June 2, 2006 was my last day with 8 State Hurricane Kate. You may know her story from my first book, 8 State Hurricane Kate: The Journey and Legacy of a Katrina Cattle Dog. It was with great sadness that I spent that last beautiful early summer day with her, a perfect day to sit together on the hill and say our goodbyes. I wanted to remember everything about her, forever.
A year to the day later, on June 2, 2007, a striking bright orange poppy bloomed in my backyard, near where Kate had rested on that last afternoon. It leapt out of the dark foliage, announcing its presence. The seed was probably planted by a bird, if you know what I mean. But poppies don’t grow here naturally. I had a strong feeling that this beautiful flower was a gift from Kate.
In 2007, I declared June 2nd “Kindness for Kate Day”. In Kate’s honor, I asked people to perform an act of kindness to make the world a better place… plant a flower, say a prayer, help somebody, give hope to a homeless animal or a homeless person, collect spare change and donate it to an animal rescue group or a food shelf, appreciate someone’s efforts, volunteer, or come up with another idea and share it. I challenged people to do something new that they hadn’t done before. I wanted to make June 2nd an awesome day.
In the past few years, a poppy has bloomed in my backyard every year around June 2nd. But now that first poppy has multiplied into a beautiful poppy garden that blooms briefly, reminding me of that June 2nd in 2006.
Why am I talking about June in the middle of winter? Because I’m thinking about planting seeds. I’m thinking about the seeds I planted during the past year, and the seeds that I want to plant this year. Some of our seeds grow and bloom, yet others don’t seem to germinate. Over time, however, some will grow into a beautiful perennial garden that we and others can enjoy.
That one orange poppy that spread into a beautiful garden was like the network of caring people who came together to help the lost Katrina animals, then returned to their homes all over the country and stayed in contact, forming a powerful network. It was like how telling Kate’s story connected me with so many caring people all over the country, and even the world. It was like how that one single decision to go to Louisiana to help lost animals completely changed my life. I have grown too.
Sometimes the seeds that we plant and water and nurture don’t grow into the flowers we envisioned. Yet other seeds that we didn’t even know we had sown yield beautiful and amazing gardens. What seeds have you planted in the past year? What seeds do you want to plant next? What small actions can you take every day to make the world a better place?
I’m reminded of a local story that just concluded with a happy ending. While on a walk with her foster mom, a rescued Sheltie named Lady broke loose and was running free in a St. Paul suburb. Lady was spooked easily and was running scared. People had spotted her, but days went by as the rescue group and local volunteers searched. Winter was coming and the weather was getting colder. Efforts to find and even live-trap Lady were in vain.
One afternoon, a man driving home from work spotted a dog in an industrial area, miles from where Lady had last been seen. He recognized Lady and drove to the grocery store to find the phone number on a flyer he had seen. He called the number, then drove back to the industrial area and found Lady again. But he couldn’t approach her; she was too scared. He followed instructions given to him on the phone and kept an eye on Lady from a distance while Sheltie rescue called volunteers. The foster mom, Mel, and others arrived and sat in a ring around the empty lot, encircling Lady from a distance. Eventually, Mel entered the circle. Each time Lady tried to find an escape route, the person on that side of the circle stood up to keep her from bolting away. Eventually, with much patience, Mel got close enough for Lady to recognize her. Mel spoke, touched Lady, and both relaxed, relieved. With tears in her eyes, Mel fastened Lady’s harness and carried her safely to the car.
If the man, Brad, a complete stranger, had not noticed Lady, interrupted his routine and acted right away, Lady might still be running scared. If volunteers had not immediately dropped what they were doing in the middle of a work day and gone to help form the circle… if people had not listened to the instructions to NOT approach Lady… she might still be out there, or might not have survived.
But that’s not the whole story. Mel realized how much Lady meant to her and decided she didn’t want to be separated again. So now Lady is home with Mel forever. And get this: In an interview on local TV, Mel said that she didn’t even know who had posted that flyer at the grocery store, but she was certainly grateful.
Who posted the flyer at the grocery store?
Think about it. One seemingly small action: a person putting up a flyer about a lost dog at a grocery store. One tired man on his way home from work who remembered seeing the flyer at the grocery store and acted immediately. One patient group of people who showed up right away to form a circle around the scared dog. And, of course, the rescue group and foster mom. They all made a difference. But the happy ending started with the person who posted the flyer at the grocery store.
Think about the seeds you want to sow in 2012, the “flyers” you want to post. If changing the whole world for the better seems like an overwhelming goal, think about the small things that you can do every day to make a difference, about each bright orange poppy you can plant. Think about the seemingly small decisions you make and actions you take each day. By the end of the year, you might just have an amazing poppy garden… or an amazing “puppy” garden.
A few years ago I was invited to Thanksgiving dinner by a good friend of mine. There were 15 people in all and everyone was focused on drinks, conversation and preparation. It was just about time for everyone to take their seats as the turkey was being pulled out of the oven. My friend’s husband carved the turkey, filled a plate full of freshly carved meat and walked away from the bird to deliver the plate to the table of hungry guests. No one paid much attention or noticed that the big yellow Labrador named Bandit had somehow escaped from the bedroom where he had been secured until the food portion of the festivities were over.
Labs are pretty well known for their voracious appetites when it comes to human food and Bandit was no exception. As the turkey was being delivered to the dining room I saw Bandit, out of the corner of my eye, enter the kitchen. I looked from the dog to the bird and realized what was about to happen. I got up out of my chair and ran to the kitchen yelling for Bandit to “leave-it” as he went for the turkey. I was too late and all that could be heard was the loud crash of the plate hitting the floor. There in front of me stood good old Bandit covered in turkey juice with a big turkey leg hanging out of his mouth. He was looking at all of us like “What? It’s just a drumstick…” What else could we do but laugh! Thank goodness we at least saved one plate-full of turkey to feed the humans.
“Leave-it” is a valuable command for many situations. It should be one of the first things that you teach your puppy. It’s uses are endless, but these are a few things that come to mind.
·Leaving food and clothing items alone
·Staying out of the garbage
·Leaving another dog’s toys or food alone
·Stop eating or rolling in foul things on the trail or walk
·Stop an attempt to go towards another dog or a cat, coyote, skunk or any other animal
Try to be alert and proactive whenever you use this exercise. “Leave-it” works best if you use it the second before your dog gets a chance to react to something. In the beginning, be consistent by rewarding him every time he does what you want with a treat that has a high value to the dog, like chicken or hot dogs or any strong-scented and appealing dog treat like Omega Fields’ Omega Nuggets. After a few weeks or so you can begin to treat him every other time or less, and reward him alternately with praise and affection or even a favorite toy. Most importantly, have fun with this exercise. You will be very surprised how fast your dog will pick it up, and how often you will use it! Be sure to keep a positive, friendly tone in your voice whenever you practice this. Training should always be fun for you and your dog.
This training exercise can be done from the floor or from a standing position.
“Leave-it” Floor Position
Take a large piece of treat in your right hand and show the dog the treat. Then put the treat on the floor and quickly cover it with your hand. Let him try to get at it by sniffing and licking at your hand. The minute he stops touching your hand say, “Yes” and reward him with a treat from your left hand. Be sure to keep the treat in your left hand out of sight by holding it behind your back while he works to get the treat from the right hand. Repeat this three times. The fourth time you do it add the words “Leave-it” as he moves towards your right hand. If he stops or hesitates say, “Yes!” and reward him with a treat from your left hand.
Once you’ve seen that he’s getting the hang of it, start setting the treat on the floor uncovered and say, “Leave-it.” If he stops or hesitates say, “Yes” and reward him. Remember to always guard your treat on the floor and be prepared to cover it up with your hand if he goes for it. Also, never reward him with the “Leave-it” treat, only reward him from the other treat hand.
On occasions when I’m working with a dog or puppy that has been rescued and I don’t know how he may react to food, or when the owner tells me that their dog or puppy is very mouthy or aggressive when he takes treats, I use the standing position to train “Leave-it.”
“Leave-it” Standing Position
Start out by showing the dog the treat in your right hand and then make a fist, closing the treat inside your hand. Now extend your hand out with the fist still closed letting him sniff and lick at your fist as he tries to get at it. The minute he stops touching your hand say, “Yes” and reward him with a treat from your left hand. Again, repeat this three times and on the fourth time add the words “Leave-it” as he moves towards your right hand. If he stops or hesitates say, “Yes!” and reward him with a treat from your left hand.
Once you’ve seen that he’s getting the hang of it, move to showing him the treat in your right hand, leaving your hand open. As he goes for the treat say, “Leave-it.” If he stops or hesitates, quickly say “Yes” and reward him with the treat from your left hand. If he goes for the treat and doesn’t stop, close your fist and start again. Remember, never reward him with the “Leave-it” treat.
After I teach the basics of “Leave-it” I step it up a level and move the training into the kitchen. Almost every client that wants basic obedience training for their puppy always asks me the same questions… “How do I get him to stop going for food and how do I stop him from going for the dirty dishes in the dishwasher?
The first thing I do is ask the client if they have any tasty human food in the refrigerator that I could use to entice their dog with. Once, I even pulled out a whole precooked chicken and set it on the kitchen floor and believe it or not, after successfully perfecting the first stage of teaching “Leave-it”, this dog didn’t even try to go for the chicken! He waited patiently knowing that he would be immediately rewarded with yummy high value treats if he left it alone.
When training the dog to leave the dishwasher alone, I open the dishwasher and pull out the lower rack of dirty dishes. Then I take the same tasty human food from the refrigerator and set it on top of the rack. I use the same steps asking the dog to “leave-it” and immediately rewarding for doing so.
“Leave-it” is a very valuable command and one that every dog owner should teach their dog at an early age. Many of the frustrations of owning a puppy can be nipped in the bud by applying this command early and often. The puppy who will become the adolescent and then adult dog, will know what things are off limits and what things are Ok. Also, always be sure to provide plenty of durable toys for your dog to play with so he won’t look for makeshift toys in the bottom of your closet or the garbage can. Early obedience training is one of the keys to a happy and fulfilling relationship with your dog.
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