Thursday, March 30, 2017

Outside of a Dog...

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend, inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.
Groucho Marx

I think woodworkers take the cake as far as dog obsession (sorry Megan). In my case at least, I'm comfortable admitting that making a life in woodworking is basically an attempt to recreate and extend my favorite childhood moments. Dogs and sticks...what more do I have to say...Rosebud?

Here is my latest shop mate Georgie, taking in the morning sun while I cook breakfast. One of the reasons that I want to share this experience (besides the obvious cute as hell factor) is how much this little gal is teaching me about, well everything. Anyone who has ever had a shy or nervous dog will relate to this. Georgie is the easiest dog that I've adopted, until she sees something new. She was raised without much exposure to people and certainly no exposure to city life. Around home, she is housebroken, a snap to train and always eager to please. But when new people come around or someone on the street makes eye contact, she goes in full flight mode.

I'll cut right to the chase with what I've learned, and believe it or not, relate it back to woodworking and chairmaking. Anyone with expertise or years of experience knows how tough it can be to explain the process to a newcomer. How can they not understand that their tools are dull or their technique is wrong, it's so obvious?! This brings me to my second quote

Patience is a mild form of despair, disguised as a virtue
Ambrose Bierce

When I finally taught Georgie that jumping in the truck could be fun (there's safety and treats in there), I thought that I'd opened up a whole new world of adventure, we can go anywhere now!
But then how do I get her out?
If my other dog Kobe is there, she follows him out, but otherwise, no deal. So my first inclination was to grab the dog, put her on the ground, give her a treat and then expect that now she knows that it's all good. I did this a couple of times, but the fear instilled by my reaching for her was worse than any promise of a treat. To her, the truck ride is still novel, and that door opens to a great swirling abyss. Reaching in to grab her is akin to the disembodied arm reaching out of the darkness!

Thinking from her perspective is one of the most challenging mental games that I've come across, there is so much that we take for granted. So here's what I did. We went to the truck in the driveway, I opened the door and she hopped in happily. Then I held a treat so that she'd have to stick her head out just a bit to get it. Then she retreated. The next one was a little further out and finally, she hopped down to get one on the ground, this is the driveway that she knows after all. Multiple treats and then a well earned retreat to the truck.
Then we repeated the process about 4 times until she hopped down willingly. Throughout the day, I walked her to the truck about 3 more times to repeat this process. At the end of the day, I leashed her up, drove her to the park, crouched next to the car and called her out, and she hopped down and off we went. Not all our work is this fast. New people and experiences are still a challenge.

I think that extending this kind of patience with students, or even better, ourselves, while learning is essential. I recall wanting to learn woodworking, but I had such trouble letting myself take a little at a time, I wanted to master is all, get to that end ability. But like it or not, I think we all learn more like Georgie. Finding out what parts you are comfortable with and stepping into risk with some safety is essential.
Students often remark that I am very effusive in my support during class. It isn't false praise, what I see is a bunch of adults, experts in things that I probably know nothing about, putting themselves out there and trusting me to guide them through uncharted territory. It's a leap of faith and act of bravery that I've rarely risked.

Moral of the story, besides get a dog? Give yourself a break, take a moment to think of your goals as well as your achievements and remember, even though the piece that you are working on will be finished, your process marches on. What kicks your butt today, you will soon take for granted.


Josh Salomon said...

Thanks for the post, Pete. I completely agree, and think the connection is no stretch at all. Having been a Georgie in your chair class, I know how lucky she is!

Jonas Jensen said...

Teaching a dog can be so rewarding when they do what you would like them to do.
We are working on the temporary loss of hearing that comes with being a 6 month over self confident puppy.
Have fun in teaching Georgie.

I'm a OK guy said...


Beautiful post, as a teacher who works one on one with adults what you said is so true. As a dog person with two rescue Labs it touches my heart.


Bill Palmer said...

Wait, there were treats???

Lewis Clark said...

this is realy interesting post really. i really enjoyed it from the start to finish. this dog is so sweet. i wish i could own similar to this:) . keep up doing the good work dear.