January 2, 2010
I noticed a lot of "start fresh," "set goals," "turn over a new leaf" comments on blogs and facebook yesterday. You have to admire the optimism of this time of year. Anything is possible. I'm a case in point. Last year's entry on New Year's Day found me waxing poetic about teaching Willie to come when I called. I armed myself with a plan and gold treats. We made progress. Really.
Of course, the other common element to most resolutions is that they very rarely persist over the long haul. Again, I am a case in point. I walked Willie, Teddy, and Uma yesterday. I stuck to the off-leash route (down Charlotte Lane towards where it dead ends into the Stasney Ranch, along the fence line of the Leisure Lake property, through the picnic area, across the dam, and back down our own road) because it was a positively lovely day and I wasn't in a hurry. No sooner had I made the judgment to pass by the "leash road" short cut, then I realized my mistake.
We have some new neighbors. I have never met or even seen them. They moved in late last fall when Walter and I were in Louisville for a long weekend. We noticed their existence only because when we returned from our trip we observed seven police and deputy cars blocking that part of the road (after, apparently, a stake out and some other "official" type investigation maneuvers). I do see a truck and a car with darkened windows speeding down Charlotte Lane and turning into their driveway on mornings when I walked the dogs before 6:00.
I have never tried for a closer look because the house is backed pretty far from the road and they have signs that say PRIVATE PROPERTY! NO TRESPASSING! POSTED! BEWARE OF DOG! spaced every eight or ten feet along the fence and gate that run by the road.
So, yesterday morning, as I moseyed along the road hoping to spot a pyrrhuloxia, I noticed that Willie had caught a scent and was wandering towards those neighbors' driveway.
Forgetting the elusive pyrrhuloxia, I called to Willie, but he had already started down the driveway. That's when I caught on that he was intently involved in a game of Follow the Leader, with Teddy as the leader. Uma was also playing.
I upped my effort, calling, whistling, clapping my hands, cajoling, threatening, pleading, scolding.
The more I tried, the more they ignored me and the further away they wandered. I tried the trick of walking on down the road without them, on the theory that they would respect me and assume that whatever I was doing was more important and more interesting than what they were doing (readers who know dogs will be ducking their heads and politely gaffawing behind their hands on this brainy idea).
I returned to the property line, wondering what PRIVATE PROPERTY! NO TRESPASSING! POSTED! BEWARE OF DOG! really means to someone who is, at a minimum, a person of interest to the police.
I stood, shifting my weight from one foot to the other, intently trying to make eye contact with at least one of the dogs. I tried to figure out which dog might, on this occasion, be susceptible to mind control or guilt or getting to be the Mother's Pet. I patted all my pockets in my much-pocketed overcoat, hoping to find a morsel of meat, leftover from the time, months ago, that I had been faithful about my dog training and willing to have pockets with grease smudges and a vague scent of beef permeating all my clothes.
My mind wandered to the failed Burger King experiment from Christmas '08, when It introduced meat-flavored cologne. At the time, I had made jokes about the body spray designed to smell like grilled beef like everyone else with any sense. Now I was considering how much I would pay for such a thing, just on the chance that I could attract my dogs back from a scenario that I was thinking was going to end a lot like video game rated "V" for violence, when my unknown neighbors would come busting our of their back door and open fire on my trespassing pooches.
After about twenty minutes, when no neighbor appeared (thank goodness for late hours on New Year's Eve) and no dog showed any sign of recognizing me, I decided to cross the adjacent neighbor's fence and approach from the vacant pasture next door. I got close enough that the dogs could actually see my facial features (I tried both the I've-got-a-great-surprise-for-you look and the you-are-a-bad-dog look.). They each, in turn, looked me in the eye and wandered off in the opposite direction. Because of their great powers of concentration, the savory flavor of the garbage they had discovered, and their general unruliness and disobedience, they saw no great need to come to me.
And I was still unwilling to cross the posted fence to retrieve them.
Eventually, no thanks to anything I actually did, they decided they were through. When I finally had them all back on my side of the fence and away from the site of their lawless behavior, I snapped all three leashes on and we continued on our walk. It only took fifty-five minutes to make our usual 1.1 mile loop.
I spent part of that time wishing I had kept up with my plan from a year ago to train them all to come when I called. Mostly, I contemplated what I could do to change my ways so that I could add new things to my repertoire (like consistent dog training) and actually stick with them.
The key for me seems to be attaching a new activity on to something that I already do habitually. For instance, I noticed a few months ago that I was getting stiffer (particularly first thing in the morning and particularly in the neck and back) as I got older. I knew that I should copy Walter by sitting in the bedroom chair as soon as I got out of bed and do five minutes worth of neck and back stretches. I also knew that I would never stick to that. Some morning I would forget. Or I would get in a hurry, or I would sleep and skip it.
Instead, I started doing my neck stretches during my morning walk with the dogs. I am very diligent about their walk (if I'm not, they make me pay later in the day by attacking the garbage cans, tearing up things, or knocking things over). I've figured out how to do eight different neck and back stretches in rhythm with my stride, as I walk along Blue Heron Road.
Now, if I could just attach all my desired, new habits to my old stand by habits, I would have it made.
What do you do to train yourself to a new habit?