When I was leaving the High Line the other day after a cold but lovely walk with my service dog, Sky, someone called out to me, “Pretty dog!”  I hear this all the time, maybe because in places where pet dogs are not allowed, Sky is the only dog there.  Maybe it happens because when the bright, winter sun hits her coat, you can see how thick and shiny it is.  Maybe it’s because she’s so attentive, so present in the moment.  And maybe it’s just because she’s a really pretty little dog.

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As a trainer, my favorite moment was always the moment when the dog got it, when he understood, for the first time in his life, that words had meaning, that they had consequences, that understanding words was a reward unto itself.  At that moment, the dog’s face would change, and if you were looking, and if you were training that dog you were surely looking, you couldn’t miss it.  Nothing was taken away – ever.  The trained dog does not lose the desire to play, the urge to be silly, his love of a good joke, his energy, his spirit.  What happens is that the trained dog gains something, something beautiful.  The new knowledge, the sudden understanding, the key to being a good and happy companion, those are all visible in the dog’s face.  There’s the aha moment.  There’s attentiveness.  There’s curiosity.  There’s the desire to learn more.  And there’s serenity, the “I got it!” kind.  To me, that was the moment, the reason that dog training was endlessly fascinating and totally rewarding.  And at that very moment, that dog, any dog “getting it,” becomes more beautiful.  No matter what he looked like before, the aha moment makes the dog pretty.  And the more he learns, the prettier he gets.

Pretty is herding sheep, fetching a downed duck, finding a lost child.  Pretty is understanding a partnership and keeping a loving, attentive eye on your person.  Pretty is being gentle with a child, coming when called, understanding the meaning of wait, down, good dog.  Pretty is as pretty does.  What have you taught your dog lately?

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