Into the Abyss

Flat-Coated Retriever running over the top of the a-frame

Imagine you’re on a hike with a friend. It’s your first time on this mountain. You and your friend are hiking along and the trail now brings you to a cliff. Your friend keeps walking toward it, you slow down and say, “um, dude, there’s a cliff!” And your friend is, “Oh no worries, it’s ok, come on.” And you say again, while also sensibly stopping as to not get any closer to the drop off, “Dude, it’s a cliff, you’re going to fall into the abyss!!  Stop!  It’s not safe!!”

Over and over your friend pressures you to keep coming, it’s fine. Pressuring you to take them at their word and believe them.  Every part of you saying Self Preservation! It’s a cliff!!

Because what you don’t know, what your friend isn’t clearly telling you, is it’s not really a cliff, there are actually steps down the mountain on the other side of the drop off.

Your friend is asking you to believe them that you’ll be safe, to trust their knowledge of the mountain, in a situation where your past history has taught you walking off a cliff is not a safe idea!

Flat-Coated Retriever running over the top of the a-frame

Welcome to the introduction to dog walks, a-frames and teeter totters for many dogs.

We, as humans, know there is a ramp going down on the other side. We, as humans, know the teeter board will tip to allow the dog to safely descend. Our dogs don’t until they actually trust us to try it. Trust and belief in us and that we would never ask them to walk off a cliff if it wasn’t safe is key.

And for this reason, in beginner agility at Maplewood Dog, with adult dogs especially, we spend 6 + weeks building trust, confidence, body awareness, belief in us that if we ask the dog to do something foreign it will work out well and safely for the dog in many other scenarios. So that when we finally ask the dog to believe us when going up a full height a-frame or dog walk or teeter ramp that they will indeed not be walking off a cliff into the abyss, they confidently believe us. That instead of stopping and sensibly saying, “Dude, it’s a cliff! Don’t walk off the cliff!!” Our dogs say, “That’s a cliff, but you said it’s an ok cliff, so let’s give it a go, abyss I’m stepping off. Oh wow! You human were right, there’s a ramp down too!”

Trust account added to once more. No withdrawals needed.

2 thoughts on “Into the Abyss

  1. Gracie and I were at an open house for a new day care and training center recently, and one of her instructors was demonstrating agility stuff. We were both quite surprised that 11 pound Gracie walked up and over a full sized A-frame (which she’d never seen before) not once but twice. The instructor hardly had to guide her. The teeter was another matter entirely!! But perhaps some agility is in Gracie’s future. We’ll see.

    1. That’s great!! And a testament to the amount of trust building you’ve done with her through your training already! Congrats! 🙂

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