Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

How does that old TV commercial go? “I’m not a teacher, but I play one in the community.” Okay, maybe that ad was about being a doctor or something, but the point is I like to teach. It's in my genes. My mom was a teacher. So are a bunch of my relatives. I think I'm just programmed to teach. It’s part of who I am.
Of course, my compulsion to teach rubs a lot of folks the wrong way. For instance, most teenagers are certain they already know it all. Then there are adults who know they don’t know it all but aren’t necessarily interested in what I’m offering. Then there’s the fool (me) who believes all people want to be taught in the first place.
That's why I like teaching younger kids. They’re like little sponges when it comes to learning. I also like teaching animals. Particularly dogs. A few weeks ago, my girlfriend was out of town so I decided to take her dog on a long walk. I chose a park with a familiar path that runs by a river. Along the walk were numerous points of interest; things this dog would typically avoid or sniff at casually before passing. Not today. Enter the teacher.
Since it was early morning, and few if any people were around, I decided to challenge the dog to an obstacle course consisting of stairways she descended and climbed, park benches and picnic table seating she had to launch herself upon and traverse. The goal was to expose her to new things. I also walked her along the river’s edge.
At first she was more interested in the scents and aromas left by other dogs among the plants. When she got bored with that, she finally noticed the ducks and geese swimming on the water. It was my impression she had never really regarded them before, even though she’d been down by the river numerous times. Not being a water breed, she eventually lost interest so we moved on.
It was chilly and I was feeling pretty good, so I decided to teach her a lesson in aerobic exercise. Now I'm in fair shape as a runner. And since the dog didn’t get long walks very often, and virtually never gets to run for extended periods (this community needs a dog park), I decided to test her meddle and broke into a jog. Then I increased my pace to break her out of a trot to a slow canter (or whatever it’s called for dogs).
Tail wagging the dog; I'm not the only one...
The object of my run was to exercise her in a way that pushed her beyond her normal performance envelope. What happened instead was the dog taught me a thing or two about having four legs instead of two. I reckon we traveled half-a-mile or so before I was breathing hard. Really hard. I was struggling at about three-quarter speed, way faster than my usual jogging pace. Meanwhile, the dog was still quite comfortable in what for her was a very slow run.
In the end, I was the one pushing my own envelope and it nearly exhausted me in the process. Here I thought I was the teacher and yet it was a hilarious case of the tail wagging the dog. It was humbling too, as are most instances when I go in thinking I know it all – just before I get set straight.
Oh, I forgot to mention one other thing I'm really good at. Learning. I was open to this experience, which first began as the teacher, but quickly turned into the student. That said, lesson learned.

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