stopped at these fields. I pulled in an noticed a red jeep at the other end of the parking area, and some folks messing around with something inside of their car. This parking area could easily hold 100+ cars, so I parked as far away as I could, stopped, and waited a minute or two to see what they were doing.
I noticed that they kept looking over in my direction, a bit anxious, and for sure checking to see what I was doing. So I waited a bit longer.
Out comes a fired up, large, and very aroused labrador, straining on a leash. So I waited a bit longer to see where they were going. It was clear that they had chose this area to exercise a dog who for sure was not easy to handle for them, and that needed space from others, for whatever reason. So I waited.
They walked as far away as possible, to the back field, and closed the gate behind them. I gave them the space and time they needed to get to where they needed to go.
Story and I then got out of my car and stayed in the filed closest to my car, and walked, played some fetch, did some distance outruns, and just enjoyed the deep grass, and stretching. I would glance in the direction of the other folks, just so I knew what was happening, and if I needed to move, or put Story back int he car. All was good.
After Story and I cooled down, I watered and fed him, and then we hung out in the mini van, doors open, while I cracked open my thermos of hot black coffee. Such a gorgeous morning.
I watched the folks try to walk back to their car with their dog, still straining, and closed my doors a bit so there wouldn’t be a problem, and so they KNEW that I was watching and UNDERSTOOD. They waved politely in my direction.
They loaded their dog int he car, opened the windows half way for more cool air, and where outside the car cleaning the mud off of their shoes or something. In this very moment, a small car pulled into the parking area, mind you 100+ spaces available, and pulled in right next to that car. As I sipped my coffee, I couldn’t help but think, “oh this is going to be good, apparently they didn’t notice that these other folks intentionally parked as far away from the entrance as possible, always a sign to take note of”.
The doors immediately opened, and out popped two small breed dogs that went right to circling, chasing and barking at each other, in the parking area. In a flash, not even a second, the labrador flew through the half open window of his car and was on top of those small dogs like a blanket.
Screaming and pulling dogs off of each other. The Labrador owners were panicked, they had obviously experienced this before, because they actually did move quickly, and knew how to pull him off with some efficiency. The small dog owner just kept walking with his dogs off leash towards the grassy area, still off leash, with little to no recognition of what had just happened. Absolutely clueless about space, reading the environment, and taking note that this Labrador that meant business was still not in his car.
As the Labrador was being loaded up one more time into their car, he pushed back, kind of like a swimmers turn in a pool, and pushed his owners off balance enough to free himself from their hold, and flew across the parking area, and was on top of the small dogs again. He had a pretty serious behavior of getting on top, covering, and them freezing. You could tell that any movement forward would have slammed that behavior right into those little dogs. The Labrador owners were not fast enough to be there in time, the small dog owner just stood there, and so I popped in. This was too much, it was hurting my brain.
So from the very other end of the parking area, I just made a trill noise, rolling the tongue. Most dogs like it, it’s interesting, but if nothing else it gathers attention. This dog was aroused enough, and triggered easily enough that it just felt like the right move to make without physically getting up, I was too far away.
It made him turn his head, and look in my direction, and I think when he saw Story laying next to me through the side door of my mini van, he made a move in our direction, but that is when his owners caught up and grabbed him once again.
This time they held on, got him into the car, windows up, and drove off. The small dog owner, kept walking around. Dear god.
So, take the time to check your environment, observe, and really get a good feel. Be respectful, be kind, and know that others may not understand space and context. The path of least resistance is generally the good path, choose it.