Sunday, August 8, 2010 a virtue...

...and of course I want to be virtuous. Usually. But patience is not easy to come by. Sometimes we just don't have a choice.

When Havana was a puppy, I'd already been a professional dog trainer for about 4 years. I was doing everything "right" - puppy classes, careful socialization, relationship building, etc. We were enrolled in puppy class where I work and it was a lot of fun, although humbling that I was a student in a class I've been teaching for so long. Even more humbling - my puppy Would. Not. Down. I could usually lure her down with a food treat, but as the weeks progressed and the other puppies were downing on a hand signal and then verbal cue, Havana and I were still using a lure or it wouldn't happen.

We had some progress when I started pretending I had a food lure in my hand and then immediately treating her for the right response or if I kept the food lure in my hand and gave her a different treat. But I was still attaching the darn treat to her nose and bringing it down to the floor two months after we'd started class!

Suddenly one day the light bulb went on. Not for me - I still don't quite know what happened. Havana must have just put two and two together and got four and then couldn't figure out why I hadn't simply told her that earlier. She became a downing fool. We had lots of baby gates up and I'd often ask her to down before opening one (work the weakest behavior for frequent reward). Pretty soon she had a decent remote down going.

This remote down has now translated into amazing things. When Havana comes to puppy class with me to help with puppies who need tutoring in Canine Body Language, I can down her in a room of loose puppies from a few feet away. When we work sheep I can down her 50 ft away with 4 or 5 sheep between us. If she's in the yard and barking madly at rogue squirrels or leaves that dare to fall before autumn, I can down her from a distance to hush her for a bit. She's got down figured out and then some! I just needed patience for her to understand what I wanted in her own time, rather than on the time line I'd set up in my class.

Now I have my darling Sprout. Smart, beautiful, funny, goofy - everything a mother could want for her child. (Not that I'm biased.) Now most kids I know, including big sister Bug, my husband and I way back when, all took first steps before the first birthday. Not my Sprout. She wasn't really interested even in cruising around furniture at that point. Why bother? Crawling got her whatever she wanted. Developmentally she was fine - she just didn't feel like walking.

I could have spent a lot of time freaking out, and I did to a point, but I didn't want to make this a big deal to her. I knew she'd do it eventually and all the freaking, cajoling, and begging on my part wouldn't make it happen before she was ready. I built a safe framework for her - offering her toys from a distance that would encourage a first step, praising her for the little bit of cruising she bothered to do, walking with her while holding her hands, etc. But still nothing.

Finally on February 27, just before she turned 15 months old she took 3 steps to my dad. (He's currently deciding on which font for the bronze plaque he'll be placing in the house.) Hallelujah she's walking! We bought baby walking shoes and waited for the chaos to begin. And waited. And waited. And waited...

While she now knew she could take steps and would take one or two from time to time, she would still rather crawl. Since she's officially "walked" before 15 months we'd made the cut off the pediatrician had set so I didn't worry about that any more. But it took two more months for Sprout to decide walking was worth the effort and to do it regularly. And now at 19 months she's running just like the kids who'd been walking since 10 months.

The point of all this? Milestones and guidelines are simply suggestions, not ironclad rules for how puppies or babies are supposed to develop. As long as there are no additional signs indicating that there may be a problem, all of the worrying and fussing in the world will not cause a puppy or child to move along at the pace we think they should. And when they figure it out on their own, they'll progress as fast as they need to in order to do what they want to get done.

Now if people would just stop trying to freak me out that Sprout isn't talking yet. Really, I think she's proven that she's an independent spirit who will get it done when she's ready. And do I really want the dueling sisters competing to talk with me from the backseat?