August 31, 2012

“Yes” is not implied

The other day we were walking through the park — Gretchen holding my leash and Woobie’s and Tyson’s as well — when a young boy road by on a toy tractor. I heard him coming — a loud, rattling roar of a yellow plastic tractor big enough for this 8 year old boy (or so he seemed to me) to come barreling down the road just behind us.

He made me nervous. Actually, the sound of his tractor made me nervous. Woobie could have cared less, but even Tyson was a bit unnerved as the loud tractor and the equally loud boy pulled up beside us and yelled out, “Can I pet your dogs?”

This is a question we get asked a fair amount. Sometimes the answer is “yes” and the askee comes over and is instructed how to approach us as well as where to pet (top of the head is a no-no we say, though most people don’t listen).  But some of the time we say “no” and while the reasons vary, the point is that Gretchen is doing her best to make sure the situation is safe for all involved — the petter and the pettee.

Today, the tractor boy was a definite “no” and Gretchen said to him, “Not today, but maybe another day.”

The boy didn’t let it go. “Why not? Do they bite?”

I know Gretchen was doing her best not to lecture the kid when she said, “Your tractor makes them nervous.” And then she just kept walking.

They boy shouted after us, running in our direction, his plastic tractor still in the middle of the road, “But I’m not on the tractor anymore.”

Where do I begin? I know I look like a cuddly stuffed animal. I know that the kid had good intentions. I know that if it weren’t for the tractor barreling down the street we most likely would have stopped and let him pet us, but none of that mattered. I was already amped up. Tyson had worry lines forming on his forehead and even calm, submissive Woobie looked a little nervous as the kid raced toward us his hand outstretched, determined to pet us.

When he didn’t stop, Gretchen stepped in front of us and put up her hand in the universal “STOP” motion: “I said ‘no’ and as much as you think it doesn’t mean ‘no’ it means ‘no.'”

Tractor boy stopped and despite my nervousness, I didn’t react. I just looked at Gretchen and waited to be praised for my outstanding restraint. We turned and walked down toward the lake and yes, I got a treat, a pat on my bum, and a “good boy, Rubin” as my rewards. Woobie and Tyson got them too.

As we walked through the park down to the lake, we heard another conversation between two 10 year old boys who were playing soccer in the park. “I’m not ready,” whined the first boy who was miffed at the second boy for kicking the ball into the goal. The second boy responded, “There is no ‘not ready’ in this game!”

The first boy fell to the ground defeated — his head hung low, his hands limp at his sides, dirt digging into his skinny knees.

These two instances got me thinking about a lot of stuff, but mainly how people often think “yes” is implied. More accurately, I suppose, is that “no” is not an option. If they want something, ‘yes’ is the only option and anything contrary to that throws them for a loop.

I’d say this is totally true for most children, but even adults have a hard time accepting that they will be denied what they want.

And yes, I suppose I do too…but my point is that there is no such thing as an implied “yes” when it comes to greeting a dog or finding out if a dog is “ready” to greet you. “No” has to be an option.

For instance, I remember when Gretchen tried to make me a therapy dog. We did all this work to get me “ready” and then when it came time to take the test, I wouldn’t let the tester pet me on the head. I backed away. Not acceptable. In fact, the test didn’t continue. That was it, I failed.

Only the tester said that it wasn’t about “failing.” It just meant that I wasn’t ready. Gretchen, being a teacher at the time, really liked this answer because it wasn’t about failure on her or my part. It was about being ready and while we had trained a lot to get our therapy dog certification, what we learned is that I was not ready and would never really be because being a therapy dog was more what Gretchen wanted and not what I wanted.

What did I want? To be a dog dog walker. To participate in agility classes. To be a therapy dog for other dogs like when I helped my pal Rosie (may she rest in peace) feel more confident and comfortable around other dogs.

There was no implied “yes” to my being a therapy dog. We both had to accept the “no” in my inability to let others pet me on the head (I let my friends and family do it and every once in awhile, a stranger, but it is the thing that I am constantly working on).

The point is, some of us are made for therapy work — my friend, Monty for instance who got to visit my friend Sharon as she recovers from heart surgery. Monty is a natural therapy dog. He is so mellow and calm — nothing rattles him — and being petted on the head is an invitation for Monty, not something that makes him nervous.

And some dogs are “yes” dogs — like Woobie who wants nothing more than to say hello and then be on her way.

And some dogs, like Tyson, are “yes” dogs when it comes to babies (he can’t pass a stroller without stopping and saying hello).

And some dogs, like Roux, are “yes” dogs when it comes to going for a walk and are “no” dogs when it comes loud noises like thunder.

And then there’s the puppy, Cosmo, who is learning to define his “yes” and his “no” and I get to be one to help him though mostly the teaching falls to his Mom and his big sister, Paige. Still, he’s forming his opinions and preferences every single minute of every single day. Of  course, the biggest lesson has to be learning to say “yes” to naps…ain’t he cute?

And then there’s Carter and Kali who aren’t siblings biologically (though they look it), but are more connected than any other siblings I’ve ever known — Kali is more of a “no” dog while Carter is a definite “yes” dog in that Kali needs time to adjust to new situations and Carter races into a new situation with so much gusto he creates his own wind.

Gretchen says that when she first started walking this duo, Kali wanted nothing more than to go back to the house while Carter wanted nothing more than to keep walking anywhere but back to the house. Now, after weeks of walking together, Kali is much more comfortable out in the world with Gretchen in charge of the leash and Carter has really relaxed into the fact that their walk won’t go on for days.

I feel like this blog has gone all over the place (kind of like Carter on a leash =-) but I did some deep thinking while we were out walking this week and if there’s one lesson I’ve learned is that you have to be ready for “no” as an answer. Trust me, I know how disappointing “no” can be, but in the end, we’re all a lot safer if we respect each other’s “no” as much as we respect each other’s “yes.”

Have a great Labor Day Weekend everyone! May your time be filled with well-intentioned yes-es!


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