I realized a new reason I love raising our new “guide-dog-in-training” Lila early this morning. She’s a clean slate. She doesn’t share the neuroses my wife and I have, and it’s soothing to be around her because she is so pure, so joyfully alive.
By the second day I solved the overnight whining issue. It had been a matter of my ignorance. We misunderstood the advice of a vet who told us not to allow her to sleep in the cat’s territory, the master bedroom. What I did not know until researching the psychology of Labradors further, is that they are genetically programmed to seek sleep near the pack leader, for safety. By whining all night she was merely expressing the way she was made. Since repositioning her crate so she can see one of us, and sleeping in the same room with her, we have had two full nights virtually whine-free!
Lila is going to be a real athlete. She’s 10 weeks old, but she has tackled going up and down stairs and steps without fear, even though she sometimes must go up or down them one at a time, and pause in-between. It’s thrilling to watch. She is still kind of floppy-legged and big-footed, because she’s young and growing so fast, but anywhere I have asked her to go she attempts, without hesitation.
She’s also quicker than I thought dogs were. She has peed and pooped on command three times already, and we’ve only had her three days. We circle her at the end of the leash, calmly say, “Do your business”, and she squats. Amazing. It’s her ability to imprint associations between consistent commands and physical routine. From the first day, we took her out every two hours, and WHEN she squatted, we said the words, and praised her afterward. Now she recognizes that phrase as the permission to release.
Because she is so energetic and enthusiastic, we have to do “collar corrections” all the time, but I can already see progress. She still tries to jump up if she’s excited, or chew on non-permitted things. I don’t blame her. She’s a baby, and she’s teething. Because we are doing the corrections right (a quick “pop” of the leash or collar), she doesn’t whine or react with fear when we do it. It’s a re-direct. When she ceases, she gets praised and petted.
This is a different way of shaping early behavior than either Mary or I had. I was usually praised for my accomplishments, and punished for my mistakes. The messages weren’t consistent though. Sometimes my achievements were met with “Don’t bother me right now”, and penalties for the same misdeeds ranged anywhere from a shrug to being hit with an object. I didn’t know what would happen, so I learned to cover up my mistakes and to lie with expertise.
Mary’s experience was in learning to deal with emotional neglect. When Mary’s mother was still a child, her father died. The man had acquiesced to his child’s insistent request to go swimming. As children will do, she probably said, “Oh, I love you Daddy.” in response to his agreement. He slipped on the cement, fractured a cervical vertebrae, and died. Because of her own pain, his wife unwisely and explicitly told the little girl it was her fault. To punish herself for this terrible tragedy she thought she had caused, Mary’s mother never again allowed herself to say, “I love you” out loud to anyone.
After she died, Mary cried to her father that her mother hadn’t ever told her she loved her. Her father shocked her when he admitted, “She never said it to me, either.” But he also said something wonderful. He told her “I’m going to say it to you from now on.” And he did.
As long as you’re alive, it’s never too late for a re-direct. But it’s also a lot easier if you are consistent from the beginning.