The pet people of Tahoe came together for an annual ritual last Saturday. They brought their children, human and not. Dogs were in the majority. but there were dogs and cats together as well as dogs and cats alone. The horse didn't make it because of threatening weather. A K-9 officer and his handler came by for some exposure training. On duty, he wasn't allowed to visit Santa Paws, but he probably wished he could have dropped off his wish list.
There were appearances by some new celebrities of the 2013 Tahoe Pets Calendar, veteran Tahoe pet photo families and a few newbies. Most took Santa Paws in stride. One human was scared for a brief moment when the assumed large stuffed dog in the Santa suit waved. Treats and toys worked for the hesitant furry set until a labrador retriever dug in, but - being a lab - he finally couldn't resist the tennis ball lure into Santa's photo studio. Reluctant humans were cajoled into donning Santa hats, antlers, a red boa and then smiling broadly into the camera. For a few moments, the time in the spotlight with both furry and hairless family took precedence over the football game broadcasts and holiday sales. Even waiting in turn was a positive experience.
One human observed "Here are all these dogs who don't know each other and everyone is getting along fine. They're better than people together. I just can't get over it." It wasn't all smooth of course. There were a couple of accidents that quickly got wiped up and sanitized. First timers had to be given their time and space to understand that Santa Paws was a good thing. However with Photo Elves on alert, Santa Paws had no costume malfunctions and all became willing to sit in his lap or close by his side. So what's the secret to all this conviviality?
When pet people gather, they unabashedly expose their feelings about the human-animal bond. Shelter rescue, neighborhood stray, family duty inheritance, or high cost pure bred partner, these pets and people spend quality time together and it shows. Shy folks gain confidence in the company of their polite pets. Outgoing folks purposefully nurture social pets who can come along comfortably even in an energized setting. There's a feeling of trust in the air.
All it takes is the basics: sit, stay, come, down, heel and socialization. Too many pets never have the opportunity to share in a gathering because they are not trained in the simple behaviors which make pets welcome and their people willing. Bad behavior - most often just normal untrained pet behavior - is at the top of the list of why pets are turned in to shelters or simply abandoned. When witnessing the joy of the whole family together, pets and kids with limits and manners, it's distressing to know that but for a bit of time and attention, all pets and people could enjoy each other that way.
It's never too early or too late to teach a pet manners (or tricks). A great place to start is with Dr. Ian Dunbar, the animal behaviorist-veterinarian, international television host, author, and founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. His website, www.dogstardaily.com/free-downloads, is chock-full of free training articles and the complete, straightforward, do-it-yourself manuals, "Before You Get Your Puppy" and "After You Get Your Puppy." His life is a mission to save dogs from being abandoned for preventable or misunderstood behaviors. Dunbar works tirelessly to educate humans to reap the rewards of pet companionship. Professional trainers look to Dr. Dunbar for insight and he credits them openly for helping to promote positive training methods, fun and games for people with their pets, and the 180 degree turnaround - undeniably in process - from pet dominance/bullying to pet leadership/partnership with mutual understanding and respect.
More and more today, pets are asked to share with their humans almost every possible life experience at home and away. It is an evolved relationship from working animal to non human soul mate. It is the evolution of man as well as beast.
- Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help "Keep Tahoe Kind." Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.