Just Call Me Don Music, Dog Handler

IMG_2516No Rain, “Tunnel” doesn’t mean “please jump on top!”

What do you do when faced with a challenge?

Ideally, we’re supposed to hunker down and work harder until we’ve mastered the skill in question or solved the tough problem. That’s one of the big life lessons we’re supposed to learn as part of growing up.

If you’re like me, however, you slam your head against the piano and dramatically exclaim, “oh, I’ll NEVER get it!”

That’s because I share a lot of similarities with Don Music, who you may remember as a character on Sesame Street until his performer Richard Hunt died in 1992.

Okay, I’m not always just like Don Music. I too started learning around college how to overcome challenge with tenacity. People who are used to things coming easy tend to melt down when things actually get tough.

This is all a lengthy introduction to the fact that Rain and I have continued working during her summer break on two exercises that have been really challenging: the board exercise where her back paws need to be on and her front paws need to be off; and the old circus elephant exercise.

Rain started making real progress with the board exercise last Friday when I decided to work on it using her dinner to reward her. At the end of the cup of kibble that first night, she was showing signs of finally getting it. I’ve had the chance to repeat the dinner a la board a few times this week, and once I was confident she understood what I was rewarding, I changed things up a little bit. Rain was facing me, and we wanted her to be doing this exercise alongside me. As soon as I switched my position so the board was beside me, Rain was back to square one.

Don Music came back.

Fortunately, Molly said we could email her during our break with questions or exciting news/photos/videos. On this particular night I felt so overwhelmed that I knew I needed a helpful shoulder to cry on. The next day I emailed—and when I did, I also mentioned our lack of progress on the circus elephant exercise.

While typing, I realized these two had something very subtle in common: Rain’s orientation to me.


Weeks ago, we talked in class about how Rain always orients herself directly in front of Foodgiver. In prior weeks I’ve had to take great care to put a treat at my side immediately in order to keep Rain at my side. Otherwise she’d run ahead and turn around right in front of me…even if I was walking forward. (You can see normal Rain orientation in the photo above.)

Rain started getting the board exercise when she was directly in front of me, but her brain’s pre-programming was confused when I turned my body so the board was alongside me. Similarly, Rain may not be progressing very well with circus elephant because she gravitates so strongly to that front orientation.

This was a huge realization! I sent my email to Molly, but even before I heard back I was able to find a small way to move forward. Instead of putting the board fully on my right or left side later that evening, I just angled my body a bit. Just to make it a little challenging.

Last week Molly had also emailed us with additional summer break homework. She suggested working with our dogs on “sit pretty,” which I had been doing a bit of since Molly showed us how to do it in class; and “take a bow,” which Rain is doing pretty well with so far…as long as I’m using a cookie to lure her.

Don Music may have made a visit, and he’ll probably make plenty of visits in the future, but for now we have a way to move forward until we’re back in class in two weeks.

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