Training Tip #17

17. Don’t let the dog step on your feet. (And don’t believe him if he swears it was an accident.)

This is #17 of 20 training tips that I provide in the appendix to my book, Willing Dogs & Reluctant Masters: On Friendship and Dogs.  Interested readers will find that many of the 20 tips can readily be adapted for use with children, students, employees, spouses—in short, anyone with whom you want to establish a better relationship. Even #17 may be applied in certain cases, as on the dance floor. Other tips apply even more obviously. Consider #2, for instance:

2. Speak carefully and mind your affect. Speak in the mood that is most just to the situation.

With whom shouldn’t we strive to speak carefully, making sure that our tone of voice fits the situation? Beyond the tips, anyone who reads the book will find that it’s not primarily about dogs; it’s about friendships. However, for philosophical reasons dogs turn out to be an illuminating way to explore how our friendships work and the vital role they play in a good human life. Dogs also help my book’s argument for rhetorical reasons, as there are certain difficult lessons—especially about the place of authority in friendship—that are more easily learned from dogs than from each other.  Alright. Thus ends my plug for the book. Back to training tip #17.

Today I was thinking how this tip needs to be expanded to include snowshoes.  We already have a lot of snow at our place in Oregon. An additional six powdery inches fell overnight, bringing the total to around 30 inches. This afternoon I strapped on snowshoes and Aktis and I headed off into the backcountry behind our home. We hiked along a rim of rocky outcroppings and then descended into a beautiful canyon, where we met up with and followed the snowy rambling creek for a mile or so before ascending a hillside and traversing the canyon back home.

the snowy creek we crossed

the snowy creek we crossed

Aktis is no fool. When he got tired of leading and breaking a fresh trail through the deep snow he waited for me to pass him, then followed in my tracks. Closely. So closely that his heavy paws occasionally landed on the back of my snowshoe. This elicited a sharp “No!” from me.  We trudged another 50 or 100 meters and again I felt that heavy paw. And again I said, “No!” (That’s the “imperative” mood, fitting to this situation.) After a few such experiments in pushing the boundaries, Aktis backed off.

Looking as pure and innocent as the driven snow

Looking as pure and innocent as the driven snow (but carrying a big stick)

Now I’m not sure, but Aktis may have been exploring a possible loophole to the rule. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he were thinking along these lines: I don’t know what those are, pal, but they sure as hell aren’t your feet, so I assume tip #17 doesn’t apply.  To which my “No!” replied, in effect, “Well, my friend, they’re not my feet, but as you’ve no doubt noticed they are attached to my feet and move with my feet, so I say the rule extends to them as well.” Really? “Yes, Really.”  Okay, then, boss. (That last remark I hear as playfully ironic.)

By the end of our beautiful and exultant hike through this wintry wonderland, all I felt on the back of my snowshoes was snow.

A final note. Most readers who have practiced the art of training a dog will understand why tip #17 exists.  One way dogs play with boundaries during obedience training is to trod on, or sit on, their master’s feet. Novice trainers often imagine that such moves are an accident. Like us, however, dogs are territorial animals exquisitely sensitive to boundaries, so these are rarely accidents. That said, if imagining it’s an accident keeps you from correcting the dog, he’ll be happy to oblige your ignorance!

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