So there we were, in the last class of puppy school. We would be mastering the dog park. I was completely looking forward to this as I wanted to see my tough guy owning the park, showing the other pooches who's boss.
We got to the dog park. Puppy's buddies/classmates for the last six weeks were with us. None of these guys had ever been off-leash. What an experience this would be.
Not the experience I had expected at all!! First of all, there were two other dogs in the park: a scruffy little 11-year-old mutt -- cute as a button -- and a 2-year-old Rottweiler. This was a very calm Rottweiler owned by an 87-year-old lady who had been raising Rottweilers for 55 years. Very well-behaved, well-trained and BIG. I was terrified. I refused to go into the park.
I know, I know -- all my dog-loving friends will lose respect in me. They will tell me that if a dog is properly trained, there is never any danger, that all dogs are good dogs (it's the owners that create bad dogs). Yeah, okay, I know. I get it. However, I was not prepared for my reaction. I did not (could not) enter the park. I knew there was no danger as I was perfectly comfortable letting my 14-year-old in there, no problem. It's not that I was even afraid of big dogs. While on the outside of the fence, I met a woman with an 11-month-old Great Dane not properly trained yet and still tugging on the leash -- but I was perfectly okay. This dog stood at almost my height (5' 4"). Yet I was fine.
Anyway, on the outside looking in, I saw something that I could not believe. All the dogs, except mine, were all off-leash, smelling each other, running around, interacting. My little guy had gone to a corner of the park and stayed near the fence. He stood by the woman who runs the park. He had absolutely no interest in interacting with the other dogs. I was quite disturbed by this until our class trainer told me that, as this was his first experience off-leash around other dogs, he simply did not know how to react. Almost as though he felt his safety net was gone. In the meantime, the 6-pound schnauzer was chasing the 150-pound Rottweiler all over the park. My little guy just sat there. At one point, the Rottweiler got wind of my puppy. He went up to him and preceded to nudge him and chase him. My little guy was crying and whimpering, but the trainer told us not to intervene. The Rottweiler was not aggressive at all, just a 2-year-old wanting to play with a new friend. By using his nose and body, Mr. Big Guy was teaching my little guy how to play.
I have to admit, I was very scared for the little guy. The trainer then came up to me and told me that my pup was feeding off my negative energy. He sensed that I did not like Mr. Big and therefore saw him as a pup to steer clear of.
That's when it all clicked. Training isn't just about commands. It's not only about teaching a dog not to chew on the carpet. It's not just about what you say to him. That's only 50 percent. The other 50 percent is training via your body language. Training yourself to remain calm. Training yourself to remain assertive. Had I been calm and entered the park, my pup would have had the time of his life. But, because I stayed out, I gave him the feeling that there might be danger around.
At this point, I made a vow to myself that I would pay more attention to the silent cues. Whenever possible, I will steer clear of negative energy. I will not allow my fears and phobias to taint a wonderful puppy experience. I want puppy to play with all dogs, big and small -- and hopefully, I'll be on the inside of the fence with him.
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