I’ve said before that my dog has taught me plenty of lessons, and she continues to teach me things on every adventure we take together. With our road trip fast approaching, I wanted to get Belle used to her life vest, especially since she’s never worn one before. So I decided to take her to a dog beach.
Belle is what I call “selectively social.” She’s also the type of dog who, if she is not interested in socializing or in befriending another dog, is quick to let that other dog know. In that sense, she is like me. Perhaps that is why we are such a good match. This means, though, that when we go somewhere lots of other dogs are likely to be, I watch her very closely. She never instigates, but she will defend herself.
We have visited this particular dog beach before, before we really delved into training together, so I could safely compare her behavior this time to her behavior last time. And, boy, has it improved! (Score one for me!)
She loves fetching toys–balls, sticks, you name it–and she doesn’t much care if it’s really someone else’s toy. But she gets very possessive of balls and throw toys around other dogs, so I never bring them. (Can you see where this is going?) One dog parent had brought a water throw toy for their dog, and when it was thrown, Belle wanted to tromp after it, even though the other dog had it in and was swimming back. When I called “Belle, no!” she stopped in the waves, and I could see her think. Then she made the decision on her own–to listen to me and return to me. I was impressed to say the least.
Like I said, she is “selectively social,” so when another dog started trotting around after her and trying to instigate who knows what, Belle got grouchy–just a small warning noise–and ran to me. I try to allow her to stand up for herself first and see if the other dog takes the hint, but when this dog just would not stop, Belle turned. I grabbed the leather tab I have on her correction collar just to have control of her, and this other dog circled us. What I found interesting is that, even though I had hold of the collar tab, she didn’t try to pull from me to handle the situation herself, like she would have done a year ago.
She even sat still for photos and listened to her commands. She didn’t go in the water until I said it was okay, and she came back to me when I told her to. It felt like she knew I was keeping an eye out, and she trusted me to handle the environment.
. . . . . .
On her leash in public Belle is excellent. She can get particular about people approaching me, so we developed a “say hi” command so she would know it’s okay. A complete stranger approached us as we were walking the downtown area and wanted to pet her. She was hesitant about this person and stood close to me, but when I gave her the command, she lifted her head and allowed this individual to pet her. After a second, she turned her attention back to me, as if to say “I’ve had enough,” so I touched her back to let her know I “heard” her.
The best scene, though, was before we left to head home.
We were sitting outside, enjoying a water and the boat scenery, and a young boy–maybe an early teen–sat on a bench just a short distance from us. From the bit of the conversation I overheard while he was on the phone, he seemed in distress. A couple, who I assumed to be his guardians, approached, and he walked up to them, apologizing for something. As he neared our bench, Belle stood and nudged his hand.
“No,” I told her sharply, embarrassed she had just approached without permission.
“Oh, it’s okay, I like dogs,” the boy said, looking to be worried he got her in trouble.
I placed my hand on her back and said to him, “That’s okay. It’s just for her. She is learning she can’t say hi unless given permission.”
But Belle continued to watch him as he had his conversation with this couple. So I watched her.
“Can I pet her?” the boy asked a few seconds later.
“Sure,” I told him, smiling.
Belle took the opportunity. As he bent down to say hi, she folded herself into him and gave him a gentle head butt. Then she did something she doesn’t do to just any stranger: she licked him. And I don’t mean once. She gave him lots of kisses, and I watched with a smile as he laughed joyously and loved on her.
As we drove home, I thought about her interactions throughout the day and how she has improved since last year. I thought about how she listened so well to me, how she was so attuned to me, and how she just seemed to know when someone needed a little extra love. And I was impressed.
. . . . . .
In all we do, it is clear Belle’s trust in me has grown. Our bond has strengthened through training and everything we do together, so she knows me better. She knows when I need her to be near me, whether it’s because I’m uncomfortable in a particular social setting or because I’m in tears at home. Her attention and obedience to commands has gotten better because she wants to please me, and she knows I love her and want to do what is best for her. Our relationship–and thereby her intuition and attention to me–is built on that trust.
Like Belle, I have grown and learned a lot in this season. Like Belle, I am not perfect; I am still learning. Like Belle, my relationship with God must be built on trust–trusting that He loves me, that He wants what is best for me, and that He has good plans for me. But I would like to think that, like Belle, I know my master’s voice better now.