Friday, July 11, 2008

Dog Training

The Mary Grant Nature Preserve across the road from my house is a small 14 acre parcel of old White Pines, some hardwoods of various flavors, and a minimum of pucker. Because the tall thick canopy of trees is so effective at keeping the Sun at bay, much of the ground has nothing but pine needles, leaves and the small shade loving plants that exist best with little sunlight. In our area of Maine, this is an unusual situation. Most times any woods next to a road or trail look like an impenetrable wall of branches vines and thorny vegetation.

I have been enjoying the open woods of Mary's Park long before it was Mary's Park. Going back to when Mary was still alive and being the oddly nice person she was. Mary died and left the property with folks who would turn it into something for all to enjoy. Her only rule was no development. It had to stay in it's natural state. In that it was and still is completely surrounded by private property, it sat there naturally and unused for several years while Land Trusts passed it from one to another and tried to figure out what to do with it. 14 acres is chump change when it comes to parks and stuff I guess. Too small to be of any worth among the ecologically hip of the Land trust, parks are us crew. So they gave it to the Town of Acton.

Small town dynamics are..... well, the word interesting comes to mind. Suddenly this new problem of free land had to be dealt with. Heated discussions ensued about what to do. Some said refuse the gift. Some said let's turn it into recreation fields and open spaces for the kids to enjoy. But I think in the back of the minds of every tightwad resident in town, the question was, "What is it going to cost us? Nothing is free". In the meantime, I did what I always did. Just enjoyed it for what it was. A nice small parcel of open woodlands for my pets and myself to enjoy.

The development crowd were shot down quickly as Mary's will was very specific that it not be developed. This made the tightwad crowd happy. But they had to do something with it. Couldn't just let it sit there like it had for the last hundred years as it turned from field to forest. The town owned it now and it had to be messed with. They tore down the original house and fixed up the small barn. Brought in some fill to make the roadside section more attractive. Toss in some picnic tables, a loop trail, and some posts pounded into the ground to keep out the ATVs and voila, a nice little piece of Maine is being enjoyed by the few who find it or know it is there.

You might be wondering why I titled this piece "Dog Training". After that rather long winded intro, I am beginning to wonder myself. But what the Hell, let's move along and I will try to tie it up as neatly as I can.

This quiet place across the road from my house has become the training center where I have attempted with mixed results to bring order out of chaos into the mind of Stub. Stubby is a wonderful dog. But she is a dog. Prone to manic moments of delirious dog behaviour when confronted with the wide open piece of dog heaven just across the road.

Our forays there have become so commonplace, she knows before I head there, we are going to go walk or ride there. One moment she is hunkered under the bushes in the front of the house and before I can even whistle for her, she is out and bouncing off invisible walls in anticipation.

I believe in responsible pet ownership. I also know they must hate leashes. I know I do. I have always tried to give my animals the freedom to be themselves whenever possible. I have explained this philosophy to Stubby on countless occasions. I have even shouted this philosophy to Stubby on many occasions. But being a dog, processing this philosophy into dog think always seems to settle in as, "Yee Ha, we're going to woods. I can be as loose as a goose and do whatever I want. Yeah I know he doesn't like it when I jump the wall, but the wall is there and needs to be jumped. The smells are always smellier on the other side."

With two different minds, Stubby and I begin our ritual of walking in the woods. She cannot wait and I of course want to make her wait. I want to trim the mania and bulging dog eyeball moments to a minimum right out of the gate. Start out with control and I am more likely to have some left when we come back.

So it all starts with crossing the road. That damn road. The road that cost Stubby one of her legs. The road that everyone but the residents speeds on. I am no fool. Well, I like to feed the illusion anyway. I know Stubby does what Stubby wants when she knows my eyes and ears are employed elsewhere. But when we approach the road I have a very specific ritual I make her suffer through.

"Sit", I say in my commanding dog owner voice. Stubby sits or lays. I gave up trying to get her to know the difference. At least she is still.

"Now Stub, look left", as I look left. Of course she looks at me.

"Now look right", and I look right. She is still staring at me.

"Look left again Stubb", and I look left. For some reason she always does look left the last time. Maybe she has figured out the short cut. I don't know. But as soon I say it, she is up and ready to cross when I utter that magical word, "Okay".

Once across the road, she dashes down the trail she wants to head. I always pick the other one. Why? I guess because these walks have a purpose. To instill some semblance of order in a disordered mind. So she always has to be reined in with a sharp whistle and reverse her course to suit mine. She switches her choices so often, I now wonder if she is not using some reverse psychology on me. My mind always goes back to that short cut moment when we cross the road.

We begin our walk in a counterclockwise direction on Trail #1. I am never sure why they numbered the trails as there are only two, but they did. I would have labeled them differently. One would be called "This Way" and the other one would become "That Way". They both come back to "Right Here" anyway because "That Way" runs into "This Way" and they become one always finishing "Right Here". The possibilities are not even close to endless.

I stay on the trail. Stubby doesn't. The classic dog, she crisscrosses the trail with nose to the ground. When we first began these walks when she was a puppy and still had all four legs, I did my best to turn her into the poster dog of good behaviour. Tried to keep her at my heel and looking at me with adoring eyes. I managed the adoring eyes thing, but I just had to give her the back and forth thing. I settled on being able to see her. After all, she almost always came instantly when I whistled or clapped my hands, or shouted until I was blue in the face.

I always come back from our walks or rides wondering about this "Dog Training" idea. Do we train them or do they train us? I have allowed my original purpose and intent to be molded and tweaked by this animal who is supposedly of lesser intelligence than I. If I was keeping score, I get the feeling I would not be winning. Thankfully neither of us seem to care who is winning.


Gary ("Old Dude") said...

This is, in my minds view anyway, the best post yet that I have read from you----considering the high quality level of your posts, this post is (to use my word)--- PHEEEENOMINAL!! I really enjoyed the pics of Stubby----thats one fine dog ya go there mister!!


Anonymous said...

"On my block, a lot of people walk their dogs, and I always see them walking along with their little poop bags, which to me is just the lowest function of human life. If aliens are watching this through telescopes, they're gonna think the dogs are the leaders. If you see two life forms, one of them's making a poop, the other one's carrying it for him, who would you assume was in charge?"

- Seinfeld

Bonnie said...

I think it's great to give your dog freedom. I,too, hate leashes. I don't own any and my dogs don't have collars either. But they stay right with me. We usually only walk around the house or sometimes I take them to the ballfield where their "daddy" works. They always have a good time running there but never get too far from their "momma". How I would love to have some woods where it would be safe to let them roam.

Dawn Fortune said...

I am learning how to accommodate my dog, not training her to do what I want. When she wants up into my lap, she really wants to stand there and look around, not be cuddled. She'll cuddle later after the excitement (daylight) is over. I have learned that if I put the puppy training pads over the area of the carpet she favors, her hit ratio jumps considerably. I don't kid my self into thinking that I am paper training her. She is placement training me.

Gary ("Old Dude") said...

Wow---you were living in Colorado Springs in 1956?---I graduated from High School in 1955, from Pueblo Central---just what 45 miles down the road??---we were (as get smart would say)---"that close"!!