Balanced dog, balanced handler


Balance – what is balance? by Jeanine Renzoni

The idea of balance, being centered, being capable and not overly burdened with worries or angst, well this applies to dogs too. And in the process of making a well-balanced dog the handler deals with things to help make them be a more well-balanced person.

A well-balanced dog:Oct Dan'sphotos,2011 008

Physically can move easily, will jump, climb, go under or over or through things with no big difficulty or worry. This dog has the capabilities needed to do the things his/her breed was historically meant to do. Physical talents are tied to mental confidence so a balanced dog will climb open stairways, descend into dark basements, swim, walk in crowds, tolerate loud sounds and is unafraid to be on wobbly surfaces. Adequate exercise is necessary for mental balance. If the dog has a physical disability his/her capabilities still need to be advanced.

The ability to lie quietly in the bottom of a canoe.
The ability to lie quietly in the bottom of a canoe.

In order to create this physicality the dog’s person, you, need to get out there and do stuff with the dog. The more the better and it’s obvious because you’re looking at the dog. The dog becomes the mirror, the reflection.

Balanced in play/work. A dog that will try to do whatever game is requested. This means ball games or tug or disk or find or drive ball or tricks or obedience. There can be preferences of course, but a balanced dog is willing to compromise and do things that aren’t their first choice of fun. In fact one of the marks of a good handler is a dog that is willing to be part of any endeavor and learns to accept all sorts of different rewards as good in all sorts of venues.

Persistence and joy are needed to do this. If you’re in a rut the dog will be too. They may just want to play ball or only sniff for things without you. Then where is the companionship, instead of a team it’s two different co-existent entities. Or are you the one, only doing stuff without them? Then where is your balance?

Mentally a well-balanced dog is confident and polite in the majority of situations. Excessive fear or aggression in inappropriate times show a need for better socialization and slower, more rewarding progressions. Balance does not mean the dog must like everyone nor be expected to tolerate impolite strangers (hopefully everyone he knows is well mannered), but they don’t get to attack or flee in stable situations and still be considered balanced.

I think fear might be the biggest barrier to this one, the dog handler is afraid to go to all

Getting back in after the hike.
Getting back in after the hike.

those different situations with the dog because of the unknown, what might happen…how embarrassing. Dogs also reflect tension and fear, they read body language quite well and stiff, tentative body language…means something is wrong. But the answer is to take it slow and at a distance…but keep the socialization practice going, regularly, daily if possible. Because doing something, just doing it makes it less fearful. And as it’s done you become more ready the next time with tug toys and good treats and ideas for games. You become able to ‘read’ your dog.

Or if you’re afraid for your dog, then maybe carry a walking stick to be put on the far side of your little one to prevent other dogs from rushing him. The interesting thing is lots of small dogs have big presence (not the freaking barking kind) but the ‘I’m here and I’m not to be messed with’ kind, but they won’t develop that if you’re constantly swooping them up out of ‘harm’s way.’

Balance includes activity levels and the right times to be excited and active and the right times to be calm and quiet. Balance includes adequate knowledge to act in our people civilized world. A dog that is always isolated, caged or kept only in one place cannot get enough experiences to be well-balanced. And people who keep on only doing the same things also lose balance and become fearful and afraid to explore new things.

I get the ‘my dog is great at home’ statement a lot. And beyond that there is certainly truth to the idea that inherited traits make a difference, not all dogs will like all environments. Some dogs are great with kids and elderly, some not so much. My dog Max is occasionally worried by slick floors and when he was Sandy in the Annie play he didn’t like one corner of hallway in the school ‘cuz he slipped a couple of times there, he also got tired of greeting fans after the play – maybe 75 in or so.

I worked with him to desensitize the floor area (also trimmed the fur between his pads, shortened his toenails and made sure we went around that corner without the crowd of ‘orphans’). The people greeting…well I figured that many was enough, so I smiled waved and off we went.

Even if you and your dog have achieved a very nice balance, many things can make this go off kilter. Things like a series of odd events that are scary, physical injuries, changes to your household…can all make the earlier good balance go away. Sometimes the first real sign that stuff  really isn’t right is your dog’s actions. The irritation or frustration or anger you feel as you blame them for something is a good warning that balance is tilted…the physical, mental and spiritual interactions are not intersecting evenly, positively and to your benefit. Or thinking differently maybe the positive spirit you thought you expressed wasn’t so positive after all.

So what do you think fellow dog lovers? Do you have the balance you want?

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