April 21, 2011 by Leah
I was walking Duke this morning when a man who looked like Santa in a wheelchair called out, “Are you trying to train your dog?”
“Uh, yeah,” I answered.
“Well, then he should be walking behind you!” chortled the dude with the white beard.
I stammered something about how training takes time, and rushed away feeling like a complete idiot, although I wasn’t sure why. For getting into that conversation in the first place? For not being able to control my dog? Wait, what?
Duke was walking calmly by my side during this exchange. Sure, he wasn’t quite trotting at my heels like a true little follower, but every step of a walk with this dog used to be a power struggle. He’d be straining at the leash trying to stalk the scent of one of the many wild animals that lives around here, my hands and arms would be somewhere between pain and numbness trying to control him, and, needless to say, I’d be close to despair.
About six weeks ago, we decided enough was enough. We read some books (from the library, natch). We started being assertive with Duke instead of letting him do whatever he wanted. We made sure he was getting enough exercise. At the suggestion of his vet, we switched from a harness to a Martingale collar to help with pulling and communication while he was on his leash. He started calming down on walks. He quit growling at our guests. The whole mood in our house is mellower and Duke and I have a much better relationship. We still have a lot to work on, but man, we have come a LONG way.
I know this, and I know Duke. White-bearded fellow does not. So why did I let this random guy rattle me so much? I think part of it is that he’s older than I am and I just assume my elders know better, having had more life experience; however, this is not always true.
Conventional wisdom says that strangers like to give advice and make commentary on how other people do things. From what I hear, this sort of thing is rarely even flattering, let alone helpful.
Consider this exchange I saw in the grocery store parking lot today:
A young mother was walking towards the entrance with one obviously loved, happy little boy holding on to each hand. She was wearing an infant on her chest.
An elderly lady STOPPED HER CAR and rolled down the window to shout: “Did you get a little girl?”
The answer was a cheerful-sounding “yes,” but the mother looked a little startled, which led me to think the older lady was a complete stranger. What would the answer have been if she’d had a third boy? I’m sure she would have been happy either way. Maybe she wanted a boy! Maybe she always wanted three kids no matter what. Maybe the latest was a happy accident! Maybe there were unhappy circumstances surrounding her daughter’s birth that she’s having trouble working through. What probably sounded innocent to the lady in the car seemed like a loaded and potentially dangerous question to me.
I have to admit I was totally wondering the same thing as the old lady, but I hate the assumption that a mother with two sons has a third baby because she really wants a daughter – like any of us outside of a relationship know why people choose to have children or have any right to judge them for doing so as they please.
I think today’s exchanges were a great reminder for me; many people will ALWAYS think they know better than I. About everything. I know that there are many more advanced gardeners and dog parents out there, but I also know myself and know that I learn and retain information much better by employing a trial-and-error method. There are people who are much better at managing money, but I really don’t do so well when confined to rigid structures, be they schedules or diets or budgets. I’m trying to find some balance in all these areas, and it’s a slow process. And I’m okay with that. I just need reminding now and again.