Outdoor Adventure: Man trains dog…. or does dog train man?
By Mitch Mode
Special to the Star Journal
I circle certain tasks as my dog Bella casts for bird scent, a back-and-forth trajectory, taking the time, narrowing the focus until the path is clear and the bird, in Bella’s case, revealed. In my world I consider a proposed project from all angles. I circle it, often at great expense in time; circle until the moment is right and, as with Bella, the task is addressed.
Some would dismiss this as mere procrastination. I prefer to think otherwise. Better to view it a thoughtful consideration of the dilemma, an internal dialogue as to the pros and cons, the “what if’s” of variables of the job to be performed. These things take time. Best to think it out, to analyze the possibilities and the ramifications and only when it is all fully evaluated, take action.
I pondered the installation of a piece of cement board in the garage for some time, perhaps six months, before last week, I cut it to size and installed it, a process that took half an hour and left me wondering why I did not get on it sooner. I maneuver my truck around a stack of oak firewood that I cut, hauled and tossed in a rough mound at my hunting shack months ago. It needs to be split and stacked but first I must make room for it, move other firewood, now fully aged. One must plan ahead as to the implications, where to move old wood that is already stacked so that the two woods, the dried and the newly cut green wood, are not intermingled.
This takes time of course, time to mull it over, to think it all out, time, in short, to make plans. Time, cynics may say, to further procrastinate.
Then there is Bella. The pup just turned a year old and is chock full of potential, hard-wired genetically for the hunt. The only thing standing between her and her full potential is her trainer. That would be me. In truth the term “trainer” may be a misnomer given I have no clear idea of what, exactly, to do.
What does one do in a situation as this? Research! And there is plenty of research to do. My reading stand groans under the weight of books on dog training; magazines rise in a leaning tower as in Pisa; online links to videos and training advice clog the bandwidth at the house. There is a morass of information, often conflicting, on how to train a pup.
This all takes time, time to review and sort, to cogitate over. Days become weeks and Bella is given no clear direction. I fumble over advice to give a “whoa” command (in which the pup is trained to stop stature-still); delve into how to make a dog fetch (apparently they learn to simply do this on their own); and instill in the pup that “Come” is a command, not an abstract term of no consequence.
Through it all is the consideration and the consolidation of theories of training that accumulate into a jumble of information that lies in my head, a jackstraw stack of thought not dissimilar to the stack of oak firewood bolts that rise in a ungainly pile awaiting action. A logical step in dog training will rise up, take the fore only to be pushed to the backburner the next day by conflicting but equally logical words of advice.
All the while Bella looks at me with beseeching eyes, eager to please and willing to learn as I mull over the options. And the days pass and become weeks.
It is somewhat in vogue today to lay blame for most of life’s shortcomings on living in the time of COVID. Indeed there are similarities; a vast accumulation of information, some well-sourced, some not even close; a shifting landscape as to what science based research shows; an accumulating frustration at what steps to take.
It is tempting to say our minds, or a least mine, have become used to a sense of befuddlement and an inability to move forward with certainty. Now as we emerge out of the fog of the past year it may take time to begin again to move with purpose and firm intent. Perhaps I need to relearn how to make the decisions. Or, perhaps, procrastination makes as much sense as anything else to explain it all.
I call Bella to the truck, tell her “Up,” and she jumps into the cab. We drive to the land. I edge the truck around the stack of wood that needs to be split and stacked. Another day for that; details need be thought out.
Today we will focus on simple tasks. The time for idle and unproductive stalling is over.
Bella waits; I toss a training bumper into the grass ahead of her, tell her “Fetch.” She jumps over the bumper and ignores it. Again. Same result. I tell her “Whoa” and she pauses. Is she getting it? Then she soft steps forward and I repeat the “Whoa.” She stops and turns back to look at me. She seems bored and uninterested.
When we get to the lake I soft toss the bumper into the water, the same bumper she ignored on land but now she swims out for it and brings to back. I toss it farther out. She retrieves it.
I throw the bumper as far as I can and it arcs across the summer sky, tumbling end over end. I tell Bella to fetch and she swims out, farther than ever, over the deep, cool water and brings the bumper back to me. A simple task, completed without distraction of thought.
I take the bumper. Bella shakes off. I think to myself: This is how I should do things. A task, an action, a result. Bella took action, did not procrastinate, did not overthink the task.
I meet Bella’s eyes and wonder: Who is the trainer? Who, in this, the student?
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