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Musing: Roscoe Reward Rules Revised
To explain this week’s musing, I first need to explain each of the four words in the title. Bear with me.
Roscoe is the youngest of our four Siberian Huskies. Enthusiastic and energetic, he craves our twice daily walks along the neighborhood greenway. His attention swings among the distractions—scampering squirrels and rabbits, singing birds, the occasional bear or deer, and a burbling creek.
Mostly, though, he loves meeting our neighbors—human and canine.
For over thirty years, my Ever Patient Partner in Life and I have adopted rescue dogs into our lives. They each bring their baggage. We help them unpack, gaining joy from watching them thrive in their forever home.
The trick to helping them figure out their new lives is determining what motivates them. Like humans, dogs have different needs and wants that will inspire good behavior. A softly spoken kind word. An ear scratch. A treasured toy.
In Roscoe’s case, it’s the oldest reward in the book—food. A treat gets his attention and focus.
During our first walks with Roscoe, his overenthusiastic reaction to seeing other canines challenged us. He danced and pranced, whirled and twirled, wooed and…
The obvious rhyme to that last one requires far more literary license than I dare. He certainly has never done that when we saw another dog.
Even if he only wooed, as Siberians love to do, the dancing, prancing, whirling, and twirling disrupted our ambling serenity. And, quite frankly, intimidated other walkers who already thought they encountered a pack of wolves.
Technically, resolution isn’t a part of the title, but I like alliteration, and it’s my story, so I’m using it.
By marrying Roscoe’s love of food with my desire for a relaxing walk, we resolved the situation in a simple manner: If Roscoe managed to pass another dog on the trail without dancing, prancing, whirling, twirling, or wooing, I would reward him with a treat.
He caught on quickly. And enthusiastically. After a successful pass, he turns to me with a happy expression that clearly states, “Pay up.”
Also not in the title, but the alliteration continues. When a treat appears for Roscoe’s good deeds, his furry siblings, the rascally racketeers, immediately surround me for their fair share. If you think I caved fast to Roscoe’s eyes, think about how fast I coughed up the goods when faced with this:
Confess. How many of you tried to give them treats through your screen? Be honest.
Siberian Huskies love testing boundaries. They probe around the edges to identify any potential loopholes. Think furry lawyers.
If we pass another dog and Roscoe whirls once but then falls into line, he looks at me with pleading eyes. “Sure, I whirled, but only once. I didn’t twirl, dance, prance, or woo. Please, can I have a reward?”
The most important part of training Siberian Huskies is to be firm. Never waver. Never slide. Never…
Who am I kidding? He hit me with those big brown eyes and that silly grin, and I melted like an ice cube in July. Of course, I gave him a treat.
Ever hopeful, he continued to test theories of what qualified. What if, for example, we passed a fenced yard, and he didn’t react to a dog barking at us. Fair enough, I decided, that was okay.
But what if the dog was on the deck a hundred feet away. Well, sort of.
Or, maybe, inside the house, but we could hear him bark. Really stretching now.
Suppose we pass a yard that normally has a dog that barks at us, but the yard is empty at the moment. That’s more or less the same, right? Uh, no.
So, he returned his attention to the trail. What if we passed people who normally walk a dog, but they are canine-less? Nopity, nope, nope.
Or passed people that might possibly have a dog somewhere in their lives. Certainly not.
Which brought us to last week. And, yes, this really happened. And I am really reaching for my subtitles.
We crossed paths with a regular walker. He knows the names of each dog and loves spending time chatting with them. Roscoe, never shy about attention, soaked up the ear scratches and kind words.
When we wrapped up our conversation and continued our trek, Roscoe walked just in front of me, his head turned and eyes locked on my face, pleading for his just reward.
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