Monday, November 17, 2008

Daisy as Good Citizen

Friday morning was a cold day at the dog park. The dogs didn't seem to mind, but I certainly did! I was not ready for the bitter wind that came with the low temperature - 15 degrees. Brrrr! Nothing like having your legs go numb while the dogs run and play in the woods. As a hearty Minnesotan I should be used to it, but nope, can't say that I am.  But, I will say that it was nice to get out of the house, see the sun shining, and laugh at the dogs and their antics.

Daisy's buddy, Brutus, a 110 lb. Rottweiler puppy was there, and of course, so was her pal, Henry. Everyone seemed ready to have some fun. Brutus was looking for a playmate, so the chasing and running began right away when we got inside the park. Daisy really likes Brutus so having him stalk and chase her was pretty much okay with her.  I was actually relieved to see that she was okay with Brutus playing with her. I was expecting her to be a bit tentative or fearful, but to my relief she wasn't. 

You see, last week Daisy got into an "altercation" with another one of her friends over a stick. I can only imagine that this stick must have had some magical powers the way they argued over it, but whatever the reason, in the end Daisy ended up with a few bites to her head (just above her ear) and her hind end (by her tail). She's fine, but I think she learned that perhaps she should be a bit more cautious about who to challenge when her stick is taken.

It has been fascinating to watch Daisy learn from the other dogs at the dog park this past year. It's like she's trying to figure out how a dog should act. Obviously, some things are instinctual, like the constant need to carry something in her mouth, definitely a lab thing to do, but other things she has learned by watching what the other dogs do.  She started picking up sticks and chewing on them only after watching other dogs do it first. She learned how to drink out of the spout of a water bottle after watching other dogs do it. She learned how to roll over on her back and wiggle around in the dirt and wood chips after watching her friend Turbo do it. She learned how to chase a squirrel after watching her friends Prince and Princess do it (luckily she has never caught one, but I don't think she would know what to do with it if she did!). 

The first time she left my side to go run with some of her friends through the field was amazing. In the past (and still to some degree today), Daisy has always walked beside me, or right behind me. The first time she ran off with her friends was a beautiful moment. It's like she was saying, "I'm free! I'm free!" Her tail went up, she started bouncing along the trail ahead of me and the off she went flying over shrubs and tall weeds. All of this from watching other dogs and then mimicking their behavior.

But that's also why I have always been a bit cautious with her. In many ways, Daisy is like a blank slate - tabula rasa - she doesn't know what she doesn't know so every behavior that she observes leaves an impression on her. You can actually see her watching everything the other dogs do (she learns from from every interaction), only to then later mimic their behavior. Picking up a stick and then flaunting it in front of another dog so he or she will chase her is something she learned from watching her friend, Turbo. 

Unfortunately, not every dog displays good behavior. Sometimes they are aggressive or possessive, or they jump up on people, or they nip at other dogs. And, yes, sometimes they think that their stick has magical powers and must be protected at any cost. It is because of this that I am constantly watching to see what or whom Daisy is observing. I encourage her when she acquires a new behavior and displays it, and gently discourage her when it is a behavior that I don't want her to display. Overall, I am very lucky because she really hasn't picked up any behaviors that have caused me real concern, but it is something I am aware of each time Daisy interacts with another dog. It made me think that in some ways, my role as Daisy's owner, is very much like a mom or dad's role in raising their children. Our parents were there to set an example for us. They showed  us what was acceptable or unacceptable behavior throughout our lives. Although my job is much, much easier than any mom or dad's, it is something I take seriously. I want Daisy to be a good citizen -  one that interacts with both humans and dogs in a positive manner. 

So today, I want to recognize all those parents out there, to both human and animal. Keep up the good work! May your "child" represent the best of you. And, may they make you proud!

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