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?
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