Dogs always come from a place of abundance. Especially in the case of food. They seem to know whenever it is present and assume it’s theirs for the taking. In my own household the dogs turn up their noses at miniscule crumbs on the floor. Why waste efforts there when there is opportunity to snag leftover salmon on the kitchen table, demolish an entire cake prepared for a catered event, stealthily consume an entire plate of hors d’oeuvres without the victim ever noticing, or steal fig newton cookies from the hands of a toddler. My dogs have been the happy beneficiaries of my harried routine. Regardless of how satiated they feel, they recognize opportunity when food is around and my brain is pre-occupied. I’ll admit, as a dog trainer, it pains me to admit my failure to thwart food stealing and counter surfing. Of the four dogs in my life, Henry is the only one who does not steal food. I believe the only reason is due to his stature.
Zoe remained lean and fit up until Abby was about a year. Her controlled diet, limited access to treats, and regular exercise maintained her weight and “girlish figure”. Zoe was quite unimpressed with the addition of Abby to our lives. She seemed to tolerate her more than anything else until she discovered that the baby did in fact have some utility. Zoe learned very quickly that the best place to plant herself was beneath this tiny human’s high chair. From Zoe’s perspective, the baby now had utility as a food delivery system. Abby would delight in the response the dog would give to every Cheerio, animal cracker, or green pea thrown on the floor. Despite Zoe’s ulterior motives to snag snacks out of Abby’s hands, Abby loved that she happily trotted by her side from room to room.
Sasha was the queen of counter surfing. She acquired this skill after walking through the kitchen to discover grilled chicken breasts and steaks left unguarded on a plate. The counter tops in this home were just barely above her head and the immediate access to freshly grilled meat awaiting transfer to a dinner table was an instant jackpot. She scarfed it all, leaving nothing for the main dish at the small dinner party about to begin. And so began her career as the official counter surfer and trash can cleaner. Over the years, Sasha would become a “master of her trade”. Described by all who knew her, she was the sweetest, most gentle and loving dog you would ever meet. She was also smart and a wee bit conniving. It was not beneath her to quietly work her way through a party and stealthily snag food off of people’s plates. In situations where you saw her approaching, she would work her charm as though she was coming over just to say hello and grace you with her sweetness. A new guest would not be aware of her tactics and would then lean in to pet her and tell her how sweet she was, at which point she would clean off whatever food had been on their plate. I remember being absolutely mortified as I watched her approach someone in deep conversation with another guest and immediately devour an entire piece of cake off their plate. The person never noticed but the look on their face was priceless when they discovered it had disappeared.
Bolo is Sasha reincarnated…at least in the food stealing department. Just like Sasha, Bolo happily greets everyone at work by first checking their trash can to ensure nothing important was left behind. Bolo is smart. Her food stealing often involves proper calculation and timing to get exactly what she is after, and nothing is safe when she is in this mode. The first twelve months of her life in our home were very controlled. As I prepared her for her role as a future Leader Dog for the Blind, she was never unattended and had a solid response to the cue “leave it”. Once she was “career changed” and returned to us, all bets were off. With such a well mannered and trained dog, no one ever thought to keep a watchful eye on her around food. I don’t recall exactly when the first incident occurred, but I could write an entire coffee table book about how adept she became at “recognizing opportunity”. Following an evening out at dinner with friends, I brought home leftover salmon, my favorite. I took it out of the fridge the next morning so I would not forget to take it to work and placed it on the kitchen table in a spot where it would be impossible (or so I thought) for Bolo to get to, and then headed off to the gym. She laid down on the floor as I left, creating the illusion that she was just going to chill out and rest up for the day ahead. I believe the moment she got up to look out the window and watch my car disappear her mind was racing into action. She knew something delectable was awaiting her. Also in the bag to bring to work was candle, which made the bag relatively heavy. A small portion of the bag had been placed on a pile of papers that I thought were out of reach. Bolo is very clever and managed to figure out how to slide the pile of stuff very carefully without pulling it out from under the bag and losing her only delivery option. In the process she knocked over a full cup of coffee, which became wedged between a chair and the table. Undeterred, she continued to work that pile of paper closer to the edge until she could grab the handle of the bag, take it up to my room, and begin to devour the lunch I had been looking forward to eating later.
She continued to add to her “resume” on a number of occasions. There was the time she consumed an entire cake I had prepared for our holiday party, making sure to give it back to me the next day in regurgitated form on my office floor the next morning. At work, she managed to snag and eat an entire chicken breast right off a plate when our marketing director turned her attention to her computer. I woke up one morning to a ball of dough on my bedroom floor, the result of the previous day’s adventure in a bag of flour. We lost an entire fish stew one evening when she pulled the pan off the stove and devoured just about all of it before we walked into the kitchen to discover the disaster (stove was off and pan was cooled). Like I said, I could go on and on, suffice it to say dogs are brilliant at recognizing opportunity.
How do you evaluate the opportunities presented to you each day? Do you notice them or does lack of clarity blind you to opportunities that appear directly before your eyes? Do you attack opportunity like BOLO on a trashcan or does fear prevent you from taking action?
Dogs are brilliant at recognizing opportunity and seizing it the moment it presents itself.