Each time I step out into the world and meet a new person, a new dog, a chicken, or a horse, it is meeting another living being, an opening of sorts.
The exchange of words is a human thing, that’s what we do, but it is really the tone and intention behind the words that carry meaning. It’s kind of like listening and sensing between the lines.
The meeting of a gaze, or even direct eye contact, the exchange of breath, individual scent, the use of space, these all count, a lot, no matter the species.
Relationships are natural.
And with each new relationship, it is a ‘getting to know each other’ over time kind of thing, each end of the relationship has to be open enough, honest enough, raw enough to allow good things to happen, most importantly, trust.
I work with puppies and adult dogs, but mostly puppies, and with each new little soul that comes into our space I get the privilege to meet them, a ‘hello, who are you?” of sorts. And if I am patient, and I allow them to show me, I see lots of cool things they want me to know.
There are those little ones that want to say hello, but social pressure is just a bit too much, so they greet lightly and then retreat, and repeat this until they can take a big breath. They occupy space like a feather, not committing to one space for very long.
Some puppies don’t want to know me right away and are a bit cautious or concerned. Their fear or panic whether it is genetic or environment, hijacks any social interaction. These puppies know there is danger, things that cannot be trusted, and virtual boogie men behind each object or corner. Trust is not a space they occupy easily.
Then there are those that have been seemingly waiting their whole ten weeks of life to meet me and just can’t believe their damn luck that I am in the same training space as they are, on the same night at the same time!
And the puppies who want to say hello but they don’t feel well, maybe because of an irritated mouth from teething, or achy bones from growing, hammered with vaccines and generally feeling like crap, or the wrong food so their digestion just always feels off. They try to be social, but their health just isn’t right in that moment and they just want a soft place to land.
On occasion but not often the little pissed off puppy will come strutting in. They aren’t looking to be social, they are looking to push the buttons of other puppies and other people to see what the reaction will be. They are our little testers in the environment.
And then we get a whole bunch of resource guarding charmers. Sometimes it is food that they find valuable, sometimes a toy, a friend, a person, and even the little ones that guard everything including mud on the floor, or smudges on a mirror. Whatever they find valuable you can hear the puppy scream, MINE.
When I point out to owners the qualities and characteristics I see in their puppies, because it is always beneficial to know who you are working and living with, it surprises me how many people take offense. I have never been one to pretend a puppy is someone that they are not, nor have I purchased the idea of ‘perfect’, that is a great way to ‘trip and fall’ and it is not an honest working relationship.
Whatever a puppy brings to the behavioral table, inside of me I always say, “thank you, I believe you”, and then we move along at their beginning pace as we build trust. Working within a puppies skill level builds confidence, a working vocabulary, fluent behaviors over time, and trust in the relationship.
And then you start to reach a point of smooth, things start to smooth out, and then you know you have hit the right stride.
If a puppy tells me who they are, it is what it is. It does not mean I like them any more or less, it does not mean I don’t want to work with them, but it does help me to help the puppy settle in on their terms, so they trust me and so we can do good work together.
It is what it is.