What part of “No” don’t you understand? I heard that many times when I was growing up. What part of the word “No” do my dogs understand? NO part and today in my backyard they proved it.
The dogs were out for a quick “backyard break”.
We were doing some construction outside so they weren’t in the yard much that day. When the beagle from down the street was nearing the side of our yard, their ears perked up. I knew it was a dog and I had a small window of attention from them before they lost it completely and went ballistic at the fence. I had to work fast. I ran up to the fence with them and yelled “table” for all to hear. I have been working with them at the fence, well it seems like forever, and they are never in that outside area without a human supervisor. There are many dogs that walk our cul-du-sac and my dogs get excited, over the top excited. It seems like every time I get this under control another pooch joins our pack and the whole thing starts again. But this time I used my “window of attention” well, and right before they saw the dog coming, I yelled the word. If I get them in time it sends them running to the corner of the yard far away from the see through part of the fence. The word is “table”, and we use the agility pause table to corral them with me while another dogs prances by “their” house. We all have a delicious “cheese buffet” while we watch the canine world go by. In a perfect world this happens all the time. In the backyard of the dog trainer, for the whole neighborhood to see, well let’s just say it’s not always a perfect world.
I completely forgot that the carpenter (our friend Dustin) had been staining a stepstool for us and he was doing it on the pause table. He had put a thin piece of plywood down on the table which extended over two sides of the table so he wouldn’t spill stain on our pause table. I completely forgot in the moment. As I turned and saw the table, plywood, stepstool, can of stain, brushes, I gasped. I knew when my fifty-eight-pound dog landed on that overlapping piece of plywood, the whole thing would flip over on her and possibly injure her, not to mention scare the “well you know what” out of her. There were also two other dogs following her at full speed ready to take flight.
I did what any other panicked human would do, I yelled “NO” at the top of my lungs. In fact I yelled it three times. “NO NO NO” I could have yelled a number of things that they actually would have understood, but I choose a language they didn’t understand, when they needed me most. They don’t know “NO”. They know “Wait”. That would have worked for sure. They know “With Me and Come”, I could have definitely redirected them. I maybe could have yelled “freeze” but only Kaiya really knows that. They know “Stay”, although not from a full running positiion. They know many words, but I used the one word that they have no clue what it means. I stood there waiting for the disaster to happen while I watched.
My three canine athletes took over from there. Little Star jumped up on the edge of the plywood and somehow knew it wasn’t going to hold her. She took all her weight off and slid across it, veering off to the right avoiding all the things on the table. Kaiya was next and she followed Star’s exact path across the edge of the plywood, so light on her feet there didn’t even seem to be an impact. Lhotse’ saw what was happening and at the last minute did a sharp left turn instead of jumping up. I was scared, relieved, and so proud of them all at the same time.
What are the lessons here? Well there’s a few. I was always proud of the fact that my dogs didn’t understand the word “no”. I just need to get in the same program with them and not use it, especially in an emergency.
- Lesson 1: I need to remember what language they speak and rehearse it. I tell my clients to teach their dog something to do instead of yell about what not to do. To be proactive and allow their dog to know what you want instead of guess or be scared of what you don’t want.
- Lesson 2: Teach a “freeze or a “stop” cue for situations just like this one. I learned to trust them, my canine pack, even though I made a bad decision, they took care of themselves and got out safely this time.
- Lesson 3: Having dogs with agile, quick responses saved them injury. Work with your dogs, keep them thin and mobile.
I don’t know when I will use these lessons in the future, but I know I will use it and I am always grateful for lessons. One happy ending at a time.