I don’t think many of us realize fully what walks beside us at the end of the leash. Be it that three pound Chihuahua or one hundred plus pound Mastiff, the fact remains we’ve taken an animal from the natural world and placed him in a land of most unnatural things, a place I refer to as Humansville. The sad fact is most people are so far removed from the natural world they don’t realize it. How many times do you go to the park on a perfectly lovely spring day & see someone absorbed in their phone?
The dog is plunged into a foreign land nearly from birth. In days gone by, dogs had their puppies in the barn or a den. Now, humans insert themselves often from the moment the puppy leaves the birth canal. Mankind is always certain we know best. This is untrue but is best left for another discussion. Despite our shortcomings, the dog stands beside us caring not if we’re rich or poor, intelligent or not, more importantly they support us even when we're wrong. I’ve always seen this as a tremendous and very special gift.
We may understand the concept but we demand & expect a lot from our four footed companions. We expect trust. In today's society we're often too busy, too consumed in our 'not so' smart phones to teach the dog. The dog still responds as a creature in nature until he's taught. But the question we handlers should ask ourselves is have we built the level of trust in our dogs that inspires the kind of faith in us that when the dog stands on the edge of the proverbial cliff that he can simply trust us enough to take the plunge? When he's a pup & we want him to cross the glossy, slick floor at the vet's office, do we take the time to help him work through it or do we drag him or get impatient & hoist him up, as we don't have time to deal with his issues? Or do we put the time in now so that he can conquer that slick floor, so that next time when you walk forward he can know you'll not ask him to go into danger. If you do, he will later charge into the fray to either protect you or see you don't go alone. Does your dog know, metaphorically speaking, that if he takes that last step that we’ll catch him or teach him to fly?
One of the saddest things I faced as a trainer is the dogs who come to me with zero confidence in their human. They go through training with us & they come alive, they flourish and become amazing working dogs. Within a few moments of meeting up with the owner who comes to collect them & learn to work with them, the dog tells us if this is going to be a wonderful beginning or if he's going to shut down that part of himself that so thirst for communication with his human.
For a visual of this cliff, let’s say your dog is doing using his nose, tracking someone. He comes to the edge of a creek. The water is cold, the dog cannot tell if it’s chest deep or if it’s eight feet deep. It’s cold out. Maybe this dog isn’t fond of water. His nose tells him he needs to cross but the dog hesitates. Right then is the moment at the edge of the cliff. But you’re his handler and when he’s in doubt, he looks back with that question of what he should do in his mind. You the handler look at him and answer that question with the go ahead & a simple, "it's okay". The most glorious moment is when he goes forward and plunges into that cold water without further hesitation & if he loves his work, the cold & the water matters little. Right then, in that moment, your dog has stepped off that cliff and he’s trusting you’ll catch him or teach him to fly.
It’s a blessed dog who has a handler who he can trust to catch him or teach him to fly. We handlers are already blessed because we have the dog who stands beside us, never leaving us to face things alone but when we understand & work with this simple concept in mind, the heavens seem to open in these moments. I wish for your dog the kind of trust so he can have faith in the human at the end of his leash. Catch them or teach them to fly. For every cliff's edge you get triumph or failure. Failure shouldn't be the end but a teaching moment for you.