Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Naturally Well-Behaved?

As I've mentioned before, Lily was somewhere in the range of 3-4 years old when we adopted her, and we really don't have much information about what happened in her life before she was rescued by Lucky Dog. We have a variety of speculations, including that she may have spent some time as a stray (when she's outside she likes to "nest" in piles of leaves and/or hide in tall grass; sometimes, more so when we first adopted her, she hides her treats around the house as if saving them for later in case there's no steady food source). We also think she might have possibly been abused, either by a former owner or a random person (if she was a stray). We think this for a couple of reasons, including her fear of strangers and certain loud noises, as well as the fact that anytime anyone, including Peter or I, picks up a vaguely stick-like object around her (a broom, a mop, an antennae, a log for the fireplace, etc) she cowers down in fear. It's also feasible that perhaps at some point she belonged to a hoarder, which could explain why she's more comfortable with other dogs than with most people. However, the reality is that beyond the fact that she had at least one litter of puppies and ended up in a high-kill animal control facility, we simply will never know for sure what happened in her past that contributed to the various personality characteristics and quirks that made her the dog she is today.

Lily likes to hide and/or nest in foliage
One of these characteristics that our lack of knowledge about Lily's past puts us at a disadvantage to explain is the fact that she is remarkably (naturally?) well-behaved. Peter and I will be the first to admit that we really had very little to do with this. As I mentioned here, Lily is entirely non-destructive. She has never chewed anything except her toys, and she did not need to be taught not to chew other things. She has never tried to get into the trash, go counter-surfing, or steal anything off of the kitchen table. When we first brought her home she would occasionally try to take a sock or pair of underwear out of the laundry basket we were using for dirty laundry; we went out and purchased a taller hamper with solid sides (rather than basket weave) and she has ignored the dirty laundry ever since. Also, she initially would not get on any of our furniture, almost as if someone had trained her that she was not allowed on the furniture. It took me several demonstrations of picking her up and placing her on the sofa with me, only for her to immediately jump off, before she figured out that she is welcome on the furniture. Now, of course, she rarely uses her downstairs dog bed, generally hanging out on the sofa instead.

hanging out on the sofa in the den

keeping Peter company on the sofa in the living room
Lily is a sensitive dog, and it is possible that some of her good behavior that we enjoy is actually a result of her fear of angering or upsetting us, though I would like to think that by now she knows that we would never hurt her, no matter what she does. There are a few common doggie obedience commands that we never really taught her, including "leave it" and "off," because she responds so definitively to the simple use of the word "no" said in a stern, authoritative voice. When she hears the word "no" spoken that way, Lily generally immediately stops whatever she is doing, drops whatever she has in her mouth, etc. Again, this is not something we taught her, she has been doing this since the day we brought her home.

We have done some training with Lily. We taught her how to walk on a (mostly) loose leash and how to sit, and she will generally come when she is called unless she's on the trail of a scent, in which case forget it (although from everything I've learned it sounds like this is a pretty typical beagle trait, which is why conventional wisdom is that beagles should never be allowed off-leash in an unenclosed area). We had a series of private lessons with a trainer which were specifically geared towards helping Lily overcome her shyness and gain confidence. These sessions were most helpful, I think, in educating Peter and I about how to understand canine communication and respond in kind, although the trainer also helped us teach Lily hand targeting, AKA the "touch" command. This can sometimes help us re-focus Lily if we sense her level of fear starting to escalate. We also completed a group beginners' obedience class (more on this in a later post).

Lily showing off her "sit" skills
Lily demonstrating her loose leash walking skills
Since Lily is my first dog, I don't think I fully realized how lucky we got in terms of her good behavior until we started fostering, visiting the dog park, and generally spending more time around lots of other dogs. Lily is certainly not perfect, but it sure is nice, as a dog owner, to be able to accidentally leave a favorite pair of shoes in the hallway when you leave for work in the morning and come home to find them undisturbed, exactly where you left them. Especially when you never even had to teach your dog that self-control in the first place!


  1. That photo of Lily in the foliage is so cute! That is so awesome that she is so well-behaved too - despite her previous circumstances!

    Emily @ Our Waldo Bungie

  2. Love that she rose above her past!!! And kudos to Peter for getting pajamas that are color coded to Lily!

    1. Haha the idea of Peter intentionally color-coordinating anything, let alone his pajamas and the dog, is pretty funny ;)