Mali is my ISSR Shiloh Shepherd. I came today to try once again to put into words some of what I see when I watch Mali teach. I have tried to write before about but what she does but is so subtle it is hard to define and if you are not watching her, you could miss it happening.
When we first got her Steve and I decided we wanted to make sure she had lots of confidence as she was an only pup and was going to be taking on the big job of a service dog. I read many articles on raising a dogs confidence; as well as, researched posts on different forums and tried many of different techniques. The ones that seemed to work best for Mali we did often, along with some of the things I did with my children when they were young. I know she is a dog but Shilohs are so much like children in the way they think you really have to treat them like human children often. I spent a lot of my time on the floor playing with her just like I did with my own children. After all, once I am down it is hard for me to get back up so I just stayed there.
Mali was always a puppy who liked to watch everything. Most puppies are interested in their surroundings but Mali wanted to watch more than her immediate surroundings, she was interested in as far as her eyes could see; and would take the time to watch everything. She was always an extremely active pup; however, if something in the distance caught her eye she would sit quietly and just watch. Once she digested all of the information she needed from the experience she was off again. Mali rarely backed down from anything new from the first day we got her, no matter how big or loud it was. I will not take the time brag how quickly she learned as this post is more about what she did later and the beginning paragraphs are only a foundation of who she was rather than of what she knew.
When Mali was seven months old we went to pick up Rani at Tina Barber's (The Breed Founder's). The two of them hit it off right away. On the fifteen hour drive home I was a concerned as Mali refused to drink any water. No matter how much I coaxed her she would turn her nose up and prance away nervously . At first, I was worried her was jealous of Rani. I could not have been more wrong. When we got home Mali ate and drank fine, as a matter of fact over the next few weeks I discovered that Mali did not drink the water on the way home as she wanted all of the water to be for Rani. In fact Mali at the ripe old age of 7 months had taken Rani on as if she were her own pup. You have to understand Shilohs are considered poppies until they are three years of age as they grow and mature until they are that age, so for Mali to take on that kind of chore at 7 months of age was amazing to say the least and a tribute to what kind of mom she would be one day. Mali seemed to become obsessed with cleaning Rani, inside her ears and even inside of her mouth. It was quite cute in a way to watch them. Then quite out of the blue in my eyes I saw Rani lick Mali's muzzle and Mali regurgitate food for her. My first thought was YUCK! My second thought was a little more of a Hmmmmm. Mali is just a baby herself yet she has taken over the role of segregate parent of Rani so completely.
It was only a month later when we add Yuki to our pack and soon Mali is taking care of two little puppies. For the most part she is no longer regurgitating food; however, she still cleaned them both insistently. Then one night she did something which for the first time caught me off guard. She plays a game with them, one I played with her, one I played with my children when they were babies.
Mali takes a chewy and places it on the floor while the pups are watching her, then she placed a news paper over the chewy; the pups watched her as Mali steps back. Mali waits a few seconds then takes the paper off the chewy and retrieves the chewy. Mali does this three or four times as the puppies watch. Then she placed the chewy down again and covers it up with the paper again and backs off; this time the puppies go and find the chewy. I am watching from the living room with my mouth open unable to say a word. This is just one small example of little games I have seen her set up for the puppies to learn.
Yuki has had a bit of a hard time she came to us a little later in life and was not as well socialized, because of this she is very shy. Her shyness held her back in learning as a puppy; and so, in many ways she was behind Rani in learning. I had to take her out in the community a lot more; and so, much of what Mail has done with Rani she had not had a chance to do with Yuki. This is not a bad thing as Yuki has come a long way with her shyness. Her shyness has improved and she will never be an outgoing girl like Mali and Rani, but we can settle for an aloof girl and be very happy with her. She and my husband Steve are very close.
When the girls are out playing in the side yard and it is time to come in some times the puppies would not hear me calling they would be to engrossed in whatever scent or butterfly had caught their attention. I do not walk well; and so, going get them is not always an option for me. Al I have to do is tell Mali to go get the girls and she turns around and dose just that. She heads off to where the girls are and nose at them and then heads back for the house with the two puppies running at her heals. Even now that they are older if we are at a dog park and it is time to leave I can send Mali off to get the girls when it is time to leave. I just tell her with a sweep of my arm and I head off towards the exit, where all three meet me ready to go.
I am going to skip over some of what Mail has done with Rani and go straight to what happened with Yuki a couple of months ago. Yuki is now 9 months old and comes from a very large line of Shilohs. Now that Yuki is feeling so much more confident, when she is in the living room she no longer just finds a place by my feet and settles happy to be there and watch what the other two are doing. She has decided she should explore the room and everything there is in it. Both Mali and Rani explored the room when they were younger and already know the places they are to stay away from, such as the electronics, lamps, and other breakables. Yuki; however, has no clue. Yuki by the way, is as large as Mali and a bit longer, and unlike Mali, has little control over that massive wagging tail. Basally she lumbers through my living room like a tank. Each time Yuki would go near a lamp, before I could say to her, "Not yours", and direct her away, Mali would beat me to it and either body block her with a groan or gently place her mouth over Yuki's mouth. Then guide her away from the lamp, or the TV, wires, my hutch and anything else where she would be either in danger of being hurt or in trouble if she broke something. Once again Yuki learned from following Mali's guide what she can and cannot do in my living room and now like the other girls she is quite safe and no longer behaves like and out of control tank at least 90 % of the time. She even has some control of her tail. Mali uses the intercept and body block when we have strangers or even company we know come to visit as well, if they reach to pet Yuki and Yuki flattens her ear wishing they would not pet her Mali ,moves in to protect her. If you did not understand the body langue you would just think Mali was hogging the attention, but she is in fact protecting Yuki from unwanted attention.
There are other little things Mali does to teach these girls; such as, let them put her to the ground. Even though she is the Alpha, she seems to understand the need to build their confidence, especially Yuki's, but to me these things about my girl Mali just jump right out and say look at me. My friends say I should type a book about her, and maybe one day I will after all she is only 22 months old, she has many years left to live.
Keep reading my blog as I have lots of post about my girls to come.