Thursday, March 1, 2007

Dogs will be dogs, babies will be babies...

It's taken me awhile to shake that darn Disney image of dogs. Poor Cousteau has had to be uber-dog for most of his life. I expected him to be perfectly behaved, to obey immediately, and never do anything I'd consider gross. Then I happened to go to a Suzanne Clothier seminar. I had heard her speak before and I really enjoy her. We have slightly different views on a dog's role in our lives - i.e. she doesn't believe in making a dog do competition stuff, particularly obedience, whereas I figure if the dog doesn't mind it and I like it, why not do it - but in general she has some great things to say.

Somehow at this seminar we got on the topic of dogs socializing. Suzanne pointed out that even if a dog doesn't like to play with other dogs it must be such a relief to see other dogs just for the comfort of not having to translate "human" all the time. Sort of like when I went to Prague by myself and was so thrilled to encounter a couple of people who spoke English. I didn't even talk to them, it was just nice to not have to think about what I was hearing. I realized that while Cousteau gets to see other dogs all of the time, I wasn't really letting him be a dog around them. That was in part because he was humping every dog he could, but mostly because I didn't think he was acting as I believed a dog should. Hmmmm, a human correcting a dog for not acting in her image of a dog? Wow. How egotistcal!

So I eased up on Cousteau when he was around other dogs while at the same time managing his environment and companions so he could be a dog in a controlled environment. We do not visit dog parks very much anymore because I never know who is going to be there and what kind of dogs will be around and let's face it, people can be pretty ignorant about what they all their dogs to do. I make a point of arranging for Cousteau to play at the training school with dogs I know in a place I know with people I know. It helps me to relax, which helps Cousteau to relax and interestingly enough, his humping has diminished.

I had reason to remember my change of thought with my BabyBug. I was reading that time honored classic What to Expect - The First Year and it was making me very anxious. Bug wasn't hitting milestones - she didn't like playing with toys, wasn't making an effort to make sounds, not responding to music. She was days if not WEEKS off of the "expert" schedule. What could I do to help her catch up on these vital skills that every other child her age had? On the other hand, her balance and motor skills were phenomenal, she was very personable and enjoyed making eye contact and smiles with everyone. How could I make the most of her superior skills? Should we be going to Gymboree or the Little Gym? Should I start contacting modeling and ad agencies? How could I help her live up to her fullest potential?

Thankfully, when you get down to it, I'm basically a pretty lazy person and I like my "me" time. BabyBug and I attended a Kindermusik class when she was 6 months old and we really enjoyed it, but there was no way I was going to fill every day with those kinds of activities! Bug's nap schedule has never been set, she doesn't really enjoy the car, and an hour is a pretty long time for a little girl.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Bug would have strengths and she would have weaknesses. For crying out loud - I'm a huge advocate of Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence theory! ( I can encourage her strengths and help to boost her weaknesses, but it doesn't need to be structured every moment of every day.

This made me think of Cousteau and how happy he was after I let him just be a dog and have some unstructured time. I'd have to say the times when he is the most happy isn't in agility or flyball, which he does seem to enjoy, but when we're in a safe off leash area and the only rule he has is to come into my line of sight when I call him. He can eat dead stuff, chase things he finds, dig, mark, and basically do what dogs do best.

I've stopped worrying about BabyBug's milestones. She's behind on some, ahead on others but as long as she progresses I'm not going to worry. I traded What to Expect to the used bookstore for a Janet Evanovich book (I got the better bargain by far!). And I let BabyBug do what she does best - be a baby. She's only going to be an infant, then a toddler, then a pre-schooler, then a little girl for so long and it's not long enough. And if sitting at the window watching leaves fall or putting Mardi Gras beads in and taking them out of a plastic cup is what makes her happiest at that moment, I'm not going to push her into watching a educational video or playing with a developmentally appropriate toy. She's still learning about her world, but it's at her own pace and it's a lot of fun to watch her take the lead. Her life will be overscheduled soon enough!

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