It’s the phrase every parent of a rambunctious child longs to hear:
“She’s so well behaved!”
My mouth dropped open. I looked around to see if there were other dogs around. Surely the couple my wife and I bumped into with their hyped-up French bulldog puppy must’ve been talking about someone else. They couldn’t have been referring to our Lilly, the Boston terrier.
But they were.
“Nudge,” the couple’s dark, brindle-coated bundle of love, strained at the end of his leash to get closer to Lilly. He writhed, sputtered and spun himself like a wild salmon trying to escape the jaws of a hungry grizzly.
My wife and I knew these contortions all too well. Up until recently, Lilly acted more like a Tasmanian Devil than a docile pup when another dog approached her. In her excitement and/or agitation, Lilly often twirled fast enough to lift her forelegs off the ground.
Today, our “frustrated greeter” was more or less grounded. While Nudge thoroughly lived up to his name, Lilly sidled up next to him, sniffed his flank and offered her butt in the noblest fashion. Today, Lilly acted like canine royalty decked out in black and white petticoats.
Nudge calmed down and he and Lilly gently wrestled. Nudge’s parents were floored. Their boy had not gotten on well with other dogs, either. Until now.
Who would have thought our girl could teach good manners? Or teach her parents how to teach her. But Lilly did teach us.
During the past five plus years, Lilly has taught us that she could not talk herself out of her frenzy when other animals drew near. We needed to distract her - and time those distractions well, lest we reinforce her anxiety. Soon, she associated the approach of other dogs with yummy treats raining down from heaven. God bless you, Pavlov!
Lilly put us through driver education school. She taught us that “driving” a dog is not like popping the clutch on a manual transmission vehicle. “Steering” demands a gentler hand and an even more conscious mind attuned to potential road hazards - including oneself. We were watchful, but less guarded. Our “loose leash” won the day. And more friends on two legs and four.
Most of all, Lilly has taught us that progress in dog training does not trace the path of a jet fighter taking off. Her path of “progress” often dipped, stalled and turned backward before inching upward again almost imperceptibly. Until one day, it hit us. She wasn't pulling as much. Her gyrations were winding down. She could actually be . . . polite.
We sighed and made room for even more learning. My wife and I filled this space with understanding: in humans and in animals, anxiety and enthusiasm are flip sides of the same coin. As humans, we can channel the former into the latter, temper it with grace and pass it on to our furry family members.
Nudge and his parents met Lilly the debutante, not Lilly the demon.
Like any doggie diva, she’ll always be a little bit of both.