I’m constantly amazed at how fast Holmes’ mind works. He’s capable of amazing leaps. And once something catches his interest, he’ll stop at nothing to pursue it.
No, not Sherlock Holmes, the Great Detective. Holmes Rochat, the Great New Dog.
Yes, for the first time in way too long, we’ve got a dog in the family again. Small-ish. Black. One year old. About as mixed as a mixed breed can be. And one of the fastest learners I’ve ever seen on four feet (or maybe even two).
Mind you, some of that is in contrast to what’s come before. Duchess the Wonder Dog was brilliant – as a combination of border collie and Lab, she could hardly be anything else – but also quite timid from some bad early experiences before we got her. Big Blake was 85 pounds of solid muscle, including his head: loving, devoted, but not exactly a canine Einstein.
With Holmes, we’re learning how to do this all over again. Largely because he’s so ready to learn himself.
Maybe it’s because he’s so young. Maybe his previous owner worked with him a bit. But Holmes listens. Not always perfectly: we’re still working on concepts like “vets can be trusted,” “grass isn’t edible,” and “a flying hug isn’t the perfect greeting for all occasions.” But for the most part, he listens. He tries to do what you tell him. And he’s steadily forming a picture of the do’s and don’ts.
That’s awesome. And a little terrifying.
It always is when you have the power to be the Example.
“Into the Woods” put it well, with its closing advice to parents everywhere:
“Careful the things you say, children will listen,
Careful the things you do, children will see … and learn.”
We teach constantly. Not just in the conscious lessons like helping a dog learn to “sit” or a child learn to count and read, but in the thousand different ways we meet the world.
When someone shoves a dog roughly from their lap, they teach it to be fearful, even around those it should love.
When someone claims to love their neighbor but greets actual people with contempt or neglect, they teach that their word can’t be trusted … or worse, that it’s OK to mistreat those you say you love.
With our example, we teach what’s acceptable and who’s accepted, whether it’s by passing a law or paying a bill. (Dave Barry refers to the latter as the Waiter Rule: “If someone is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, they are not a nice person.”) We teach what we want to see by how we behave … and too often, we find the lessons coming right back at us, learned perfectly.
If we want to see respect or compassion, we need to show it.
If we want to see justice, we need to confront injustice.
And if we want a nation that values everyone in it, we need to look at who’s being left out.
It starts with the small, daily actions. That’s how a dog learns it’s loved. That’s how a child learns it’s valued. It’s how a world learns the way we see it.
Big thoughts from a small dog, I know. And for now, that’s where my own attention is: watching Holmes chase butterflies, explore his new home, and learn just how much his new family loves him.
It seems so simple to put it that way.
Maybe even elementary.