This afternoon I set out with my own dog, Wilbur, for a walk to explore the neighbourhood. When we go walking I always have my little treat pouch with some of Wilbur’s favourite treats, my phone, and a couple of poo bags. Being a pup of only 6 months old he’s still learning a lot of different skills, and he gets treats for excellent responses on walks.
A few minutes into our walk, another dog and owner (who we have met before) was across the road, ready to cross and come towards us. I stepped Wilbur just off the path, asked him to sit, and gave him a couple of treats and the dog came nearer. The dog’s owner was watching us, and asked “Is he in training?”
What a fantastic question! Every minute we spend with our dogs, we are training them, whether we want to or not. They are learning about the things that we like and don’t like, what they can expect from us in different situations, and when they’re likely to get our attention. Around the house and out in the big wide world our dogs learn what sights, sounds, and smells are interesting and fun for them, and which ones might be a threat of something unpleasant, and of course which ones are just neutral (and boring). Some dogs might be wary, and some dogs might be bold, but they are all discovering things about their family and their world all the time.
Our walk today was even more interesting than usual! Wilbur was learning about walking past distractions (like barking dogs, other walkers, interesting smells), he learnt about sitting for pats from strangers and kids (and even let them shake hands, polite young man that he is), he learnt that sometimes kids have doughnuts that they won’t share. We practised sitting when we see another dog, and that sometimes we just let them pass and other times we can say hello. We even learnt about saying hello to people in wheelchairs!!
When we left the house today I couldn’t have guessed just how many new and interesting learning opportunities we would have on our walk, but today I was proud to be Wilbur’s mum because he responded to all these things calmly, happily, and with confidence. And I sure was glad to have my treat pouch so I could pay a job well done – let’s see what our next walk brings!