A couple of years ago I read a blogpost by the very thoughtful British dog trainer Kay Laurence.
She had a new puppy at the time and she was musing about greetings and how dogs just love to greet us by leaping up to come close to our faces. Somehow she felt that there had to be a way to redirect the leap without taking the pleasure of a nice greeting ceremony that would be satisfying to both human and dog.
So she put a chair next to the entry way and her dog was able to jump on the chair with her front paws and then hugs could be exchanged without muddying clothes or being knocked over by a big dog’s enthusiastic “HELLO” leap.
I am faced with a similar situation raising a rather large puppy who adores leaping.
Leaping up is not appropriate during elevator rides in our building or when admired by an enthusiastic stranger in the street.
On the other hand I want her to be able to express herself and I want to to like dogs and humans, generally speaking. So I too was looking for a natural replacement behavior that would allow her to express her joy but was also “socially acceptable” and inoffensive.
Zeldi loves to move and she is very talented with her paws. She started to offer little backwards leaps while still close to the floor in a sit position. It is like a little bunny hop backwards. She started to offer that at mealtime when she has to practice her impulse control. I do this routinely: she has to “earn” her food. Soon I was able to get different variations of the paw wave and backwards hop. But I started to reward her highly for offering this kind of behavior.
This afternoon my efforts were crowned and I was delighted and surprised. We were riding in the elevator with a nice lady who is always quite friendly and admires Zeldi. Spontaneously Zeldi offered her bunny hop to the woman and waved! The woman was delighted and stuck out her hand as well in an offered handshake. Zeldi responded again and they shook hands so to speak. Lots of laughter and so much fun for everybody. I was very pleased to say the least.
Zeldi loves an arm chair we have. So, I decided to help channel her enthusiasm when we get ready to go out and put on her harness. I direct her to leap onto that chair with her front paws. That allows her to jump onto her favorite piece of furniture and allows me to put on her harness more easily since she is anchored on the chair and not wiggling and running around. I call it ” Let’s get saddled up”!
It works for both of us.
The reason why I am talking about this is because I really feel it is important. I am beginning to see more and more how “strict” obedience is stifling. I want my dog to be happy to see me. I want my dog to be happy to see other people. But I want my dog to be allowed to express herself, to be curious and explore new things. If I can teach her to do that within a framework that fits both of our needs: all the better.