Look at me, look at me, look at me

The following content was originally sent out to subscribers to my email list, with the promise that it'd be reposted here for comments and discussion in the discussion forum that is available for premium subscribers.

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Look at me, look at me, look at me…

The Developing the Dance puppy blog launched yesterday, at $9.95/month. Registration is still pretty inexpensive; today's rate is $14.95. I bet you can guess what tomorrow's rate will be! If you're unsure about whether or not the information will be useful to you, better to subscribe NOW before the price goes up, and then of course you can always cancel your subscription if you find it's not for you.

In any case, I wanted to take a few moments to talk about the idea of our puppies needing to constantly look at us. WHY is this? Yes, we want to be the center of our puppy's world. And yes, we want them to look to us for their needs. For safety, for security, for sustenance, and for FUN. But do they need to constantly be STARING at us in order to prove to us that they are in fact viewing us as pivotal in their lives?

I'm going to posit…NOPE.

I've talked about attachment styles and bonding in the puppy blog, and I'll talk more about it, because it's a fascinating subject that I think applies in so many ways to our DOGS. Check out this link – read it and then come back to this email. I promise, there's a point.

Basically, there are four responses a child can have in what is called “The Strange Situation” experiment, depending on how securely or INsecurely they are attached to their parent or caregiver.

Read through those four responses in the link. Now, apply this situation to a puppy. You're in an environment, the puppy knows you're there, you make everything seem ok, and the puppy is exploring its environment. If you reenact the strange situation experiment, how does the puppy react? More importantly, how do YOU react? Are YOU reacting in this situation in a way that indicates a secure attachment?

It's not entirely farfetched to put forward that on OUR part, there is that feeling of, “Oh my God, my puppy doesn't love me, my puppy is ignoring me, just LOOK, my puppy won't even come to me, I'm a failure” and so on and so forth, when our puppy is confidently exploring her environment, looking happy, while we just stand there, feeling a little abandoned. Come on, you KNOW what I'm talking about.

But what IF, what IF, we considered this situation from the point of view of attachment and bonding theory? That if WE have done our job as “parents” correctly, then our puppies are MORE likely to feel brave exploring their environments? That, if our puppies know we've got their backs, they are MORE likely to be that puppy that can work the crowd, seemingly ignoring us. Our puppies are SECURE. And, don't we want that?

Now, obviously, we'd like to know that our puppies ARE secure. And when your puppy is secure in her environment, how do you KNOW she's paying attention to whether or not YOU, the center of that security, are there? Read through “The Strange Situation” experiment again on that link, and recreate it! See what happens in that situation with your puppy instead of a small child. AND, note your OWN responses to the puppy when you return to the room after an absence. Are YOU secure in your attachment to your puppy?

There are some implications in my mind to teaching a puppy to constantly look at you to the exclusion of being able to investigate its environment. Keeping a puppy or a dog from being able to check out its situation is not likely to make that dog feel MORE secure in their environment. And if we, as owners, are begging for that eye contact and not letting our dogs explore, WE are not demonstrating the behavior of a creature in a securely attached relationship with another creature. It actually saddens me a bit to be at a show and hear a competitor saying “look at me, look at me, look at me” constantly to their dog or puppy, who is desperately trying to figure out what is going on around them so that they can decide if they are safe enough to be comfortable. Both in this situation strike me as insecure as to the status of their relationship with one another, and their environment.

There are a lot of directions to go with this line of thinking, but since, in this blog series, I'm keen to address these sorts of PHILOSOPHICAL topics in addition to some training topics, I'll leave you on that note to ponder, and hopefully join the blog and RESPOND – I'm going to repost this newsletter as a blog post tomorrow just to generate discussion. Of course, tomorrow, joining the blog will be $19.95/month, and today?Well, today, it costs just $14.95/month, about what an HBO subscription is.

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