old dog. new tricks.



This is our dog. Coco. She came to us by means of a rescue shelter, which means that the breed we thought she was going to be when she was a puppy, turns out not to be who she is as an adult. But that’s okay. We love her anyways. {hmmm…there might be a parenting lesson hidden there for me somewhere…}

And you might remember Coco from posts here {about the first day of school} or here {when she had explosive diarrhea. all. down. the. carpeted. stairs.}

But today it is about Coco and cars. You know, the things we drive. That go past her on a very regular basis. Coco does not suffer from the stereotypical dog-car problem. Oh no. There is no car chasing going on here. There is only car fear.

We live on a very quiet street. But very near our very quiet street is a much more travelled road with a posted speed limit of 45 m.p.h. A two-lane byway that takes all traffic on and off our peninsula. And despite the fact that Coco has been exposed to thousands of cars driving past her, whenever I try to walk her along that road she always, how shall I say it? Completely freaks out.


She tries to pull me ahead on her leash, as if she can outrun the car. Or tries to go back and hide behind me. Or runs circles around my legs, tangling the leash so that I nearly topple. And every time a vehicle goes by, the exact same thing happens. And every time I get frustrated. In fact, each time I get incrementally more frustrated, for somehow, each time, I expect a different outcome.


So Emily? At what point am I going to recognize this pattern? And when am I also going to recognize that getting angry is neither surprising nor helpful? Just how flat is my learning curve? I was getting mad because I was expecting her to get over it. I was expecting a different outcome to the same situation. Who is Pavlov and who is the dog in this scenario?

So this morning, on our rainy, thunder-y, lightning-y walk, it happened. Again.

And then something new happened.

It occurred to me that I needed to be the change I wanted to see in the world. {I’m not saving a nation, dear Gandhi, but we all start somewhere, right?}

So I did something different. Now, don’t get me wrong. I think my dog has a vocabulary of about 10 words. Dog. Good dog. Walk. Sit. Stay. Break. Lie down. Come. {okay, 9 ½ words. Come doesn’t always produce results}. So I didn’t really expect her to fully understand what I was saying. But as I heard a car approach from the distance, I started talking to her. I crooned to her softly. I gently described the car, that it was coming nearer, that the engine would sound louder, that it was near to us, then past us, then gone.

Well, I’ll be doggoned.

Different stimulus. Different response. She walked calmly by my side the entire time. Huh. I tried it with the next car. And the next.

Lo and behold. As long as I am saying soothing words to my dog, even though it isn’t in the tongue of dog-ese, it mattered to her. She was scared. I offered comfort. It changed the outcome.

I didn’t do the walking for the dog. I didn’t hold her leash differently. I didn’t avoid the road with fast cars. I was just her little support system.

It’s a delicate balance. How do we help our children without doing it for them? How do we guide without smothering? How do we give them space without abandoning? How do we know when silence is golden, or one more word will make a difference? What is your current parenting road? Keep me posted.

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