“It’s so beautiful outside! Let’s take Cooper to the park to enjoy this gorgeous day!”
Said no one ever…
“It’s gray and lightly drizzling. I’m taking Cooper to the park for a jog.”
I said on Sunday.
Cooper doesn’t go to the park on a beautiful, sunny day. Why? People go to the park on beautiful, sunny days. Dogs go to the park on beautiful, sunny days. Youths on wheels go to the park on beautiful, sunny days. So, Cooper does not.
Here’s the thing: Cooper is a good dog.
Cooper is not a perfect dog.
He’s well-trained and smart as a whip. But he has limits.
Someone recently asked me, in response to me saying that Cooper will never be a dog who chills on a restaurant patio with us for Sunday brunch, “Is that something you’re going to work on?”
For a beat, I paused. Is it?
We’re a goal-oriented society, right? We set goals, work to achieve them, and then push the goalpost further out. It’s certainly how I work, and it certainly formed the basis of a lot of the training I’ve historically done with the dogs. What do I want them to do (or not do)? How do we get there? And once we get there, what’s next?
It makes sense to say, OK, we’ve identified this problem–Cooper can’t relax in a crowded place–so, now how do we work toward a solution? What is my project plan? What are the next steps? How do we progress?
But, the other important piece of the dog-training puzzle: limits.
Knowing them, and respecting them.
It’s just like in people. Everyone, every dog included, has limits. Somehow with dogs, sometimes people who love their dogs very much, still fall into the trap of thinking, “Oh, we just need to work more/harder. Let’s try a new protocol,” etc. etc.
Sure, there’s some stuff you have to push your dog on, whether it’s for safety’s sake or basic manners.
But when it comes to limits… I use myself as an example. I am, by nature, a shy introvert. I needed to learn how to speak in public, so I took steps to train myself. I read books. I watched TED talks. I joined Toastmasters. That sort of thing. Yes, I improved. No, I’m not confident or comfortable. Yet, if someone were to ask me to do something like act a part in a play, you better believe I’d be hiding under the closest rock I could find because no way, never, not gonna happen, are you flipping kidding me with that?! I know my limits.
I just have the luxury of making all my own decisions so can turn down things that I know are far beyond my reasonable capabilities.
Dogs don’t have that luxury. We make all their own decisions.
So, identifying their limits–carefully, too, and with kid gloves because some limits need to be pushed–and then respecting them are so crucial to forming a strong bond and a lasting friendship with your dog.
So, will I train Cooper to sit with me at a restaurant or walk through a packed park on a beautiful day?
Will he miss out on some adventures together?
We could work on some stuff. We could work on having him lay on a mat in a busy place. We could work on restaurant sounds. But we can’t really work to make him feel happy in those scenarios. He’d just be a tense ball of anxious energy trying to work through commands, never relaxing, never feeling comfortable. Is that worth it?
Truthfully, I feel like if I could ask him and he could answer me, it would probably go something like this:
“Cooper, do you want to go sit on the patio at the cafe down the road while we eat breakfast?”
“Is it crowded, noisy, full of people and loud, unexpected sounds? Hell nope. Thanks, but I’ll stay home with the cats.”
Does your dog have limits? How do you differentiate between the ones that are firm and need to be honored versus the ones you need to push? How do you decide when you’ve hit your goal versus pushing the goalpost further out?
From the archives, a few oldies about Cooper’s behavior, um, quirks: