How I taught Winnie to fear motorcycles
"Dog has the absolutely uncanny knack of knowing what we are thinking, even of what we are feeling"--Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald
While driving thru Sebastopol last year with Winnie along for the day, a motorcycle rider happened by and the noise made Winnie jump up quickly to get a bead on him. The cyclist was still somewhere behind, and Winnie glanced at me nervously as she tried to keep her eyes on him. As the noise moved by in the lane next to us, Winnie tried to climb into my lap and kept looking at me, then the motor bike. Ok, so she’s afraid of loud, noisy motorcycles. No biggy, they can be a bit startling and sometimes gun their engines and dart around. But this was new. My grandkids ride motorcycles and we have visited them many times, Winnie had never reacted to motorcycles before.
In February I attended an NACSW Nose Work Seminar at Flying Cloud Farm in Petaluma put on by Candy Benyi, CNWI owner and trainer at Out and About with your Dogs. The instructor at the seminar, Dana Zinn, CNWI did a lovely job explaining so much about nose work from how a dog sniffs to how odor behaves in many different environments and so much more. I am still so new to Canine Scent Work and a lot goes past me but the stuff I absorb brings me to my knees in awe of Canine olfactory systems. The part of Dana's presentation that strongly affected me is canine communication skills and this is in the forefront of my mind every time I am around dogs.
It is no secret that dogs are super heroes at reading our minds, our emotions and feelings. Studies have tested dogs' ability to recognize facial cues and body language and even linked the abilities to genetics claiming this inherent extra sensory perception skill allowed for domestication.
Dana Zinn takes it one step farther when she explains how a dog can feel the truth without words or body language. You can have some dogs enter a room and their natural instinct is to explore it. They will branch out each sniffing the air, the floor, not seeming to pay attention to one another but when one dog stumbles upon a piece of bacon in one corner, the other dogs turn and race to the sight. The one dog didn’t say, “Hey guys. Bacon!” nor did the other dogs have to look at the lucky bacon finding dog and say, “What’d you find?” The communication is ethereal, not seen and nor heard but rather they feel it. My mind, blown.
Circle back to Winnie and her sudden onset of motorcycle-aphobia. The next time I noticed Winnie’s apprehension about motorbikes, we were walking a with another dog, Mary Jane, an adorable little Pit Bull who likes company when she walks. Mary Jane also likes to bolt when a motorcycle passes by she wants to play with and give chase. Winnie had picked up on my apprehension whenever we walked Mary Jane, because I was always keeping my eyes and ears peeled for an oncoming cyclist so I could grip Mary Jane's leash tightly and brace for a possible sudden burst. After many times walking Mary Jane and Winnie together, I conditioned Winnie to notice my elevated awareness of motorcycles and she read that as a signal to do the same. Dogs are reading us even when we don’t think we are communicating. They always know what we feel and humans are now able to use this skill in ways of which we have barely scratched the surface. Just another example of how much I learn from Winnie on every Puggle Adventure we have.