Social Distancing- My Lab- Unintended Consequences

Labs love.  A simple, yet true alliteration.  They love their family, the neighbors, kids (especially ones with traces of breakfast still on their face), and the random person walking at the park.  In Adi’s mind, people are made to be greeted. 

Ignoring people is NOT in Adi’s DNA.  So, it won’t come as a surprise when I say, “Social distancing and my Lab didn’t mix well.” 

By month two of shelter in place orders, walking our community twice a day had grown old.  So, I loaded Adi into the truck, and we headed to the park, hoping it would still be accessible.  The park gate was open. It now displayed a big sign reminding people to maintain their 6-foot distance.  No problem.  I really didn’t think we’d see many people.  I was terribly mistaken.

The first person we passed walked a 10-foot bumper around us.  The next person wasn’t veering off the path.  So, I did what I normally do and stepped to the side of the foot trail and had Adi take a seat.  The gentleman greeted us, his eyes locked on Adi, and he slowed enough for me to think he was going to stop to pet her.  Then thinking otherwise, he continued down the path.  Adi clearly thought she was going to be greeted as well for she turned and with a whimper of protest watched him walk away. Reluctantly Adi obeyed my command to resume walking, but she kept glancing back to see if he had changed his mind.  Sadly, this occurred multiple times with various people. My pup, who delights in greeting new and familiar people at the park, was confused and miserable. 

How do you explain social distancing to a Labrador?

The next time I ventured to walk Adi at the park, I grabbed extra treats and took a different approach.  Rather than sit her to the side of a trail to allow people to pass us, I pulled out a treat and bribed her to walk past them.  At first, she would veer toward the oncoming person looking for a greeting, but the tantalizing smell of a chicken stick won her over and she kept moving forward.  No whimpering.  No disappointment.  At the time I thought it to be the perfect solution. 

Adi and I quickly fell into a routine.  Once a week, I’d grab the keys and her leash, and we’d head off to the park.  I clearly remember the moment when I realized Adi no longer needed to be bribed to walk past people. A sense of sadness settled over my heart.  My friendly Lab was willingly ignoring people.  What had I and this thing called social distancing done?

When I looked at myself, I realized I wasn’t in any better condition.  I’m introverted by nature and have worked very hard over the years to be friendly and engaging when in a public setting.  The combination of extended shelter in place orders and the confusing social cues created by social distancing had led me to withdraw into my introverted shell.  In public, whether out walking or at the grocery store, I maintained an unapproachable demeanor and barely glanced at those around me.  I was walking through life ignoring people just like Adi. 

“Enough!” I thought.  Ignoring people is certainly NOT how Jesus asked me to live my life.  So, I went back to having Adi sit to the side of the walking trail when someone is approaching.  If a person’s eyes focus on Adi and I see her take a keen interest in them, I simply say “You’re more than welcome to say hello” and give Adi permission to move to the end of her 7-foot leash to greet them.  This quick interaction does the heart of a Lab and human a world of good. 

Often, I see a spark of relief in people’s eyes as they engage in such a normal act of petting a dog and exchanging a few words of chit chat.   These interactions bolstered my confidence to step out of my introverted shell and re-engage with people as well.  I’m learning to look above people’s masks and see their eyes, to chat with clerks through plexi-glass shields, and to hold 6-foot conversations.

Keep on loving each other as brothers.”

Hebrews 13:1

What impact has social distancing had on you? How have you responded?

© 2019-2020, Lessons from a Lab, Beth Alisan.  All Rights Reserved.

17 thoughts on “Social Distancing- My Lab- Unintended Consequences

  1. Beautiful pup! I’ve seen the challenge of lab owners (or should I say “lab partners”) who walk by me on their daily walks and they try to social distance their pups. We do have a nice laugh when the dog makes it way to me anyway and I give it a quick pet. I am glad people are getting to connect with your pup!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Speaking on behalf of Lab owners, I want to thank you for giving the Labs that make their way to your side a quick pet. Your affection truly makes that Lab’s day. I’m so grateful for the 7 foot leash my Dad custom made Adi which allows her to comfortably greet people while I maintain my 6 foot distance.

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  2. Beth, with tears in my eyes during the first 2/3 of this post, I am now with a smile. I do not have a lab (or any dog) but have a sister who has had lab after lab after lab. I took care of a Golden Retriever for three weeks this past Spring and know the delight they have in greeting and being with others. And I was a real introvert most of my life; have also worked to not be quite such a one. I am used to smiling at people making eye contact. With a mask on, that smile is hidden so my eye contact is about all there is. Even that is less and less since I do pick-up at the grocer, online orders with mail delivery. You have given me some impetus to do better. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you stopped in to read. Thank you for sharing your experience. I love how walking each day with Jesus means His love pours over us and we can’t help but share it with others. Covid and all its social implications has forced me to step back and take stock of how I can still extend His love to others, like a smile behind a mask with eye contact. Hope you have a lovely week.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing this Beth, I have to say, through all of this. I have not changed trying to make eye contact with others. But the one thing I noticed the most is others stopped making eye contact and they were looking down more, moving around as if in a hurry. Nervous to a point, to be expected also. But no one else was smiling anymore. So I made it a point to smile more and that seemed to add a more relaxed look to the other person. We can share the love we feel from the Father with just a smile sometimes.

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  4. Oh, this is so true. Our densely populated neighborhood is loaded with dogs, walkers, bicyclists, runners etc. People have just been petting dogs and otherwise interacting from the beginning of COVID. No one is wearing masks for outdoor exercise here, so we all just stay a leash length away from each other!

    Happy trails to you and Adi!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Nora! It is very convenient that most leashes are 6 feet long. I saw a sign at a park that said people should stay a Great Dane’s length apart. The image made me chuckle.

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  5. I can totally commiserate with you and Adi. My Rhonda has walked in her paws – she is basically a social-butterfly Lab in a dachshund body.

    Interestingly, Ronni always seems to know who is open to being greeted and who isn’t and happily trots on by people who aren’t giving off the “Oh my goodness, aren’t you adorable” vibes without a backwards glance. Does AdI sense this too?

    We did the same as you on walks initially, with me keeping my distance, bribing her to come along and her looking sad and disappointed.

    Where we differed, sadly, is that Ronni, being in actuality a true dachshund, did not take this change in her status quo equitably or with good grace.

    My sugar-won’t-melt-in-her-mouth sweet dog started barking at strangers on our walks! 😯

    Like you, I sat down and thought it through. Ronni wasn’t barking out of fear or aggression – she was simply frustrated that her favorite part of taking a walk in the park was being denied her, and she was blaming the inconsiderate people who were (in her pea-brain, pointy little head) daring to ignore her.

    Talk about an unintended consequence! I thought, “OK, visiting with people is something valuable to Ronni, an important part of her socialization (she is still young at just two years old) and sure, I could train her to ignore people and heel past them. But did I need to? Did I even want to?“

    What I definitely did not want was a dog who barked at people rather than joyously greeting them like new BFFs.

    Obviously, the folks who, like with you with Adi, looked longingly at my tail-wagging, wiggling, obviously very willing little dog, wanted to greet her almost as much as she wanted to greet them.

    Weighing risks vs gains, it was a no-brainer. With a mask, outdoors and at a 6’ remove, risk was minimal. On the other hand, visiting with a sweet, friendly dog makes people FEEL GOOD. We all need little moments like this in our lives. So do our dogs if we are to come out the far side of this pandemic with the same companions we went into it with.

    So, we compromise; I ask if they’d like to say hi. If they do; I pull my mask up and allow Rhonda to joyfully wiggle room them, where she often either gazes lovingly into their eyes as they stroke her silky face and ears, or flops upside down in an excess of ecstasy, hoping for belly rubber-dubbers.

    Life for Rhonda goes on and she is content. I feel better for these brief interactions – and those folks who stop for a moment of socially-distanced doggy love are happy. Win-win! 💗

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for sharing the experience you and Rhonda have had and your solution. I love your word picture of Ronni- “She is basically a social-butterfly Lab in a dachshund body.”

      Adi believes if a person looks her in the eyes, they want to be greeted. As long as they don’t look at her, she’ll accept not being greeted. I attribute that more to how I trained her than to sense. That being said, she does have a sense for people who are frightened of dogs and makes it her mission to win them over. My kids play soccer and Adi attends all practices and games so she’s in the thick of crowds. Inevitably an adult or child will say, “I’m afraid of dogs.” Over the course of the game, Adi will work her way toward them and unobtrusively plants herself by their side. She’s successfully won a few over.

      I cheered for Ronni when I read that she didn’t just accept a new pattern of ignoring people but chose to verbalize her frustration. She is blessed with an owner that recognized her barking for what it was and has found a solution that does her heart, your heart, and the hearts of those who greet her a world of good.

      Enjoy your walks and give Ronni some belly rubber dubbers from us.

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  6. Anonymous

    I find myself in your shoes. As a Gideon I am encouraged to hand out New Testaments to people as I am led. How can I assure people that the Testaments are sanitized? I can’t, so I withdraw from approaching people and maintain my 6 foot social distance. So far this year we have not been permitted to go onto college or universities campuses and hand out New Testaments to students. Lord have mercy! Hopefully this will pass quickly!
    PaB

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Kim Reist

    Amen Beth and Adi..we were made to need others. This whole social distancing is crazy! When Im outside I do not wear a mask..most I pass dont either and i always say hello. An elderly man stopped me on my walk back to my car the other day and shared the history of that part of the Green Belt with me..his eyes lit up as he shared his memories ..it was so precious and meant alot to me also. And BTW, he was not wearing a mask either..🥰

    Liked by 1 person

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