Here’s my proudest moment in life (so far): It’s 1967, when the idea of women wearing pants was still a tad radical. But “pants suits” had just came out–dressy outfits that put trousers on your legs instead of a skirt, even for eveningwear. I worked as a salesgirl in a boutique in Scottsdale, AZ, and bought myself the yummiest orange, corduroy pants suit that you could imagine before it even hit the rack. The jacket was lined in orange silk. It was gorgeous.
I decided to wear it to the San Diego Naval Officer’s Club, having been invited to a special dinner there by my boyfriend and his best friend who was in the Navy. I got as gussied up as I could, tossed my long, dyed-blond hair over my shoulders and walked with Doug and Don into the lobby of the San Diego Officer’s Club. An older woman behind the reception counter stopped us immediately. She said, her mouth looking as if she’d just sucked on a lemon, “Women are not allowed in this building if they are wearing pants! This is a respectable establishment!” Nothing we could do or say could change her mind.
The boys and I walked back out to the parking lot and stood by the car, disappointed and frustrated. I didn’t live in San Diego, and had driven eight hours just to come to this event. I didn’t have a skirt in my suitcase and it looked like we were going to miss an expensive dinner, already paid for. As we were about to get into the car, I had an idea. Pants were not allowed? Okay, fine. So I took them off.
My jacket came down, well… just far enough. Barely. We three walked back into the Officer’s Club and strode past the stunned-face woman, now so shocked that she was literally speechless. Doug walked behind me while I walked up a long staircase. We discovered the dinner was a buffet, so the boys brought me my food. I can’t say that I had a good time at the event, but the look on the woman’s face was worth it.
And what might this have to do with relationships between people and animals, you might ask? The answer to that is in an article I just read in Natural History magazine, about Who Invented Trousers by Adrienne Mayor. It turns out that trousers were worn by both men and woman who spent much of their time on horseback, while the Greek men wore robes (with no underpants). The Greeks “derided the barbarian’s trousers as “…effeminate, a sign of weakness, mocking them as ridiculous..” Thus, skirts were manly and pants were effeminate. Ah, how times change.
And so they also do in training animals. In 360 BCE, the Athenian cavalryman Xenophon wrote On the Art of Horsemanship. Here is a translated quote: “The one best precept — the golden rule — in dealing with a horse is never to approach him angrily. Anger is so devoid of forethought that it will often drive a man to do things which in a calmer mood he will regret. Thus, when a horse is shy of any object and refuses to approach it, you must teach him that there is nothing to be alarmed at, particularly if he be a plucky animal; or, failing that, touch the formidable object yourself, and then gently lead the horse up to it. The opposite plan of forcing the frightened creature by blows only intensifies its fear, the horse mentally associating the pain he suffers at such a moment with the object of suspicion, which he naturally regards as its cause.”
My point here is the importance of remembering what a fickle species we can be, and how cultural mores and acceptable techniques are fluid. That relates as much to dog training as anything else. The militaristic style of dog training had its origin in the military in the early part of the 1900’s, and spilled over onto the family dog, such that the first “obedience” classes I went to were run by an ex-marine. He told us that we had to be the alpha. To “wear the pants in the family,” as it were. In the first class he gave a Basenji on a choke chain a hard snap for not sitting the instant it was told. When the dog growled in response, the trainer hung it in the air–the dog choking and snarling–while the rest of us watched in horror. (I was there with Cosby, my Saint Bernard. We left, literally shaking. Both of us.)
Oh how times have changed. At least, in some places, in some ways. Old habits die hard, but if someone suggests to you that using kindness and primarily positive reinforcement is a “new” or “liberal” technique, remind them that in many ways, punishment is the newbie on the block. Good trainers have been respectful and compassionate for centuries. You’re just keeping up the tradition. Good to remember, yes? I’d love to hear about your first experience with dog training (or any other species) and how it reflects, or contrasts, your perspective now.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm. So good to be home! APDT was excellent and it was great to be there, but still so good to be home. And lucky me, the weather this weekend was gorgeous. Flat out perfect, really–ideal weather for working outside, with bright sunlight on the Halloween colors of yellow and orange trees in the woods. It’s been a perfect combination for me of time with the dogs, time in the kitchen and garden, and time with friends. Tootsie and I did Pet Pals on Saturday. She and a disabled young man broke my heart in the best of ways, he smooching his lips as best he could to her, she cuddled on his lap for the longest time. Maggie and Willie have worked sheep both days, Sunday at a good friend’s that allows both dogs to get used to working different sheep in a different environment. Willie finished his work yesterday by allowing my sheep to graze the front lawn before they got their hay Sunday afternoon. The grass up the hill is long gone, but the grass on the front lawn is luscious. It’s not fenced though, and if I didn’t trust Willie the sheep could not have had their snack. I suspect they aren’t aware that they need to be thanking Willie though…
Jim made chicken noodle soup, and I made cabbage soup, all with yummy meat and veggies both local and organic. Much of it is now stored in the freezer for the dark nights to come. Saturday night we got to see Colin Mochrie from Who’s Line Is It Anyway?, one of my favorite television shows. I love to laugh, and we laughed so hard we got tears in our eyes. I hope you’ve had some good laughs too lately. Remember that laughter is good medicine, and one of the few things we can’t share with our dogs. (Although, I swear there’s a photo in The Other End of the Leash of Cool Hand Luke laughing at my hair…)
Here’s Willie moving the flock this afternoon. Some of the sheep are new; meet Chili on the right, Pink is the white face staring out at you from the middle, and two new lambs in the front. I don’t know how long they will stay, I brought them in to have new sheep for Maggie to work, but I ended up naming them within 24 hours. Chili, by the way, became instant flock leader the second she jumped off the truck. Very interesting; no aggression, not even a head butt, but she literally leads the flock and has first access to anything good. The new lambs, on the other hand, came in a few days before the new ewes, and were treated brutally by some of the resident ewes. Spot (not in the photo) was so aggressive that I sent her to her room without dinner. (I locked her into a pen for the night, she was backing up 30 feet and slamming into the lambs so hard she sent them flying.) My my.