Monday, May 13, 2013

A Reason I Love Akitas

One thing I noticed about Akitas that was different than other dogs was that they have the ability to take something they have learned and apply it in other or similar situations.

The perfect illustration happened today when Coco and I were on our walk.   Recently, Coco and I had walked past a pond and she was looking at a duck standing up on a large rock.  She had stepped slightly ahead of me and then turned to look at this living thing.  She looked at me with direct eye contact and then looked over at the duck again.  I told her, "Yes, I see it.  Good Girl."  "Mama's watching Coco."

In her service dog training she needed to learn a watch me signal which in training, got her used to looking at me; to check in with me; to see how I was going to cue her about what was there.  She also cues me.

This was part of the blindness assistance she was trained to do for me.  I see perfectly in front of me but have a problem with what's happening to the sides and up and down.  When she hears a car or an engine running, I need to tell her that I see it and we are safe.  Then she lets me continue to walk.  If I don't say that she will step a little ahead of me and cup around my body so I have to stop.  She has stopped me from walking right out in front of a car several times.  I had no idea they were there.

I have been committed to finding a common language that we both understand.  She hadn't cued me about something of interest to her which might be of interest to me though.  She'd cue me to look at a car or look at a person and then I was to let her know what I thought about it.  But today Coco wanted me to see the two meandering mallards that were wandering over, near a storm drain, while we were walking.  She stepped just a little in front of me and looked up at me and then at the ducks.  I told her that I saw the ducks and I told her that she was a good girl.  And it opened up even more of our common world to each other.  Coco rarely makes a sound.  She does laugh on occasion.  And she may harumph or whine just a little if she sees something or she's happy.  But that's about it.  Today Coco took what she was trained to do.  She checked with me when the leash was a little taught or when I stopped.  Only this time she was showing me something of interest to both of us. 

I have been working with her, with the leash, and working so I don't have to say anything.  So if she is distracted I quietly walk in the opposite direction.  I am at ease and just gently walking but I'm definitely walking in the opposite direction of the distraction.  I have already acknowledged I see the squirrel in the tree and beyond that, it was up to Coco to be paying attention to where we were going.  And not paying attention to that squirrel or anything else.  For traffic safety reasons, this is a must.  So we worked a little bit without a sound, changing directions and taking a few steps.  As long as she was watching where we were going she could glance at the squirrel.  But as soon as her head turned fully toward the squirrel I just started walking in the other direction.  It didn't take more than a minute, at most two, before she was happily looking up at me and completely alert, knowing what she was supposed to do and ready to work.

So now we are delving into this speechless conversation and I am loving it.  While I make the decision how near or far she can go on the leash by how much of it I let out; Coco decides to be alert and yet stay close to me by the slightest little tug to the lead.  Its barely noticeable when she checks with me to make sure I'm okay and we are still walking together.  The leash is almost always slacked and very rarely do I need to do anything.  She just paces herself with me and we walk together.  Even when she is on the long leash, it is the same.

Not a word was said though and she totally knew that I was pleased with her and understood exactly what she was communicating to me.  Mom, look at those... look where they are going... and me looking and stopping and letting her smell the air,  with her looking at me and checking and then all I did was smile and start walking and she was right in sync with me.  It was a truly beautiful moment.  She's done that with Morning Doves in some wild brush nearby. 

It feels like the way Akitas play catch or fetch.  They don't.  They get it and then wait for you to come and get it and then continue the fame.  When she has killed a mole in the yard she'll do the same thing.  She doesn't bring the mole to me.  She starts to walk toward what she wants me to look at and then she turns around to see if I am following her.  Until I get to the thing she wants me to see.  She communicates with me in much the same way I communicate with her, in her own way.  Its fascinating.

I'll need to have someone walk with us to capture this on video but for now... words and imagination will have to do.

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