Blessing in Disguise
What do we say for comfort when we find ourselves in an undesirable situation? “It’s a blessing in disguise”, “There is a silver lining to this cloud”, and so on. That’s what I’ve been repeating to myself since realizing that from Tai’s perspective, I have a number 10, humongous DISTRACTION living next store. Prior to a few days ago, I was able to play all our puppy games outside in my beautiful fenced backyard…with it’s attendant squirrels, birds, neighborhood noises and activities, etc. Occasionally, I’d have to kick it up a notch to keep his attention and enthusiasm but was always successful. When we go for a walk together, I work through lots of distractions including the fun of running with Lacey and Breeze or finding a puddle to play in…
But in the last few days, Tai has turned on to our next store neighbor’s dog. She is a lovely English Setter who actually pays little or no attention to Tai but who loves to run back and forth through her yard which is adjacent to ours. She moves beautifully by the way and would probably make an amazing agility dog. But sadly, she doesn’t get much attention from her owners. She’s left alone a lot in her yard and has beaten a figure 8 shaped path back and forth near their back door. When we first come outside, she comes to the fence hoping for a little human attention but never even acknowledges my dogs. Because he’s a kind man and loves dogs, my husband has taken to giving her a cookie and petting her across the fence.
You would think that since she doesn’t pay attention to Tai, he would have diminished interest. But Tai – who is right on schedule at 17 weeks old to turn his growing confidence to things other than “mom” — has fallen in love with the Setter and her movement. The first thing he does now when going outside, is to whip his head in her yard’s direction. From his vantage, I have fallen off the face of the earth in the face of this distraction. When I realized this…I knew our days of walking outside off leash (again in my beautiful fenced in yard) were over for now. Yesterday, the Setter was outside all evening so we did several sessions of attention training – on leash and head halter. To match the reinforcement with the level of distraction, I needed to use steak – fortunately I had some handy (apologies to my husband who may have wanted to eat those leftovers). The usual mix of training treats (cheese, puppy kibble, etc) was not even close to cutting it. Even though Tai’s toy drive is very good…there was no way I could get far enough away to work this and drop the leash. I tried once and one part of me admired how fast Tai is getting as he shot across the yard to see the Setter.
I may be in danger of whining now, but for those of you have known me for a while, you only have to think back to all the challenges I had with my very confident and independent-minded sheltie Lacey when she was a puppy to understand how my heart sank. She was a year old before I could get her to play with me in the yard – and that meant the only “work” we did in my yard was attention for that whole time. But I know a lot more now – thanks to Lacey — and Tai is a different dog so it will be interesting to see how it goes with him. So for those of you who need to go looking for that number 10 DISTRACTION, think of me…I am lucky enough to have it right outside my back door.